Humans have lived on the earth for about 6 million years. Civilization itself has been around for about 6,000 years although, we did not begin industrialization until the 1800’s. Since then humans have accomplished a lot, but this also shows our responsibility as protectors of the planet we live on now. Currently, about 7 billion people live on earth and the population continues to grow. With this growth, pollution from automobiles and factories continues to add to the decline of our environment. Every year, we cut down forests and destroy other natural areas that force other species into smaller or dangerous areas (Howell).
This needs to change and is only possible if everyone recognizes the importance of our everyday actions. The Industrial Revolution taking place in the late 1700s and early 1800s is what introduced new sources of air and water pollution.
By the mid twentieth century, many damaging effects of the of revolution were already discovered. The rise of the modern movement in the United States began in the late ‘60s, with the Clean Air Act effective in 1963 which was designed to control the amount of air pollution released and continued in the 1970s with movements such as Earth Day and the Clean Water Act.
London, on the other hand, had declared their own Clean Air act in 1956. During the Industrial Revolution, large scales of coal and oil were used, resulting in a high amount of soot and smog, which came with serious health consequences. In 1948, the smog in Donora, Pennsylvania asphyxiated 20 people and left 7,000 ill.
The Great Smog of 1952 was also a severe air-pollution event that affected the British capital of London that early December, resulting in over 4,000 deaths.
Other problems that occurred also included acid rain, which was discovered in the 1850s. Acid raid was a result of human-produced sulfur and nitrogen compounds released into the atmosphere impacting plants, fish, soil, forests and building materials. Today the leading cause of air pollution in the United States is the use of motor vehicles. The auto emissions that emit from vehicles release greenhouse gasses that contribute to the growing issue of climate change. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, motor vehicles collectively cause 75 percent of carbon monoxide pollution in the U.S. and 27 percent of the overall cause of smog. In 2007 over 46% of Americans lived in areas that contained unsafe air quality. Smog is the result of sunlight and vapors that are emitted from fuel that is burned by cars, trucks, factories, and power plants. When breathed in, Ozone chemicals react with the tissue inside the lungs that irritate the respiratory tract that can cause a number of health problems, like asthma attacks and chest pain, which can eventually result in death.
In the Eastern United States, most particles come from power plants that burn electricity. In the Western U.S. most particles come from agriculture and motor equipment. Breathing in particle pollution year-round can shorten a life by up to Three years and cause serious health problems like premature birth due to serious respiratory disorders, worsening asthma, can trigger heart attacks, strokes, irregular heartbeat and premature death (History.com Editors). For centuries humans have unknowingly contaminated sources of drinking water with raw sewage, which led to the development of diseases like Typhoid and Cholera. According to a CNN report just 1 gram of fecal matter contains at least ten million viruses, one million bacteria, one thousand parasite cysts, and one hundred parasite eggs. Water sources are contaminated by run off rain from oil slick roads, construction, mining, dumpsites and livestock waste. According to the Groundwater Foundation, over half of Americans rely on groundwater for drinking although the quality of water in the U.S. is relatively safe compared to other countries.
Today over one billion people do not have access to clean and safe drinking water and every fifteen seconds a child dies from a water related disease (Water Partners International). The amount of water pollution has increased since the Industrial Revolution when factories began releasing pollutants directly into rivers and streams. Another CNN report in 2007 revealed that up to 500 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, and toxic substances contaminate the global water supply every year and about 70% of industrial waste is dumped into bodies of water. It is also estimated that more than 62% of industrial facilities across the country discharged more pollution into the United States waterways than their Clean Water act allowed between July 2003 and December of 2004. They also noted that over 40% of Americas waterways were unsafe for fishing and swimming.
The Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 during which 11 million gallons of crude oil were accidentally released into the sea off Alaska’s coast. This disaster created a 3,000 square mile oil slick, instantly killed hundreds of thousands of birds, fish, plants and other wildlife devastating the area for years to come. Another problem our earth faces is yet again caused by human activity. Deforestation is the clearing of forest on a large scale that results in damage to the quality of land in that area. Forests cover about 30% of the worlds’ land area, but forests approximately half the size of England are destroyed each year. At the current rate of deforestation, the worlds’ rainforests could be completely erased within 100 years. The largest contributor to deforestation is agriculture. Farmers use a tactic called “slash and burn” to uproot large areas to make more room for crops or livestock. Logging operations also contribute by cutting down trees to supply the world with wood and paper products. Some have illegally built roads to access more and more rural forests.
Many forests are also cut down to make room for our growing urban areas. Trees are very important to our environment, yet they are constantly being torn down due to human activity including wildfire. The most dramatic impact is the loss of habitat for thousands of species of animals and plants. Deforestation also contributes to climate change. Soil in the forest is moist and feeds the vegetation. Without the sun to protect the ground, the soil dries up and becomes barren. Deforestation deprives the forest of parts of its canopy, which at night traps in heat from the sun. Disruption of the canopy layer exposes plants and animals to swinging temperatures, which can be harmful. Trees also absorb greenhouse gasses, which is the main contributor to global warming. Logically, less forests equal more greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. The most reasonable solution to this is to manage our forest resources and by constantly planting newer trees to replace the old (National Geographic).
The main cause of global warming from human activity is the “greenhouse effect” which means that warmth radiating from earth to space becomes trapped. Gasses such as H20 or water vapor, Nitrous Oxide (N2O), Methane (CH4), and Carbon Dioxide (CO2) are greenhouse gasses that block heat from escaping. H2O acts as a feedback, water vapor in the air increases with warmth but so does the probability of clouds and precipitation. Carbon Dioxide is released by natural processes such as breathing and volcano eruptions and deforestation. Over the last century, burning fossil fuels such as oil and coal increased and the amount of CO2 in the air has increased by over a third. Methane is a hydrocarbon gas made by both natural and human activities, decomposition of wastes in landfills, agriculture, and especially rice cultivation as well as manure management associated with livestock. Methane is far less abundant than Co2 but far more harmful to the environment.
Nitrous Oxide is also a powerful greenhouse gas produced by soil cultivation practices especially with the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and fossil fueled combustion (“Progress Cleaning the Air”). The earth is without a doubt incredibly important to all life and humans have caused the decline of our environment very rapidly but there are multiple simple solutions that anyone can follow in order to help improve the environments health. Everyone has heard the most common piece of advice which is “reduce, reuse, recycle” or “the three Rs” which can actually be a very effective way of conserving natural resources and landfill space. For instance, buying products with minimum packaging or plastics, borrowing things we do not use often from people, and starting a compost bin are ways to reduce.
You can reuse certain articles for other efficient uses such as clothes and even donating to the poor. Recycling reduces the consumption of raw materials and energy usage. It also reduces air and water pollution by reducing the need of conventional waste disposal which emit pollution and toxins into the air. You can do something as simple as switching your household lightbulbs to highly efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) which not only last for years but use only a quarter of the energy of regular bulbs and produce more light. If every household in the U.S. replaced a burned-out bulb with an energy-efficient, ENERGY STAR fluorescent bulb, would ultimately have a large effect. It would prevent more than 13 billion pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere which is like taking more than a million cars off the road for an entire year. (Live Science)
Driving less or switching to an energy fueled car is one of the single biggest impacts humans can make on climate control. Unfortunately, vehicles are the main contributor of carbon dioxide pollution. The amount of CO2 emitted from a car is comparable to an entire household. If you must drive, you can car pool with others whenever possible, ride with co-workers or friends, or find people who need to car pool to a nearby location through websites and apps such as Lyft and Uber. Living in urban areas can also be beneficial if you decide to bike or walk which completely eliminates the release of emissions from your trip. These options also reduce traffic congestion, allowing drivers to reach their destination sooner rather than lingering in traffic (Melanie).