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The prediction and assessment of impacts on the environment of proposals is an essential component of EIA. Parties determine environmental impacts by understanding activities associated with the project and the ecological setting of the area. Studying the interaction between project elements and environmental components enables us to predict the likelihood of impacts in an area. For example, parties usually develop large-scale hydropower projects in naturally pristine regions. Therefore, authorities conduct EIAs for such projects by establishing site-specific environmental baselines.
The physical environment is the environment in which we humans live and work. We constantly interact and impact the physical environment through the houses we live in, the water we drink, our means of transportation to work and school, the air we breathe, the products we buy, etc. We can also think of the physical environment as that part of the environment that contains pure physical elements like climate, soil, water, air, etc.
Geology is a science that studies the physical Earth and the processes acting on it. Environmental geology is a sub-disciple of geology that studies the interaction between humans and their geologic environment. The geologic environment includes rocks, soil, minerals, air, water, and life. Human activities impact the Earth. Humans, in turn, are affected by Earth’s processes. By studying these interlinked impacts and Earth systems, we can better understand the prediction and assessment of impacts on the environment. These studies also enable us to assess the environmental performance of projects effectively.
Soil is loose sediments that cover most land. It consists of both organic and inorganic matter. Soils are unconsolidated and serve as natural mediums for the growth of trees and plants. Climate, water, microorganisms, and many other factors decide the type of soil produced in an area. However, human activities such as agriculture, the growth of industries, the development of public projects, etc., alter soil formation and evolution mechanisms. Studying various properties of soils helps us better understand the degradation we’ve caused and how to reverse it. Soil studies are vital in predicting and assessing impacts on the environment.
Minerals are solid, naturally occurring, inorganic substances made up of definite chemical compositions and an ordered atomic structure. The availability of chemical elements on Earth determines the type of minerals that form and the conditions they form under. According to recent research, human activities have disturbed nature and its chemical elements. This disturbance has led to an explosion of mineral diversity on the Earth in the past 250 years. Apart from affecting its diversity, humans also impact the availability of minerals. Overpopulation, rapid urbanization, and industrialization have greatly contributed to a depleted stock of mineral resources worldwide.
Climate refers to long-term weather patterns over a particular region. Weather patterns can change in an hour, day, month, or even year. Climate considers the change in an area’s weather patterns over a range of 30-100 years. The generation of power, the manufacture of goods, the destruction of forests, etc., have caused extreme changes in the Earth’s natural climates. Today, the Earth is warming at a rate faster than any ever recorded in history.
Water resources are sources of water that we humans need and use in daily life activities. We use water for agriculture, industries, recreational, and household activities. Almost all human activities require fresh water. But, we have extensively contaminated most freshwater sources by releasing industrial effluents, sewage, pesticides, fertilizers from agriculture, etc., into our water bodies. Therefore, the availability of freshwater is decreasing day by day.
We use ‘water quality’ to describe water’s physical, chemical, and biological characteristics. The bacteria levels, pH, oxygen concentration, salinity, and sediment suspension are among many factors that we measure to infer water quality. Poor water quality is a risk to people and ecosystems.
Good air quality implies the absence of chemical pollutants and solid particulate matter. Poor air quality suggests the presence of high levels of contaminants, making the air a health risk for people, animals, and ecosystems. Air pollution significantly affects the air quality of an area. Burning fossil fuels to support modern human activities contributes to air pollution.
Noise is any sound that is not pleasing to your ears and is unpleasant and undesirable. However, the perception of noise differs from person to person. A sound may be undesirable to one person while pleasant to another. Noise is typically defined as a loud, unwanted sound. Many human activities, like construction, mining, industries, transportation, etc., produce high noise levels. These high noise levels are destructive to human health and wild species.
Humans and our activities have greatly affected the biological environment. Habitat destruction and global climate change have led to changes in physical variables like temperature and pH in Earth systems. The response of biological species to these changes determines their growth, population, metabolism, behaviour, and survival. Adverse environmental effects have driven many natural habitats and species into extinction.
A terrestrial ecosystem is a community of land-based organisms. Forests, tundra, grasslands, and rainforests are all examples of terrestrial ecosystems. The production of plastic, deforestation, agriculture, and overpopulation are some human-linked factors that have caused significant damage to terrestrial ecosystems.
A wetland is a portion of land entirely covered by water for at least a part of a year. They can either be completely covered with water or deeply saturated with water. Wetlands form a zone of transition between dry land and underwater environments. They are one of the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on Earth. Human activities like construction, removal of vegetation for agriculture, and extensive use of groundwater and other freshwater sources alter the water supply to wetlands. Without an adequate water supply, wetlands lose their diverse species and wither away.
Aquatic ecosystems are communities of organisms that live and thrive underwater. They include lakes, swamps, rivers, oceans, etc. Overfishing, ocean pollution, ocean acidification, ocean warming, and the introduction of invasive species are some human activities that have caused extensive damage to aquatic communities.
Threatened and endangered species are those that are at risk of extinction. They are at this risk either due to decreased populations or habitat loss. Humans and our activities have a significant role in both these cases. Our overconsumption of resources and invasion of natural environments and habitats have disturbed the natural order of ecosystems. We are causing a change in the environment at a rate faster than species can cope with. This results in a decrease in their populations. Also, clearing forests and grasslands to make way for agriculture has caused species to lose their natural habitats. Studying the behaviour of current threatened and endangered species can help in the effective prediction and assessment of impacts on the environment.
Human resources are assets that we draw on in order to function effectively. They may also refer to strategies developed to deal with adverse or unpleasant circumstances. We will now look at some human resources, how they affect the environment, and how they can be studied to predict and minimize future impacts.
Demographics relate to the structure of the people. It includes statistics on gender, race, age, etc. An inclusive and diverse workforce ensures that environmental impacts can be assessed and predicted, considering different perspectives. It also ensures that various views can be considered and an optimal plan for the environment created.
Practices such as Green Human Resource Management Practices help organizations study the financial impact of environmental policies. These practices help parties identify viable environmental projects and activities.
Human factors such as population density, culture, traditions, and economy determine land use. The unsustainable use of land (through deforestation, desertification, etc.) and its resources have caused large-scale land degradation in many parts of the world. The monitoring of land use forms an essential part of the prediction and assessment of impacts on the environment.
Infrastructure is a necessary element for development. It includes anything physically constructed to benefit humans. They include roads, dams, bridges, tunnels, etc. However, authorities seldom consider environmental concerns during the design of such projects. To minimize their environmental impacts, it is vital to assess infrastructure, especially those developed in sensitive environments.
This deals with studying ancient plant and animal remains. Studying these features helps us understand which species were present at a location and at what point in time. By correlating such findings to present-day situations, we can make better, informed choices in our daily lives for environmental preservation.
Visual environmental impacts are an essential part of an EIA. They deal with the visibility of structures or projects. Visual perception is necessary when analyzing environmental impacts. Most people oppose large-scale projects such as highways and power plants because of their visual impact. Opposition is primarily due to people not wanting concrete structures to be visible in natural, pristine areas.
This includes identifying threats and hazards to the environment and developing practices to remove or minimize those threats. It also includes training people to prevent and respond to environmental accidents. These practices are essential in the prediction and assessment of impacts on the environment.