The environment embraces all earth’s life-support systems. Our existence, well-being and economy largely depend on the provision of natural resources or ‘natural capital’ including the planet’s air, water, soil, minerals, fisheries and natural purification processes, together with direct and indirect energy from the sun which we can think of as ‘solar capital’ (Miller, 2004). In order to sustain our living in the environment, and to satisfy society’s basic needs into the future, it is absolutely crucial to protect these life-sustaining processes and the earth resources. In addition, environmental capital is vital to economic capital. However, current economic and societal patterns indicate a depletion of natural capital within the near future. Also, today’s global environmental problems do have one thing in common: in the end they are caused by human activities.
In this chapter we introduce the nature of global, regional and local environmental threats and provide context by discussing their causes, impacts and challenges for industry and policy makers. First, we discuss some economic, environmental and social parameters in our discussion on environmental and economic sustainability and introduce the nature of environmental problems from a material base perspective. Section 1.6 reviews important causes and effects of climate change, ozone depletion and resource depletion, while section 1.7 describes characteristics of regional threats, such as acidification and water pollution. The last section 1.8 explores some local environmental threats.