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The Environment Portal

Devil's Punchbowl Waterfall, New Zealand.
The natural environment comprises all naturally-occurring surroundings and conditions in which living things grow and interact on Earth. These include complete landscape units that function as natural systems without major human intervention, as well as plants, animals, rocks, and natural phenomena occurring within their boundaries. They also include non-local or universal natural resources that lack clear-cut boundaries, such as air, water and climate.

The concept of the natural environment can be distinguished by components:

As human population numbers increase and as humans continue to evolve, human activity modifies the natural environment at a rapidly increasing rate, producing what is referred to as the built environment. The potential of the natural environment to sustain these anthropogenic changes while continuing to function as an ecosystem is an issue of major worldwide concern. Key environmental areas of interest include climate change, water supply and waste water, air pollution, waste management and hazardous waste, and land use issues such as deforestation, desertification, and urban sprawl.

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Advancing sand dunes
Desertification is the degradation of land in arid, semi arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various climatic variations, but primarily from human activities. A major impact of desertification is biodiversity loss and loss of productive capacity, for example, by transition from grassland dominated by perennial grasses to one dominated by perennial shrubs.

A number of solutions have been tried in order to reduce the rate of desertification and regain lost land. Leguminous plants, which extract nitrogen from the air and fix it in the soil, can be planted to restore fertility. Stones stacked around the base of trees collect morning dew and help retain soil moisture. Artificial grooves can be dug in the ground to retain rainfall and trap wind-blown seeds. Windbreaks made from trees and bushes to reduce soil erosion and evapotranspiration was widely encouraged by development agencies from the middle of the 1980s.

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Ectopistes migratoriusMCN2P28CA.jpg
Credit: Orthogenetic Evolution in the Pigeons

The Passenger Pigeon was a species of pigeon that was once the most common bird in North America. It is estimated that there were as many as five billion passenger pigeons in the United States at the time Europeans colonized North America. They lived in enormous flocks, and during migration, one could see flocks of them a mile (1.6 km) wide and 300 miles (500 km) long, taking several days to pass and probably containing two billion birds. The species had not been common in the Pre-Columbian period, until the devastation of the American Indian population by European diseases.

Over the 19th century, the species went from being one of the most abundant birds in the world to extinction. At the time, Passenger Pigeons had one of the largest groups or flocks of any animal, second to only the Desert Locust.

Some decimation in numbers occurred as a result of loss of habitat, when the Europeans started settling further inland. However, the primary factor emerged when pigeon meat was commercialized as a cheap food for slaves and the poor in the 19th century, resulting in hunting on a massive scale. There was a slow decline in their numbers between about 1800 and 1870, followed by a catastrophic decline between 1870 and 1890, at the end of which they were rare and beyond the point of recovery. 'Martha', thought to be the world's last passenger pigeon, died on September 1, 1914 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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The Brundtland Commission, formally the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), known by the name of its Chair Gro Harlem Brundtland, was convened by the United Nations in 1983. The commission was created to address growing concern "about the accelerating deterioration of the human environment and natural resources and the consequences of that deterioration for economic and social development." In establishing the commission, the UN General Assembly recognized that environmental problems were global in nature and determined that it was in the common interest of all nations to establish policies for sustainable development.

The Report of the Brundtland Commission, Our Common Future, was published in 1987. It was welcomed by the General Assembly in its resolution 42/187. The report deals with sustainable development and the change of politics needed for achieving that. The definition of this term in the report is quite well known and often cited:

"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:
  • the concept of 'needs', in particular the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
  • the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs."

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Theodore Roosevelt
To waste, to destroy our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we thought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed.

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Up to date as of January 22, 2010

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In biology, ecology, and environmental science, an environment is the complex of physical, chemical, and biotic factors that surround and act upon an organism or ecosystem.

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Articles on this topic in other Wikimedia projects can be found at: Wikimedia Commons Portal Environment

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