The nitrogen cycle is a biogeochemical cycle that describes how nitrogen is converted to compounds and circulates through the air, water, and soil. Nitrogen is an element that is abundant in the atmosphere; however, it may have limited availability for biological use (Stüeken et al. 221). Nitrogen is a part of various compounds, both organic and non-organic, such as ammonium, nitrogen gas, nitrates, nitrites, and nitrous oxides. In the cycle, nitrogen transforms from one form to another through processes including fixation, assimilation, and decomposition of organisms. In short, the normal circulation of the chemical is crucial the environmental sustainability.
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Humans have greatly influenced the natural circulation of nitrogen through various processes. The most obvious process that impacted the matter is the burning of fossilized fuel. Due to emissions from cars, trucks, buses, power plants, and off-road equipment, nitrogen becomes overly abundant in the atmosphere and leads to adverse effects both for the environment and human health (the United States Environmental Protection Agency). Nitrogen cycle disturbance causes acid rains that make the soil overly acidized, leading to disruption in diverse ecosystems. Therefore, one of the ways to stabilize the biogeochemical cycle is to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses by using renewable energy.
Another way humans have disturbed the nitrogen cycle is through extensive land use for livestock production. According to Leip et al., 42% of the land area of the European Union is used as agricultural land (115004). A significant proportion of the area is grasslands to feed the livestock (Leip et al. 115004). Humans use nitrogen fertilizers to increase yields and improve the production of feed for livestock. The process is associated with deterioration of air quality, global climate, soil quality, biodiversity, and water quality (Leip et al., 115004). However, the matter can be effectively addressed by changing everyday habits.
Eating fewer animal products can lead to improvements in the nitrogen cycle. According to Rosi et al., vegetarians and vegans have a smaller impact on the environment due to their plant-based diet (6). Therefore, it can be stated that shifting towards eating fewer animal products may lead to improvements in the nitrogen cycle. Less land and fewer fertilizers are needed to produce vegetables and crops rather than meat (Leip et al. 115004). Hence, every person can improve the problem with the disturbance of the nitrogen cycle by adopting a vegetarian, vegan, or Mediterranean diet.
Leip, Adrian et al. “Impacts of European Livestock Production: Nitrogen, Sulphur, Phosphorus and Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Land-Use, Water Eutrophication and Biodiversity.” Environmental Research Letters, vol. 10, no. 11, 2015, p. 115004. IOP Publishing, Web.
Rosi, Alice et al. “Environmental Impact of Omnivorous, Ovo-Lacto-Vegetarian, and Vegan Diet.” Scientific Reports, vol. 7, no. 1, 2017, pp. 1-9. Springer Nature, Web.
Stüeken, Eva E. et al. “The Evolution of Earth’s Biogeochemical Nitrogen Cycle.” Earth-Science Reviews, vol. 160, 2016, pp. 220-239. Elsevier BV, Web.
United States Environmental Protection Agency. “Basic Information about NO2.” EPA, Web.