Environmental Futurecast: Six Pressing Environmental Challenges

01/13/2011 11:37 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The foremost environmental issues in the coming year revolve around air pollution, especially the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions that serve as a catalyst for global warming. But what about the longer view? What are the most pressing environmental challenges facing humanity for the duration of the 21st Century?

There are six that made my list.

Climate Change: This category includes the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning in stationary and mobile sources. The objective is to slow and eventually stabilize global warming, thereby mitigating drastic climate fluctuations and rising sea levels that would cause havoc. Success in controlling the increase of carbon dioxide concentrations and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would also help to curb the acidification of the oceans and destruction of coral reefs.

Energy Transition: This is closely related to climate change and involves gradually replacing polluting finite fossil fuels (like coal and oil) with clean renewable energy such as solar, wind , biomass, and if scientists can ever figure it out, nuclear fusion. Transportation is a subheading here, as we try to shift automobiles (and other modes of travel) away from dependency on oil to a reliance on cleaner natural gas, hydrogen, and in the distant future, perhaps solar power.

Family Planning: This relates to stabilizing the human population through education, contraception, and spacing of births that history shows lead to smaller family size. The idea is to avert population exceeding the capacity of the planet's natural resource base to provide us with an adequate food supply.

Land Use Planning: Under this category, I would include preservation of the earth's remaining biodiversity, wetlands, and prime agricultural acreage. Restoration of degraded natural resources, where possible, would be an important subheading. So would creating livable cities by providing potable water, sustainable clean energy delivery systems, adequate housing, and ample open green space while eliminating sprawl.

Reducing Global Poverty: This scourge jeopardizes a healthy sustainable relationship between human beings and the earth's biological life support system on which we all depend. Desperation is the enemy of conservation. Poverty can be effectively combated through universal education (that leads to societal stability), technology transfer from developed to developing countries, and a modest redistribution of wealth through foreign aid that is structured as a hand up, not a handout.

Preventing the introduction and reducing the presence of industrial produced toxic chemicals in the environment: Effective regulation, technological innovation that provides benign substitutes to toxic chemicals, and rigorous enforcement play pivotal roles in cleansing a global environment plagued by widespread manmade pollution.

I think that just about covers it.

Edward Flattau's fourth book Green Morality is now available.