How is pollution increasing

This is how we get the 5 biggest environmental problems under control

1. Air pollution and climate change

Problem: Since the beginning of the industrial revolution in the mid-18th century, we have been busy blowing CO2 into the air. The consequence: it gets warmer and warmer. Not only on earth, but also in our oceans. In moderation, CO2 is actually good - because without the naturally released CO2 - for example through the vegetation, it would be pretty frosty - if not icy - with us.

But now people also contribute a not inconsiderable part - and that is too much of a good thing in total ...

By comparison, the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, agriculture and industrial activities have increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations from 280 parts per million (ppm) 200 years ago to around 400 ppm today. That is an unprecedented increase in size and speed, and it was not without consequences. The consequence is climate change, which is only too well known to us.

However, the excess of carbon dioxide is just one form of air pollution caused by burning coal, oil, gas, and wood. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently estimated that one in nine deaths in 2012 were due to diseases caused by carcinogens and other toxins in polluted air.

Sea creatures suffer in three ways: overfishing, pollution, ocean warming

Solution: Replace fossil fuels with renewable energies. Reforestation. Reduce emissions from agriculture. Change in industrial processes. All of this is easy to say - maybe that's why there is a lack of implementation.

The good news, however, is that there is actually plenty of clean energy - it just needs to be used. In any case, a 100 percent supply of renewable energies is possible with our technology that exists today, say many supporters and environmental organizations.

On the other hand, experts also warn that the conversion to renewable energy sources - such as solar cells or wind turbines - is going far too slowly. There is often a lack of political interest and fossil fuels are simply still too cheap.

Photo gallery: Smog alarm: The air is particularly thick in these ten metropolises

  • Smog alarm: The air is particularly thick in these ten metropolises

    Ahwaz, Iran

    The city of Ahvaz takes first place by a wide margin when it comes to smog: it is the dirtiest city in the world. This is due to the heavy industry in and around the city that processes oil, metal and natural gas.

  • Smog alarm: The air is particularly thick in these ten metropolises

    Ulan Bator, Mongolia

    The capital of Mongolia is not only the coldest, but also the second dirtiest metropolis in the world. During the freezing winter, traditional heating with coal and wood accounts for 60-70 percent of the smog in the city.

  • Smog alarm: The air is particularly thick in these ten metropolises

    Lahore, Pakistan

    Air pollution is one of Pakistan's central environmental problems. The situation is particularly dire in Lahore, the country's second largest city. The reason for the smog is - in addition to the high volume of traffic and waste incineration - the natural dust from the surrounding desert regions.

  • Smog alarm: The air is particularly thick in these ten metropolises

    New Delhi, India

    In the 9.9 million metropolis, the number of vehicles increased from 180,000 to almost 3.5 million within 30 years. Nevertheless, coal-fired power plants are primarily to blame for air pollution: They contribute up to 80 percent of harmful emissions.

  • Smog alarm: The air is particularly thick in these ten metropolises

    Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

    Sandstorms - like here over Riyadh - favor the development of smog because they additionally increase the particle concentration in the air. The intense solar radiation transforms the dirt from the exhaust gases from industry and traffic into ozone.

  • Smog alarm: The air is particularly thick in these ten metropolises

    Cairo, Egypt

    The poor air quality in Cairo causes diseases such as chronic respiratory diseases and lung cancer. Every year between 10,000 and 25,000 people die from it. Reasons for the pollution are the high volume of traffic and the fast growing industry.

  • Smog alarm: The air is particularly thick in these ten metropolises

    Dhaka, Bangladesh

    According to a study by the Max Planck Institute in Mainz, around 500 people die each year in New York and Tokyo as a result of polluted air. In Dhaka, a metropolis of seven million, there are almost 15,000. There, the researchers measured the world's highest concentration of sulfur dioxide.

  • Smog alarm: The air is particularly thick in these ten metropolises

    Moscow, Russia

    The polluted air in megacities is composed quite differently. Most of all, Moscow is characterized by an increased concentration of hydrocarbons. The year-round westerly wind ensures fresher air, at least in the western parts of the city.

  • Smog alarm: The air is particularly thick in these ten metropolises

    Mexico City, Mexico

    The smog problem in Mexico City is exacerbated by the geographic location. The city lies in a basin and is surrounded by volcanoes up to 5000 meters high. Because of the high levels of sulfur dioxide and hydrocarbons in the air, Mexico City has long been considered the dirtiest city in the world.

  • Smog alarm: The air is particularly thick in these ten metropolises

    New York, USA

    New York is considered the cleanest big city in the USA. The use of biodiesel and the expansion of public transport contribute to this.

    Author: Julia Vergin

2. Deforestation

Problem: More and more trees have to give way when entire (species-rich) forests are destroyed. In the tropics in particular, they have to make room for cattle breeding or the cultivation of soybeans, for palm oil plantations or for other agricultural monocultures.

The destruction of forests has an impact on biodiversity and the climate

Today around 30 percent of the surface of our planet is covered by forests - that is only about half as much as it was around 11,000 years ago. 7.3 million hectares of forest are destroyed every year. Tropical forests once made up 15 percent of the land area; today it's no more than six or seven percent. Most of it was cut down or burned down.

Forests not only serve to protect biodiversity, but also act as carbon sinks - natural CO2 stores - that do not end up in the earth's atmosphere or the oceans.

Solution: Protect what's left of the forest. Reforest deforested areas. But above all, this requires a strong state. In many places - especially in tropical regions - the necessary state structures, the capital and the will to assert themselves are lacking. Instead, there is bribery, criminal deforestation and the hope of quick money.

Picture gallery: Fight against illegal logging

  • Fight against illegal logging

    Green lung

    The tropical rainforest in the Amazon is almost twice the size of India. A good three quarters of the area is in Brazil. The earth's green lungs are threatened by illegal logging and the exploitation of natural resources.

  • Fight against illegal logging

    Caught in action

    Together with the military police, agents from the Brazilian Institute for Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) hunt down illegal loggers. You are trying to catch this in the act. Here an IBAMA agent is targeting a timber truck.

  • Fight against illegal logging

    Short process

    IBAMA is not squeamish about illegal loggers. Anyone caught, like here near the town of Novo Progresso in the state of Para, will feel the hard hand of the authority. The wood and the trucks are burned on site.

  • Fight against illegal logging

    Dangerous work

    The work carries a high level of risk. Some loggers are armed. In June, a police officer was shot dead while on duty.

  • Fight against illegal logging

    Rare success

    In this case, the IBAMA employees were successful. But success is becoming rarer. The economic crisis has also hit the environmental authorities. Their funds have been cut by 30 percent in recent years.

  • Fight against illegal logging

    Bad equipment

    This has consequences: "The loggers are better equipped than we are," says Uiratan Barroso, representative of the agency in the state of Para. "As long as we don't have money for unmarked vehicles and sensible radios, we can't work properly."

  • Fight against illegal logging

    Balance sheet deteriorates

    Between 2004 and 2012, the deforestation rate in the Amazon was reduced by 80 percent through the use of IBAMA. But in the last four years it has increased by 35 percent. Last year, a forest area four times the size of Los Angeles was cleared.

  • Fight against illegal logging

    Help from Germany and Norway

    The Brazilian government admits that the IBAMA is too poorly funded to carry out its tasks. The situation is now to be improved with 56 million real, the equivalent of a good 15 million euros, from the Fundo Amazonia. Most of the money comes from Germany and Norway.

    Author: Christoph Ricking

3. Extinction of species

Problem: While on land the animals are hunted to extinction for their meat, ivory or other "medicinal" products, huge industrial fishing boats are wiping out entire fish populations at sea. But not only direct hunting, but also the loss and destruction of the habitat are the main factors that contribute to the disappearance of many species - although a very specific species is responsible for all these dangers: humans.

Rhinos are killed for their horn, which some people mistakenly believe to help with headaches and the like.

Not only do species naturally have a right to exist, they also make a major contribution to human survival. Really! Just think about the bees and their pollination work. Without them there would be no seed formation, which in turn is the basis for the continued existence of the plants. The little helpers are indispensable for nature and producers.

Solution: There must be concrete measures to prevent further loss of biodiversity. Protecting and restoring habitats is one side - stopping poaching and wildlife trafficking is another. All of this should be done in cooperation with the locals so that the conservation of wild animals is also in their social and economic interest.

Picture gallery: Threatening extinction of species

  • Threatening extinction of species

    100 times faster

    The American black bear is one of more than 22,000 endangered species. In the past century, the rate of species extinction was more than 100 times higher than it would have been without human activity, warn scientists from various American universities in a jointly published study. The WWF assumes that 70 species become extinct every day.

  • Threatening extinction of species

    The red list is getting longer and longer

    The International Union for Conservation of Nature IUCN warns: 41 percent of all amphibian and 26 percent of all mammal species are threatened with extinction. This giant Titicaca frog only lives in Lake Titicaca on the high plateau of the Andes in Peru and Bolivia. In the early 1970s, the bottom of the lake was populated with millions of such frogs. Today they have almost completely disappeared from many parts of the lake.

  • Threatening extinction of species

    Polluted environment, cleared forests

    The reasons for the accelerated extinction of species are largely man-made: They are, among other things, global warming, environmental pollution and deforestation. Another study says that an average of 2,000 trees have been felled every minute over the past 40 years.

  • Threatening extinction of species

    Hardly discovered, already extinct

    In the current study, the scientists compared the rate of species extinction today with the rates in earlier epochs before industrialization. The dodo (picture) was already extinct 100 years after its discovery in Mauritius - in 1690. Rats and domestic animals were to blame for the flightless bird's end.

  • Threatening extinction of species

    Fossils as reference values

    For their analysis, the researchers evaluated, among other things, fossils that document the extinction of vertebrate species. The findings are rough estimates - what exactly happened on Earth in the 4.5 billion years of its existence cannot be precisely determined. In the earlier phases, only two out of 10,000 species of vertebrae died out per century - for example this primeval horse.

  • Threatening extinction of species

    Threatened ecosystems

    With the species, important functions of the ecosystems are lost, such as the pollination of plants. With the current speed of species extinction, humans will have to forego many of the advantages of biodiversity within three generations, according to the authors of the study. "We're sawing off the branch we're sitting on," says one of them, Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University.

  • Threatening extinction of species

    Danger to humanity

    If nothing is done, "our species would probably disappear at an early stage," says lead author of the study, Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico. For example, if the bees were to die out, this would have serious consequences for grain production - the result would be famine. The death of bees is already a global problem.

  • Threatening extinction of species

    Quick countermeasures are necessary

    The authors combine their findings with an urgent appeal: mankind must "rapidly and significantly increase" its efforts to conserve endangered species. In particular, the loss of natural habitat, the exploitation of nature and climate change need to be addressed. Without countermeasures, it would take "millions of years" for the planet to recover.

    Author: Hilke Fischer

4. Soil erosion

Problem: Overgrazing, monocultures, erosion, soil sealing, overdosing of pollutants, conversion of green to arable land - the list of ways to cause the greatest possible damage to our soils seems almost endless. And we perceive quite a lot of that: Around twelve million hectares of arable land are degraded every year, according to estimates by the United Nations (UN).

Solution: There is already a wide range of soil protection and restoration techniques - from sustainable agriculture to crop rotation to water retention through the construction of terraces. Since food security is also linked to good soil, we will - or rather we must - master this challenge in the long term.

Picture gallery: When the earth breaks out of the field

  • When the earth goes from the field


    There are more organisms in a handful of soil than there are people on earth. They ensure that the humus layer stores nutrients and water. After the oceans, the soils are the largest carbon reservoir on earth. They store more carbon than all forests put together.

  • When the earth goes from the field


    Cities are growing all over the world, and arable soils are disappearing under concrete and asphalt. Under the artificial ceiling, the microorganisms and microorganisms in the ground suffocate, rainwater rushes on unhindered instead of seeping into the ground.

  • When the earth goes from the field

    Blown away

    Like human skin, the sensitive skin of the earth needs protection from sun, wind and cold. Large areas can dry out, and when plowing, the thin layer of soil is thrown up and carried away by the wind.

  • When the earth goes from the field


    Overuse of land through deforestation, overfertilization and overgrazing is turning arid areas into deserts. Climate factors such as droughts are then accelerators in a chain reaction that was set in motion by humans.

  • When the earth goes from the field

    Washed away

    When extreme precipitation rains on concrete or asphalt, when the snowmelt hits straightened river beds without sufficient run-off areas, then the flood washes away fertile arable land.

  • When the earth goes from the field


    Monocultures on huge areas need additional fertilizers and pesticides to remain profitable. The amount and use of fertilizers is increasing all the time. Around 40 percent of the world's land area is at risk from the use of pesticides.

  • When the earth goes from the field


    An enormous amount of water evaporates in large reservoirs, climate change means that in some regions of the world there is too little precipitation and the soil is losing water. The salts dissolved in the water remain on the surface and make the soil unusable for growing food. Seawater penetration is also a problem in many coastal regions.

  • When the earth goes from the field


    Whether industrial leaks, contamination from accidents or weapons of war or continuous contamination from years of over-fertilization: once a soil is contaminated, it is time-consuming and costly to repair the damage. According to official information, almost a fifth of the agricultural soils in China are contaminated.

  • When the earth goes from the field

    Worn away

    In order to get raw materials, soil is removed. Arable land is also sacrificed in the German lignite regions. The soil is thus lost for other purposes - for example as a biotope for species protection, for agriculture, settlements or recreational areas.

  • When the earth goes from the field

    New life

    It takes two thousand years for nature to build a ten centimeter thick, fertile layer of soil in which plants can grow and water and nutrients can be stored. In order to protect fertile soils worldwide, the United Nations declared 2015 the "International Year of Soil".

    Author: Helle Jeppesen


5. Overpopulation

Problem: The global population is growing rapidly. While we numbered 1.6 billion people at the beginning of the 20th century, today there are around 7.5 billion worldwide. By 2050 it could be ten billion. And then it gets tight! The growing global population - combined with growing prosperity - is putting more and more pressure on important natural resources, such as water. The fastest growing population is on the African continent and in South and East Asia.

Solution: Experience has shown that women who can decide for themselves about sexuality and contraception tend to have fewer children. That is why awareness campaigns and the provision of contraceptives to promote family planning are still important - even if this may no longer sound appropriate to one or the other. Because sexuality is not primarily seen as an interpersonal need everywhere, but in some places primarily as a means of reproduction due to social and religious convictions.

Picture gallery: When we only needed one earth

  • When we only needed one earth

    Many of us

    In 1970 there were around 3.7 billion people on earth. Today there are more than 7.5 billion of us. China and India are at the top of the world's population. 1.4 billion and 1.3 billion people live here. (Source: Statista, German Foundation for World Population)

  • When we only needed one earth

    Where do you live?

    Almost 64 percent of the world's population lived in the countryside in 1970. That has changed significantly. In 2016 it was only 45 percent. (Source: WorldBank)

  • When we only needed one earth


    Instead, we are becoming more and more urban people. The number of us living in urban areas has increased from 1.34 billion in 1970 to 4 billion in 2016. It is assumed that even in less developed regions, more people now live in cities than in rural areas. (Source: WorldBank)

  • When we only needed one earth

    And what do you drive with?

    We love cars, don't we? But do we have any idea how many there are? You can hardly say exactly. However, estimates assume 250 million vehicles in 1970. In 2010 there were already a billion. And by 2020 it should even be 2 billion. (Source: Wikipedia)

  • When we only needed one earth

    Like driving a bus

    In 1970 the first Boeing 747 landed in London with 324 passengers on board. The plane came from New York and initiated a rapid increase in the number of passengers. 310 million were in the air then, today there are around 3.7 billion. (Source: Worldbank)

  • When we only needed one earth

    Leave in the ground?

    Ever thought about oil? There is still some of it in the earth and maybe it should stay there. Also because we bring it to light very quickly. Crude oil production has almost doubled since 1970, from 48,000 barrels a day to 92,000 barrels. (Source: Statista)

  • When we only needed one earth

    Off in the air

    Whatever we do, we blow CO2 into the air. Unsurprisingly, the numbers are very high. In 1970 we produced 14.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide, in 2015 we had already produced 35 billion tons. (Source: Statista)

  • When we only needed one earth

    And the green lungs?

    The Amazon rainforest is one of the most beautiful and valuable oxygen producers we have. It is not for nothing that it is also called the "green lung." But people need a lot of wood and that's what they bring here. The forest area has shrunk, from 4.1 million square kilometers in 1970 to 3.3 million square kilometers in 2016. (Source: Mongabay)

    Author: Klaus Esterluss