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What’s happening to our planet — in 8 infographics

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Abundant energy is both the blessing and the bane of modern society. Global energy use has risen rapidly over the years, spurred by mechanization, mass electricity use and population growth. But even as alternative sources of energy emerge, fossil fuels retain top billing, polluting the air and altering Earth’s climate.

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The carbon footprint of individuals — essentially, the greenhouse gas emissions attributable to all the products and services they use — varies dramatically from country to country. Each year in the United Kingdom, an average citizen racks up 11 tons (10 metric tons) worth of emissions in everything from recreation to defense.


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About one-third of land worldwide is farmland, though this fraction varies from region to region. About three-quarters of that total is dedicated to producing livestock rather than crops for direct human consumption.

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Water is life. Indispensable for industry, agriculture and everyday existence, freshwater is in high demand, with global water use rising more than five times since 1900.

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We need to talk trash: In 2000, humans threw out 3.3 million tons (3 million metric tons) of waste each day, a sixfold increase from just a century before. Without better efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle, that number could hit 13.3 million tons (12 million metric tons) by 2100.

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Look at maps showing temperature change over the past century and you’ll see a whole lot of purple and red — big leaps on the global thermometer, mostly thanks to greenhouse gases emitted by humans. This heat in turn spurs a host of troubling changes, including melting ice and rising waters.

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Juniper depicts the course of recent history as wave after wave of innovation sweeping over the shores of industrial society, carrying inventions from water power to digital technology. A new wave, sustainability, could help humanity sail for fairer seas.

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Despite scores of pages depicting dramatic changes to Earth’s environment and dire consequences for living things, Juniper urges us not to despair — but points out that to flip the script, we’ll need big changes in everything from energy to infrastructure to agriculture.


How did today’s environmental challenges arise? What are their implications? And what can we do to solve them? Illuminating the answers to these questions is the goal of the more than 100 infographics that comprise What’s Really Happening to Our Planet, British environmentalist Tony Juniper’s latest book.

What’s Really Happening to Our Planet clearly shows that climate change didn’t appear out of thin air, and agricultural challenges didn’t magically materialize from the ground. Instead, humankind acted over decades and centuries to create the conditions that threaten us today — many of which risk further exacerbation by growing human population and consumption.

Fortunately, as the book also illustrates, with concerted action there is opportunity to find our way out of some of the most stubborn environmental troubles, such as polluted air, scarce freshwater, rising seas and wasted resources.

The infographics above offer a sampler of the environmental challenges, consequences and solutions presented in What’s Really Happening to Our Planet. View Ensia homepage

Add Your Comments
  • Weihan Tang Sep. 12th, 2020
    When I was reading the article ' What's Happening on our Plant', I was deeply attracted by it. Much of the laker effect snow falls downwind to the Great Lakes region, where 130 inches of snow or more fall each year. The weather, climate and water on the beautiful earth are the most precious resources in the universe. In a sense, disasters reflect the value of such resources from the opposite side, telling people how to recognize and cherish the gift of nature to human beings. We should save water not only to protect our life but also to protect the Earth.
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