Issues Around The World


Written by:
Ivy Frater


We’ve all heard about the need to be more sustainable. But what does it actually mean to be sustainable? What even needs sustaining? We’ll take a look at some fundamental environmental concerns like plastics, waste, and carbon emissions here to share a better idea of what a sustainable future looks like.


How do we define
as a
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The United Nations defines sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” It’s not just about the environment - it’s about securing an accessible, healthy way of life for all of Earth’s present and future inhabitants.


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History & Context

What is the history of
issue and the context around it?  - A timeline.
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1876-1900s: Beginning of the Movement

The idea of being in harmony with nature and living to support future generations dates back to early humans, but the sustainability movement didn’t gain traction until the late 19th century. The growth of appreciation for wilderness and wildlife emerged in response to the growing industrialization of the United States, with an increased desire to escape urban life.

In 1876, the Appalachian Mountain club, one of the first private conservation organizations, was established to preserve eastern wilderness. In the 1890s and 1900s, figures like John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt rose awareness for the conservation movement and helped establish the National Parks Service in the United States. While the National Parks Service was not founded until 1916, Yellowstone became the first national park in 1871. Today, there are 63 national parks in the United States, and the National Parks Service is still running.

1950-1970: New Legislation Passed

The 1950s saw a revival of the environmental movement, and growing awareness around the issue led to the passing of a series of seminal environment-conscious legislation like the Air Pollution Act (1955), the National Environmental Policy Act (1970), and the Clean Air Act (1970).A more grassroots approach to environmentalism was born out of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring in 1962 on the damaging effects of chemical pesticides.

Silent Spring was an instant bestseller and extremely ahead of its time but led to controversy, and the chemical industry vilified Carson for years after publishing. Despite this, Silent Spring became a prominent influencer of the modern environmental movement, which began a decade later.

1980-2000: Our Common Future

The popularization of the concept of being in harmony with nature and supporting future generations under the term “sustainability” was introduced in the 1980s with the publication of the UN report Our Common Future. The report details the need to balance economic development with the environment.

Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report, was written by an international group of politicians and environmental experts chaired by the Norwegian Prime Minister at the time Gro Harlem Brundtland.

This report laid the foundation for the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the largest environmental conference ever organized. This summit led to international agreements to fight climate change, and protect biodiversity and forests, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and Agenda 21. Additionally, it led to the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, creating more government commitments and extending sustainable practices into local government, business, and civil society.

2006-now: Modern-day Sustainability

An Inconvenient Truth, a documentary on former Vice President Al Gore’s efforts to educate the public on climate change, was released in 2006. This documentary dramatically affected the public, with many Americans feeling inspired to change their unsustainable habits. It opened peoples’ eyes to issues they had never thought of before.

Today, numerous youth activists like Greta Thunberg, Xiye Bastida, and Disha Ravi utilize social media to promote sustainability and have helped usher in a youth-centric, digital-first 21st century sustainability movement.

Unfortunately, countries have been falling short of their climate goals. The Paris Agreement led to leaders pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but because of the actions of the biggest emitters, the world is not on track to meet those goals. China, the biggest emitter in the world, has stopped dialogue with the United States regarding climate promises due to diplomatic tensions. The United States has struggled with maintaining its climate goals due to Congress' disagreements regarding the issues. Some members of Congress and throughout the U.S. government (and governments across the world) stand in opposition to new climate regulations because of the fossil fuel industry's monetary donations and influence on many policymakers.

Additionally, many countries blatantly underreport their emissions. A Washington Post investigation found that many nations lie about their total emissions, which hinders the ability to create effective goal points on reducing emissions and ensures that all future policies focused on reducing emissions to work towards a better future for global citizens do not have the correct data to work from.

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Circular Economy
Waste & Clean Up
Other issues surrounding
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Nowadays, recycling is one of the most popularized methods of practicing sustainability and has evolved significantly throughout the years in the U.S.

In 1972, the first plastic waste recycling mill was established in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, and during the 1980s, various cities across the country began implementing recycling policies, ranging from the curbside collection of plastics to mandated plastic recycling.

1988 also marked the year of the creation of the famous closed-loop triangular symbol to identify plastic resin made to help individuals sort their plastics for recycling.

In recent years, some corporations have become involved by switching to a more reusable form of plastic and providing incentives to recycle items such as plastic water bottles. Additionally, circular economies have been adopted, which focus on increasing the life cycle of products and reducing waste to a minimum.In a circular economy, when products reach the end of their life cycle, the goal is to keep them in the economy through effective recycling and reusing to create value.

Additionally, they want to reduce waste streams by using more sustainable materials over time. In 2020, as part of the Green Deal, the new Circular Economy Action was established in the EU. The plan’s goal is to help keep the circulation of resources in the economy. One successful example of this is the Netherlands. The Dutch have adopted a circular economy with the goal being 100% built on circularity by 2050. Their success comes from creating regulations to ensure the implementation of circular tactics, such as legislation focused on building government buildings out of recycled resources.

After World War II, from poor air quality to polluted rivers, the government realized it needed to combat the issue of growing landfills and waste pollution, resulting in a shift to focus on waste management. As a result of this and as a response to the melting of the Arctic, the Arctic Council was established in 1996 as the leading intergovernmental forum for cooperation and coordination between Arctic States.

In 1976, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act was signed to address increasing problems from the growing volume of waste. It includes a cleanup program which oversees thousands of cleanups across the country.In the late 1900s, the country saw numerous government reforms, such as the Solid Waste Disposal Act and Federal Resource Recovery Act.

As scientific research continued to provide new insights into hazardous waste’s negative consequences on human health, the Environmental Protection Agency released a series of regulations pertaining to the disposal of hazardous waste. And they declared it necessary that such dangerous waste be reduced or eliminated as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Human health is directly related to sustainability, as unsustainable practices damages it overall. For example, carbon emissions cause trouble breathing, which may create neurological and cardiovascular issues. And when natural resources are burned, biodiversity and water and air quality are negatively affected.

There have been attempts to solve this problem, such as Healthy People 2030, which focuses on reducing exposure to harmful pollutants in air, water, soil, materials, and food in both homes and workplaces by the end of the decade. Through tracking environmental pollutants, Healthy People 2030 attempts to create legislation and policies around reducing pollution and preventing the health problems that accompany it.

“Meeting the hygiene needs of all adolescent girls is a fundamental issue of human rights, dignity, and public health.”
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Nearly 1/5 of women in the U.S. have experienced completed or attempted rape.

Over the last century, due to rapid climate and ecosystem change, there has been an unprecedented loss of biodiversity all over the planet. The threats to biodiversity include deforestation, invasive species, pollution, unsustainable resource use, and a growing human population. Because of these threats, about 40,000 species will be at risk of extinction in the coming decades. Deforestation alone is a huge threat, as approximately 25 million acres of forest are destroyed each year, causing immense habitat loss.

Ocean ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to rising temperatures, with warmer temperatures damaging coral reefs and endangering the thousands of fish in them. Governmental responses to biodiversity loss have been inadequate, with species dying out at hundreds of times the natural rate due to human activity.


Recent News

Recent events, activities, and government actions on
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Government Actions
Government Actions
News Events
March 4, 2023
News Event
Gov't Action (State)
Gov't Action (Federal)

The New York Times Company

Protect ocean life
Nations agree on language for historic treaty to protect ocean life.
March 1, 2023
News Event
Gov't Action (State)
Gov't Action (Federal)

USA Today

Carbon-free electricity
More than 40% of U.S. electricity now comes from carbon-free sources.
January 2, 2023
News Event
Gov't Action (State)
Gov't Action (Federal)


Sustainable fashion
Brands across the fashion industry are incorporating more sustainable practices.
July 5, 2022
News Event
Gov't Action (State)
Gov't Action (Federal)

Federal News Network

U.S. Defense Department to be carbon-free
The U.S. Defense Department is prioritizing sustainability projects to become carbon-free by 2023.
March 1, 2022
News Event
Gov't Action (State)
Gov't Action (Federal)

The New York Times

Ukraine-Russia war and food production
Ukraine-Russia war negatively affects food production worldwide, impacting low-income countries the most.
November 20, 2021
News Event
Gov't Action (State)
Gov't Action (Federal)

The Guardian

National Parks service
Charles “Chuck” F Sams III confirmed as first person of Native descent to lead National Parks service.
October 5, 2021
News Event
Gov't Action (State)
Gov't Action (Federal)

NHO News

Indigenous tribes and sustainability
The University of Arizona instituted a new program to assist indigenous tribes on sustainability practices.
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Reflection Activities

Check your awareness and understanding level on the issue of
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Myth or fact?
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Sources used for
issues page
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[TLDR & Intro]
  1. “Sustainability.” United Nations | Academic Impact, United Nations,
[History & Context]
  1. “A Timeline of Major US Environmental Milestones.” APEX, Apex Companies, LLC, 1 Dec. 2022,
  2. Bearak , Max, and Nadja Popovich. “The World Is Falling Short of Its Climate Goals. Four Big Emitters Show Why.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 8 Nov. 2022,
  3. “Brief History of the National Parks.” The Library of Congress, The Library of Congress,
  4. Combined Sources. “Investigation Reveals Countries Lie about Their Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” People's World, People's World, 12 Nov. 2021,
  5. Cook, John. “Ten Years on: How Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth Made Its Mark.” The Conversation, The Conversation US, Inc, 30 May 2016,
  6. “Framing Sustainable Development: The Brundtland Report – 20 Years On.” United Nations, Apr. 2007,
  7. Lear, Linda. “Silent Spring.” The Life And Legacy Of Rachel Carson,,
  8. “Legacy.” Museum Collections at John Muir National Historic Site, U.S. Department of the Interior,
  9. Lower, Rocío, and Rebecca Watson. “How Many National Parks Are There?” National Park Foundation, National Park Foundation, 22 Feb. 2023,
  10. Purvis, Ben, et al. “Three Pillars of Sustainability: in Search of Conceptual Origins.” Sustainability Science, vol. 14, no. 3, 3 Sept. 2018, pp. 681–695.,
  11. World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future,
  1. “About the Arctic Council.” Arctic Council, Arctic Council Secretariat,
  2. “A Package Deal: Human and Environmental Health.” NSF, NSF,
  3. “Circular Economy: Definition, Importance and Benefits.” News | European Parliament, European Parliament, 12 Feb. 2015,
  4. “Environmental Health.” Healthy People 2030, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion,
  5. Farri, Elisa, et al. “How Sustainability Efforts Fall Apart.” Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business School Publishing, 26 Sept. 2022,
  6. “Global Biodiversity.” National Geographic | Education , National Geographic Society,
  7. “History of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).” EPA | United States Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Protection Agency, 22 June 2022,
  8. Hope, Blaise. “How Countries Are Striving to Build Their Circular Economy.” Sustainability Magazine, 24 Mar. 2022,
  9. Le, Ngan. “The Impact of Fast Fashion on the Environment.” PSCI, The Trustees of Princeton University, 20 June 2020,
  10. “Sustainably Manage Forests, Combat Desertification, Halt and Reverse Land Degradation, Halt Biodiversity Loss.” Sustainable Development Goals, United Nations,
  11. “Walk Down Memory Lane: A History of Plastic Recycling.” AAA Polymer, AAA Polymer, 24 Feb. 2021,
  12. “What Are Businesses Doing to Turn off the Plastic Tap?” UN Environment Programme, UNEP, 28 June 2018,
  13. “What Is Biodiversity?” American Museum of Natural History, American Museum of Natural History,
[Recent News]
  1. Bringé, Alison. “The State Of Sustainability In The Fashion Industry (And What It Means For Brands).” Forbes, Forbes , 2 Jan. 2023,
  2. Einhorn, Catrin. “Nations Agree on Language for Historic Treaty to Protect Ocean Life.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 4 Mar. 2023,
  3. Giddens, Joe. “University of Arizona Launches Program to Work with Tribes on Sustainability.” Navajo-Hopi Observer, NHO News and Western News&Info®, Inc, 5 Oct. 2021,
  4. Golden, Hallie. “‘Heal the Past’: First Native American Confirmed to Oversee National Parks.” The Guardian, Guardian News & Media Limited, 20 Nov. 2021,
  5. Heckman, Jory. “DEFENSE DoD Prioritizes Sustainability Projects to Mitigate Climate Change Impact.” Federal News Network, Hubbard Radio Washington DC, LLC, 5 July 2022,
  6. Puma, Michael J., and Megan Konar. “What the War in Ukraine Means for the World’s Food Supply.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 1 Mar. 2022,
  7. Weise, Elizabeth. “Clean Energy Record: More than 40% of US Electricity Now Comes from Carbon-Free Sources.” USA Today, USA Today, 1 Mar. 2023,

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