I would like you to try to visualize our future on this planet. Imagine the dark clouds hanging over every town. The oceans swallowing our coasts, and deserts eating up our heartland. All of these things are caused by pollution, and that's what's in store for us if we don't change our ways.
There are many forms of pollution, but most of them can be divided into two groups: air and water pollution. Air pollution is one of the more obvious forms of pollution. It is caused by the traffic that clogs the roadways, the burning of garbage, and the release of toxic gases into the air by industries. Every year millions of tons of gases and particulates are poured into the atmosphere. Normally, small amounts of particulates would dissipate in the air, but we constantly overload it. Every time some sort of fuel is burned, a pollutant is released into the air in forms ranging from colorless, odorless, yet poisonous gases to the thick, black, smog, which hangs over our cities.
The burning and deforestation of the Earth's forest is also contributing to the problem. Every year, the clearing of forests released 1 billion tons of CO2. Throughout its history the earth has lost over 2/3 of its original forest area. This year, we're fighting the fires in Southeast Asia and the Amazon River Valley. The World Wildlife Federation has recently released a special report on the effects of the fires. So far this year almost two million acres in Southeast Asia have burned. There is an average of 599 fires a day, and according to CNN correspondent Margaret Lowrie, "the Brazilian fires have increased by 28% this year alone."
Not only are the massive amounts of smoke being added to the air causing a problem, but also we are destroying our most effective method of fighting air pollution. As the WWF's Francis Sullivan said, "We like to think of the Amazon as the global air conditioner. It cools and cleans the planet and rejuvenates oxygen levels in the atmosphere."
There are many dramatic effects of air pollution. One is the health problem it causes people. The gases in the air irritate eyes and lungs. Particulates settle in the lungs and worsen asthma and bronchitis. It has been proven that particulates cause cancer, emphysema, and pneumonia.
Another effect of air pollution is acid rain. Acid rain is made up primarily of nitric and sulfuric acids which fall to Earth as rain and snow. Acid rain has killed off many of North America's lakes and rivers. It can also erode many metals and stones. It has been responsible for the destruction of many historic buildings and works of art.
Another equally serious form of pollution is water pollution. It is steadily reducing the amount of clean, fresh water that is necessary for life. Water pollution mainly comes from industrial plants, farms, and sewage systems. When too much waste is dumped into a body of water, the aerobic bacteria that would naturally break it down into less toxic substances are overwhelmed. The energy to break down waste requires oxygen, and the bacteria use too much oxygen breaking down the surplus waste, eventually robbing the water of its oxygen supply. This, of coarse, is death for any life the water might have contained. Industries illegally dump tons of toxic waste into our water supply, and authorities are slow to act. Farmers who use pesticides are also contributing to the problem. The pesticides reach rivers through runoff where they are absorbed by fish and then carried to humans. The U.S. Council on Environmental Quality says that runoff affects more than half of our rivers. Wastes can also directly enter our drinking water by seeping into the groundwater supply. J. Gumbas, the author of the essay "Water Pollution in Lakes and Rivers" stated that U.S. drinking water contains over 2,000 chemicals that are linked to cancer, cell mutation, and Alzheimer's disease. In New Jersey, every major aquifer is contaminated, and 40% of the nation's groundwater is contaminated by gasoline. Even treated water is not safe. Many cities use chlorine to treat contaminated water. However, when chlorine combines with some organic materials it forms dangerous byproducts, which are proven carcinogens.
Water pollution is also a major cost to our government. According to Peter Miller and John Moffett of the Natural Defense Council, the cleanup on underground storage tanks will cost $32 billion over the next ten years. All of these effects can also lead to an increase in health care costs.
As impossible as it may seem, pollution control is not a lost cause. There are several effective methods which involve government, corporate, public, and school cooperation. To end the problem, we must start at the top with our government. Even with the support of such organizations as the EPA and Green Peace, important environmental issues are ignored, pushed aside, or simply overlooked by the government. Of the total expenditures spent in the last decade on pollution control the government contributed only 21%. Public support of such issues is the best way to get them recognized. People need to contact their representatives and let them know that we consider the environment a major part of politics today and for the future. We must also encourage the government to pass and enforce laws concerning industries and their waste disposal techniques. The government and these corporations should also finance research dedicated to solving these problems.
Then there is control on the local level. That is where the Future Homemakers of America comes into the picture. We can help by participating in clean-up activities in our communities. My chapter and other local groups took a day last spring to clean up the land and water of the bayou. Chapters could also begin recycling programs in their towns. Members could set up a drop off station in their town and then take material to the nearest recycling center. This could be used to raise money that the chapters could use or give to charity. As you can see, each of us can contribute something.
In conclusion, I'd like to leave you with this thought. Five hundred years ago, there was an entire new world to be explored and settled, but today there's nowhere else for us to go. We have to live with what we have, and we can't let it go to waste because we don't have the time to care. We have to act now so that we will have a future worth saving.
- Bender, David L. and Leone, Bruno. "Environmental Crisis." Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc. 1991.
- "Conservation Consequences." Special Report: Rain Forest on Fire. On-line publication: World Wildlife Federation. 1997. http://wwf.org/new/fires/home.htm.
- Goldsmith, Edward and Hildyard, Nicholas. The Earth Report: The Essential Guide to Global Ecological issues. London: Price Stern Sloan, Inc. 1988.
- Lowrie, Margaret. "Fires Are a Persistent Problem." CNN Headline News. October 3, 1997.
- McFowan, Alan. "Environmental Pollution." World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 6. Chicago: World Book, Inc. 1988.
- Miller, Peter and Moffet, John. The Price of Mobility: Uncovering the Hidden Costs of Transportation. On-line publication: Resource Futures International. 1993. http://solstice.crest.org/policy-andecon/nrdc/mobility/airpollu.html.
- United Learning, Inc. "The Greenhouse Effect." Earth Science Videos. Niles, IL: Scott Resources, Inc. 1990.