General Topic Information

Topics focusing on the environment usually cover a number of key areas including preservation of animal and plant species, preservation of habitat or natural areas and pollution in its various forms.
Animals have rights and this is an idea that many students are unlikely to have given much thought to. Animal testing is used for scientific research, for testing of drugs and consumer products. It would be unacceptable to perform this kind of testing on humans without consent, so it therefore could be argued that it should be equally unacceptable on animals. It may be possible to justify the use of animals in medical research that leads to cures for serious diseases but probably not for cosmetics.
Animals are a source of important products, including foods, drugs and materials (e.g. leather, sheep skin). They are used as pets and as such are often denied the opportunity to reproduce and socialise with other creatures of the same species. However, they are usually well treated, have comfortable lives and probably would not have had a life at all if not for the pet trade. Animals are also part of our education and part of the richness of the world. Animals are also important for maintaining biodiversity and a healthy planet.
IELTS examinations also ask questions regarding whether environmental issues should be addressed at local or global levels. Environmental issues must be addressed locally as the largest environmental impact is felt locally and therefore local change offers the greatest hope for change. For example, soil, water and air pollution are felt much more at the source of the problem than globally. Local initiatives can drive change at the source of the problem. Addressing many local problems will also have a significant impact on the global environment. However, in poorer countries the environment is often sacrificed in order to achieve growth while wealthy nations have strict environmental laws. This causes the transfer of environmentally unfriendly production and associated environmental problems to poorer nations. The role of global environmental initiatives is to encourage countries to manage the local environment well in order to reduce overall pollution levels.
Excessive consumerism is another cause of environmental problems. Products that are designed to have short lives, have excessive packaging, are unnecessary or frivolous, and a lack of community sharing all contribute to environmental problems. Prices often do not accurately reflect the environmental cost of products. For this reason, many countries are beginning to price carbon and companies are starting to be held accountable for environmental damage that they cause.
Nuclear Power is capable of producing large amounts of energy and in normal circumstances does not pollute the atmosphere. The risk with nuclear power is that there can be catastrophic failures such as Fukushima, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Although these failures are rare, they receive an enormous amount of attention and affect public opinion. It can be argued that many other forms of energy generation cause far more deaths and rarely receive public attention because they usually do not usually result in major news events. The number of deaths in polluted cities that arise from poor air quality is very high. Respiratory illness, lung diseases, and cancers are all significant problems. However, one of the major problems with nuclear energy is the storage of waste products. The half-life of nuclear waste is in the hundreds or thousands of years and it has to be stored carefully. Radioactive waste is usually buried but this is not without risks as pollutants can leech into water. The very long life of these products also means that over time there could be geological activity that exposes dangerous pollutants.
Water is essential to all life forms and must be managed carefully. Water conservation is becoming important for two key reasons – population growth and pollution. The problems with water are that it moves and is therefore capable of transporting and dispersing pollution to other places. This makes it difficult to clean and pollution can build up over time. Problems include hormones in water (which can interfere with reproduction) and other chemicals that can damage environments such as oil and other toxic chemicals.
Noise pollution probably does not have a big impact on physical wellbeing but may impact emotional wellbeing. It is possible to separate the noises in people’s lives to those that are unavoidable such as from machinery and cars and sound that people choose to listen to as background noise such as, music or television. People are rarely in a low noise environment. This may prevent people from having thinking time and affect their ability to relax. However, people’s brains are good at filtering out information that is distracting and background noise may prevent people from feeling lonely or isolated.

Topic Vocabulary
Sustainability – This refers to the idea that natural resources should not be used at a greater rate than they can be produced to ensure that resources will never run out. Useful collocations include sustainable energy sources and sustainable consumption.
Conservation – Conservation describes the maintenance of the environment for future generations.
Global warming – Global warming is a process that causes a planet to retain heat. Global warming is caused by gas (CO2, CH4, etc.) that is capable of trapping heat within the atmosphere.
Environmentally friendly – Actions or products that help preserve the environment can be viewed as environmentally friendly.
Environmental protection – This describes protection of the environment.
Materialism – Materialism is the desire to own objects or money.
Consumerism – Consumerism is closely related to materialism and describes the desire to own, consume or use goods.
Half-life – The time it takes for a radioactive material to decay to half of its original mass.
Wellbeing (physical, emotional) – Wellbeing refers to a person’s condition. It may refer to their health, living conditions, or emotions.
Toxic – A substance that is harmful to living creatures is toxic.

Sample Essay – Extinction
There are many extinct animals’ species in the world. Some people think we should protect animals from dying out, while others believe we should spend more time on problems of human beings. What is your opinion?

The rate of extinction is now greater than at almost any point in history and this is important not just for the species that are dying out, but also impacts humans. The loss of species not only reduces the understanding, diversity and beauty of the planet, but also has the potential to create an unstable ecological environment. In addition, there is no reason environmental problems cannot be addressed alongside other human problems. In this essay the importance of protecting animal species will be discussed.
It is important to protect animal and plant species from dying out due to human activity as their loss means that the genetic history of that species will be lost along with the opportunity to study and understand the world better. In addition, the world would be a far less interesting and beautiful place without the many now endangered species such as giant pandas, tigers and polar bears.
Of even greater concern is that the loss of species creates the risk of creating an ecological environment that is unstable, with a small number of species dominating the planet as they become free from predators leading to an environment that lacks genetic diversity and becomes vulnerable to diseases or natural disasters. In addition, the lack of diversity could slow the recovery from such disasters.
Although, there are many other human problems in the world to be solved including, poverty, political instability, wars and pollution, people should not ignore environmental issues. It is possible for societies to attempt to address many problems simultaneously and all issues that threaten the long-term stability of the planet should be addressed urgently.
In summary, maintaining the diversity of the planet is critical for human survival and should be dealt with along with many other important problems.

Essay Notes
This is a difficult topic and many students may find that producing enough ideas is a problem. The question is asking what actions, if any, that humans should take to prevent the loss of species. The question refers to both species and animals. This means that if students choose, it is possible to include plants as well as animals in the response. However, this would require the reader to link the word species to both animals and plants in the introduction. An opening sentence that would do this is “The loss of both animal and plant species should be of concern to humans as such a loss could threaten the future of the planet”. This question also uses “Some people say… while others say…” and students should avoid using this language in their essay as it is non-academic and distances the writer from the ideas being presented and can give the impression that the writer has no ideas of their own or is not prepared to support the ideas that they have.
Students should also notice that the question states “there are many extinct animal species in the world today”, which is logically incorrect. Extinct animals are dead and therefore there are no extinct species in the world ever – they are all gone. This is a deliberated decision on the part of examiners to give incorrect language to students rather than the correct language that students can copy from the question. In this case the correct language is “endangered animals”.
The opening sentence of the introduction specifically refers to the topic (extinction of species) and provides a reason why the topic is important (it impacts humans). This is followed by two ideas sentences. The first addresses the first part of the question, which is the impact of the loss of species, and the second addresses the second part of the question, which is whether we should focus on this problem given that there are so many other problems in the world. The two ideas sentences divide the essay into two clear logical parts. A thesis statement has been added in order to provide an aim for the essay.
The essay has three body paragraphs that cover the key ideas in the same order that they are presented in the introduction. The first paragraph is focused on loss of beauty and understanding and this is supported by a simple example of endangered animals that the world would be poorer without. The second body paragraph describes the potential risk to humanity because of loss of diversity, while the third makes the point that there is no reason why environmental problems cannot be addressed alongside other world problems.
It should be noted that the body is ideas focused and uses few examples and they are short and are included to provide simple examples that allow the reader to better imagine the ideas that are being described.

Essay Vocabulary
Ecological – Ecological refers to plant and animal life.
Genetic – Genetic refers to anything related to genes.
Extinct – Extinct describes a species that has completely died out.
Endangered species – Endangered species refers to species that is at risk of become extinct.
Vulnerable – Anything (living or not) that has a weak position or could be attacked can be considered to be vulnerable.

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