A variety of environmental problems now affect our entire world. As globalization continues and the earth’s natural processes transform local problems into international issues, few societies are being left untouched by major environmental problems.
Some of the largest problems now affecting the world are Acid Rain, Air Pollution, Global Warming, Hazardous Waste, Ozone Depletion, Smog, Water Pollution, Overpopulation, and Rain Forest Destruction.
The term acid rain refers to what scientists call acid deposition. It is caused by airborne acidic pollutants and has highly destructive results.
Scientists first discovered acid rain in 1852, when the English chemist Robert Agnus invented the term. From then until now, acid rain has been an issue of intense debate among scientists and policy makers.
Acid rain, one of the most important environmental problems of all, cannot be seen. The invisible gases that cause acid rain usually come from automobiles or coal-burning power plants.
Acid rain moves easily, affecting locations far beyond those that let out the pollution. As a result, this global pollution issue causes great debates between countries that fight over polluting each other’s environments.
For years, science studied the true causes of acid rain. Some scientists concluded that human production was primarily responsible, while others cited natural causes as well. Recently, more intensive research has been done so that countries have the information they need to prevent acid rain and its dangerous effects.
The levels of acid rain vary from region to region. In Third World nations without pollution restrictions, acid rain tends to be very high. In Eastern Europe, China, and the Soviet Union, acid rain levels have also risen greatly. However, because acid rain can move about so easily, the problem is definitely a global one.
Acid Rain – Causes
For many years, there was considerable debate and disagreement over what caused acid rain. Recent scientific work, however, has helped to clarify this
The primary causes of acid rain are sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. These chemicals are released by certain industrial processes, and as a result, the more industrialized nations of Europe as well as the US suffer severely from acid rain.
Most sulfur dioxide comes from power plants that use coal as their fuel. These plants emit 100 million tons of sulfur dioxide, 70% of that in the world.
Automobiles produce about half of the world’s nitrogen oxide. As the number of automobiles in use increases, so does the amount of acid rain. Power plants that burn fossil fuels also contribute significantly to nitrogen oxide emission.
Though human causes are primarily responsible for acid rain, natural causes exist as well. Fires, volcanic eruptions, bacterial decomposition, and lightening also greatly increase the amount of nitrogen oxide on the planet. However, even the gigantic explosion of Mt. St. Helens released only about what one coal power plant emits in a year.
Once the tiny pollutant molecules have entered the atmosphere, they can travel for thousands of miles. Eventually, the particles will combine with other compounds to produce new, often harmful, chemicals.
Acid rain comes down to the earth in the form of rain, snow, hail, fog, frost, or dew. Once it reaches the ground, the acidity in the substance can harm and even destroy both natural ecosystems and man-made products, such as car finishes.
Acid Rain – Effects
Acid rain is having harmful effects both on people and on the natural ecosystems of the world. Scientists today are convinced that acid rain is severe in many areas, and that it is having an adverse effect on the environments of those locations.
The problem of acid rain is rapidly spreading. Because it is mainly caused by industrial processes, automobiles, and power plants, those countries that are developed have the most severe acid rain problems. However, as the undeveloped nations begin to industrialize, acid rain will increase greatly.
Determining just how much the planet is being hurt by acid rain is very difficult because the ecosystems that it affects are so diverse and complex.
Many ecosystems are affected by acid rain. Bodies of water, such as lakes and rivers, see many of their inhabitants die off due to rising acidity levels.
Acidic water also ruins plant nutrients, hurting plants’ ability to survive and to give life to other organisms.
Human-made products are also experiencing degradation from acid rain. Cars can lose their finishes, and outdoor statues are beginning to rust.
Acid rain’s effects are destructive and long lasting. Though scientists have studied lakes, streams, and many other natural ecosystems to prove its negative effects, acid rain continues to be produced and is increasing in many parts of the world.
Acid Rain – Solutions
Modern science has proven that acid rain is a dangerous and highly destructive problem. As a result, various ways to limit acid rain have been invented, and some are now being used.
Debate over acid rain and ways of preventing it have raged between environmentalists and corporations. Businesses such as power companies and car makers oppose controlling acid rain because they fear the effects on their profits.
But in some cases, industries have attempted to curb acid rain production. The Northern States Power company began working to
reduce acid rain in the 1980s, and has invested over a billion dollars to that end.
There are many ways that power plant companies like Northern States can reduce acid rain creation. They can use coal with a low sulfur content, they can remove the sulfur from smoke their plants release, and they can limit processes known to generate high levels of acid rain.
Policy makers and environmental experts are now looking into the best methods to limit acid rain.
Environmentalists advocate the installation of sulfur cleaning scrubbers in factories, washing sulfur out of coal, and finding new methods of burning coal. Power plant operators are looking for less expensive solutions to the problem.
Individuals can help by conserving energy or driving their cars less. Governments can pass laws restricting pollution levels, or can use a variety of methods such as tradable emission permits to reduce acid rain. Whatever way it is done, acid rain will certainly have to be limited in the future.
Every day, the average person inhales about 20,000 liters of air. Every time we breathe, we risk inhaling dangerous chemicals that have found their way into the air.
Air pollution includes all contaminants found in the atmosphere. These dangerous substances can be either in the form of gases or particles.
Air pollution can be found both outdoors and indoors. Pollutants can be trapped inside buildings, causing indoor pollution that lasts for a long time.
The sources of air pollution are both natural and human-based. As one might expect, humans have been producing increasing amounts of pollution as time has progressed, and they now account for the majority of pollutants released into the air.
Air pollution has been a problem throughout history. Even in Ancient Rome people complained about smoke put into the atmosphere.
The effects of air pollution are diverse and numerous. Air pollution can have serious consequences for the health of human beings, and also severely affects natural ecosystems.
Because it is located in the atmosphere, air pollution is able to travel easily. As a result, air pollution is a global problem and has been the subject of global cooperation and conflict.
Some areas now suffer more than others from air pollution. Cities with large numbers of automobiles or those that use great quantities of coal often suffer most severely from problems of air pollution.
Air Pollution – Causes
There are many different chemical substances that contribute to air pollution. These chemicals come from a variety of sources.
Among the many types of air pollutants are nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxides, and organic compounds that can evaporate and enter the atmosphere.
Air pollutants have sources that are both natural and human. Now, humans contribute substantially more to the air pollution problem.
Forest fires, volcanic eruptions, wind erosion, pollen dispersal, evaporation of organic compounds, and natural radioactivity are all among the natural causes of air pollution.
Usually, natural air pollution does not occur in abundance in particular locations. The pollution is spread around throughout the world, and as a result, poses little threat to the health of people and ecosystems.
Though some pollution comes from these natural sources, most pollution is the result of human activity. The biggest causes are the operation of fossil fuel-burning power plants and automobiles that combust fuel. Combined, these two sources are responsible for about 90% of all air pollution in the United States.
Some cities suffer severely because of heavy industrial use of chemicals that cause air pollution. Places like Mexico City and Sao Paulo have some of the most deadly pollution levels in the world.
Air Pollution – Effects
Air pollution is responsible for major health effects. Every year, the health of countless people is ruined or endangered by air pollution.
Many different chemicals in the air affect the human body in negative ways. Just how sick people will get depends on what chemicals they are exposed to, in what concentrations, and for how long.
Studies have estimated that the number of people killed annually in the US alone could be over 50,000.
Older people are highly vulnerable to diseases induced by air pollution. Those with heart or lung disorders are under additional risk. Children and infants are also at serious risk.
Because people are exposed to so many potentially dangerous pollutants, it is often hard to know exactly which pollutants are responsible for causing sickness. Also, because a mixture of different pollutants can intensify sickness, it is often difficult to isolate those pollutants that are at fault.
Many diseases could be caused by air pollution without their becoming apparent for a long time. Diseases such as bronchitis, lung cancer, and heart disease may all eventually appear in people exposed to air pollution.
Air pollutants such as ozone, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide also have harmful effects on natural ecosystems. They can kill plants and trees by destroying their leaves, and can kill animals, especially fish in highly polluted rivers.
Air Pollution – Solutions
Air pollution has many disastrous effects that need to be curbed. In order to accomplish this, governments, scientists and environmentalists are using or testing a variety of methods aimed at reducing pollution.
There are two main types
Input control involves preventing a problem before it occurs, or at least limiting the effects the process will produce.
Five major input control methods exist. People may try to restrict population growth, use less energy, improve energy efficiency, reduce waste, and move to non-polluting renewable forms of energy production. Also, automobile-produced pollution can be decreased with highly beneficial results.
Output control, the opposite method, seeks to fix the problems caused by air pollution. This usually means cleaning up an area that has been damaged by pollution.
Input controls are usually more effective than output controls. Output controls are also more expensive, making them less desirable to tax payers and polluting industries.
Current air pollution control efforts are not all highly effective. In wealthier countries, industries are often able to shift to methods that decrease air pollution. In the United States, for example, air pollution control laws have been successful in stopping air pollution levels from rising. However, in developing countries and even in countries where pollution is strictly regulated, much more needs to be done.
On June 23, 1988, James Hansen, the director of the Goddard Institute at NASA, told the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that global warming was a reality and that is was extremely dangerous.
Global warming, also known as the greenhouse effect, immediately received international attention. Scientists, environmentalists, and governments around the world took an interest in the subject.
Global warming is called the greenhouse effect because the gases that are gathering above the earth make the planet comparable to a greenhouse. By trapping heat near the surface of the earth, the greenhouse effect is warming the planet and threatening the environment.
Many scientists criticized Mr. Hansen’s report, and the debate over global warming continues today.
Current fears stem largely from the fact that global warming is occurring at such a rapid pace. Models are predicting that over the next century, the global temperature will rise by several degrees.
Some scientists still do not think that the effects of global warming are as severe as some people say. They think that droughts, hurricanes, and floods often blamed on global warming might actually have other causes.