Pollution: What Is It, The Different Types and How We Can Reduce It
Pollution is in the front of the minds of people all across the world. For good reason. Pollution now is worse than it has ever been. The United States President is also pushing to revive the coal industry which will cause even more pollution in the form of increased carbon emissions. So, how can we stop it? Going green, using sustainable and renewable energy, move away from using fossil fuels. There are many ways that we as the world can reduce pollution and slow the effects of global warming.
What is Pollution
Pollution is a serious issue in today’s society. Nations from all over the world are coming together to help reduce our harm on the Earth. Well, almost all of the nations. But what kind of harm have we been causing to our Earth?
Pollution is the addition of any substance or energy to the environment at a faster rate than it can be dealt with by the Earth’s systems. When any harmful substance is released into the atmosphere, Earth has systems in place to disperse, decompose, recycle or store that substance in a form that is harmless. However, with the damage we have made to our atmosphere and our environment, that system is becoming less and less effective.
There are natural sources of pollution on Earth like volcanoes and forest fires, however, those sources were easily manageable before humans started accelerating the process. Pollution has been part of human history almost since the beginning. But it was far less than it is now. It was not really a problem as long as there was enough space for each group of tribes. It was not until permanent settlements began that pollution started to become a problem. Too much smoke and contaminants coming from one place rather than spread out. Make it much harder for the systems of Earth to disperse and break down.
Around 1000 CE, coal started to be used for fuel which started the increase of air pollution. In the 17th century when iron smelting began, the problem got even worse. Pollution does not just harm the Earth, it also affects us. The Middle Ages of Europe, urban areas were very unsanitary which was one of the causes of pollution that created conditions favorable for an outbreak of extremely dangerous epidemics of disease like the plague, cholera, and typhoid fever.
Throughout the 19th century, air and water pollution with the accumulation of wastes were largely caused by heavily populated urban areas, still is today. With the fast growing age of industrialization and the population growth of humans, pollution became a steadily rising problem. In the middle of the 20th century, causes of pollution started to be noticed by the public and more importantly, by the people who could put into effect, systems to help reduce that pollution.
Types of Pollution
There are many different types of environmental pollution. Not one is less dangerous than another. However, there are certain types that are worse off now than others. These different issues are categorized by which part of the environment they affect or the result which causes the certain pollution. Each type affects the environment and us in a different way. Here are all the types of pollution.
- Water Pollution
This affects various bodies of water all over the world. It does not just affect the quality of the water, but it also affects the creatures that inhabit that water. It happens in many ways. Examples of these ways involve industrial waste, pesticides, contaminants, oil spills, and natural disasters.
Industrial waste, though many companies will deny it, again and again, happens when a company disposes of their garbage or general waste into the waters. This can be the lake nearest or it can happen in transit to a larger garbage disposal site. This waste creates a chemical imbalance in the water which changes that specific ecosystem, directly affecting the marine life that lives there.
Pesticides and insecticides are used on many plants to keep bugs and other pests from damaging the crops. However, these chemicals are often washed off with the rain which causes them to run into ground water systems or nearby lakes, streams and rivers.
Oil spills are a big problem and one of the main contributors to water pollution. These spills are extremely difficult to contain and even harder to remedy. These spills cause long term damage to the oceans because oil is much lighter than water which means that it will float on top of the water creating a layer, thus blocking sunlight from reaching below the surface. Almost everything on Earth needs sunlight to survive and grow.
Even certain natural disasters create some water pollution. Disasters like floods and hurricanes cause the mixing of water with harmful substances found on the land like chemicals and trash.
This form of pollution happens when certain elements and chemicals are released into the atmosphere. Air pollution includes and is mostly made up of the excess emission of elements naturally found in the atmosphere of carbon and nitrogen. The air is naturally made up of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 0.9% oxide gas, and 0.1% inert gas. Like everything else on Earth, there is a balance and when that balance is disturbed it can cause severe problems for us and the ecosystem.
The burning of fossil fuels, like coal, oil and natural gas, is a huge source of air pollution as they release excessive amounts of carbon and nitrogen into our atmosphere. Carbon emissions are actually greater now than they have ever been. Exhaust from cars and trucks and off-gassing from aerosols are examples of other causes of air pollution.
This is when extra elements and substances that are naturally found in the earth, are added to the land. It also happens by the use of pesticides and insecticides. The chemicals found in those items are very harmful to the soil. The introduction of harmful chemicals actually hurts the production of plants which causes the soil to break apart and eventually erode. This is because plants and grass are responsible for holding the soil together with their roots.
Land pollution is caused by many things. Some examples are litter, illegal dumping, oil spills that happen inland, damage and debris caused by mining and logging, as well as radiation spills or nuclear accidents. You always see those signs in the urban area asking not to litter. Some even offer a threat of a fine if you are caught littering. This is not just to keep the cities cleaner. By throwing away your trash in the right containers, that helps keep trash from ending up in natural parks or forests and even our rivers, lakes and oceans. If you have seen Wall-E, you see the possible future we could have if we do not get our trash problem sorted out. Also, trash burning poses a serious problem as well because it produces excess amounts of methane and carbon dioxide gases into our air.
Garbage pollution is also the main cause of many bacterial diseases like typhoid, malaria, and many others. Mosquitos gather near piles of garbage and can spread the diseases that they carry to the surrounding area.
This one, many are probably not familiar with. Thermal pollution refers to the rise in temperature in the ecosystem which is caused by excessive heat energy releasing into the environment due to natural disasters or by man-made methods. These man-made methods include manufacturing industries or cars and trucks. This form of pollution is also be caused by natural disasters. Stormwater can run off into the surface waters can affect the temperature of those bodies of water.
The change of the temperature of the oceans, lakes, and rivers greatly affects the marine life that inhabits those areas. When an ecosystem changes drastically like that, most times the organisms can be severely damaged or even die out completely. This causes the loss of biodiversity in that ecosystem throwing it into disarray.
Mentioned briefly before when talking about land. This is caused when radioactive substances like metals and chemicals decompose which releases harmful beta rays which can cause cancer and mutated disease. This is caused by the dumping of waste from power plants into the surrounding bodies of water or even the land. This damage can last for years and years.
During World War 2, many of the survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima eventually died from cancer or a form of a mutated disease. There was also a very large radioactive footprint left which lead to many health problems and pollution that seeped into the ground and waters.
These next to forms of pollution, while they might not be directly harmful to the Earth, they can cause other forms of harm to both humans and animals. Noise pollution is caused by vehicles, heavy machinery, trains, clubs, and even overpopulated cities. The effects of this type of pollution on humans can range from slight mental stress to depression as well as physical harm to our ears. In terms of animals, the excess noise from neighboring cities can affect them by changing their sleep cycles and mating habits.
Light pollution can also affect humans and animals in ways similar to noise pollution. Caused by extremely bright lights from cities, it can cause headaches and migraines as well as causing stress on the eyes. This form of pollution can also affect the sleep cycles of animals causing them to not perform naturally.
How Can We Help Stop Pollution
While there are many types and forms of pollution, along with numerous causes, there are also a lot of ways that we can help prevent and even stop pollution altogether. The most threatening forms of pollution in our environment right now are water pollution, air pollution, and soil/land pollution. Here is an explanation of ways that you can help prevent these types of pollution.
Preventing Water Pollution
Preventing this can be very simple. Since many sources of water pollution actually start on land, paying attention to what you are using and throwing away and where can be a big factor in preventing this form of pollution.
Stop littering! 80% of our ocean pollution is caused by the disposal of trash in incorrect ways and it ending up in our oceans. Also, avoid using plastics by recycling all that you can. Buying biodegradable products helps both water and land pollution. Those products will degrade much more quickly than plastics and other products which can stay around for up to 1000 years. Just plastic bags, used for grocery shopping, can take anywhere between 10 and 1000 years to decompose.
Littering is just one issue in this type. Chemical runoff is another pressing issue. Avoid using chemical fertilizers and no not dump leftover paint, motor oil, cooking oil, antifreeze or even unused medicines. Dispose of them correctly so those substances do not end up in the water. Eat organic foods. Doing this will promote the use of organic, sustainable farming that do not use those chemical fertilizers.
Lastly, push for stricter government regulations regarding the disposal of hazardous waste by industrial plants and landfill amounts.
Preventing Air Pollution
There is a lot that everyone can do that can help prevent pollution in our air. The use of fossil fuels is one of the leading factors of air pollution. The most we move away from our dependency on fossil fuels, the more chance we have of preventing further pollution.
Make the switch to clean, green energy. Two of the most common ways to do this is using solar energy and wind energy. Wind energy is more practical for a neighborhood or company while solar is better used for personal use. But both have immense benefits.
Solar energy is used in the form of solar panels which harvest the incredibly sustainable and abundant energy from the sun. Doing so creates no emissions of fuels or any harmful gases and are completely silent. An additional advantage to solar energy is the cost to you. You can save a lot of money on your electric bill by switching to solar power as your source of electricity for your home.
Wind energy is most commonly obtained by using turbines. Those huge white wind mills you sometimes see on hills. Usually come three or more in a group. They are harvesting wind energy and converting it into power to be used anywhere it can. This also emits zero gases or solid waste. However, turbines can sometimes result in some noise pollution.
Preventing Soil Pollution
The ways to prevent soil pollution are very similar to water. This is because, as mentioned before, water pollution often starts on land. Basically reducing the amount of waste you produce and by recycling. This saves a lot of that waste ending up in the wrong place like the ocean or increasing the size of landfills. Follow the same rules as for preventing water pollution and reduce, reuse, recycle.
Only You, Can Prevent Pollution
Pollution begins and ends with you. It is up to you if you want to really make a difference to this world. It is not just about supporting acts and ideas about reducing global warming, you have to take the proper steps yourself. Read up on the issues surrounding climate change like the Paris Agreement and see what others are doing. Then, you can start on your way to prevent all of these types of pollution and more.