Multiple forms of pollution are quickly becoming a focal point of concern for many societies concerned with both human and natural environments. One of the primary difficulties with controlling pollution is that it frequently comes from many sources and possesses the power to contaminate numerous aspects of life. Additionally, companies and corporations are often very resistive to implementing pollution controls, as they can have substantial costs associated with them. Ordinary citizens, as well, tend to resist actions that potentially could help the environment simply because they are time consuming or conflict with other aims. Nevertheless, as the population of the earth grows and Americans continue to utilize an ever increasing amount of the world's resources and energy, pollution is reaching levels that threaten lives and the traditional functioning of society.
One form of pollution that has received increased attention in recent years has been noise pollution. Usually, the problem is associated with congestive urban areas that are forced to deal with noises from construction, automobile traffic, air traffic, and railways. The issue was, largely, ignored by scientists and city planners during the majority of the twentieth century because it was not deemed a legitimate form of pollution. After all, it does not contaminate water, soil, or air; but it does tend to drastically reduce the quality of life for those exposed to it incessantly. In recognition of this fact, an increasing amount of laws and pressures from citizens have brought the matter to the forefront. As recently as February 17, "An Okinawa court has awarded neighbors of a U.S. Air Force base the largest compensation on record for noise pollution in Japan. The 5,541 plaintiffs, who live near Kadena Air Base on the Japanese island, were awarded $26.6 million, which is the largest sum awarded in a suit against an airbase or airport for making noise."
This exemplifies an increased concern in many communities with pollution in all forms. Japan, in general, has tended to be on the front lines of the battle against pollution; presumably, this is a result of their extraordinarily high population density -- resulting in an amplification of many of the polluting factors that we experience here in the United States.
Japan was also the first industrialized nation to adopt the Kyoto Protocol. By now, "The Kyoto Protocol has come into force and is now binding upon all signatories. It has taken seven long years since it was originally agreed seven valuable years wasted with more pollution belching out into the world's environment."
Despite the time wasted, the Protocol is a vital step in the right direction. "The Protocol demands signatory nations reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% by 2012."
Essentially, it aims to reduce the threat of global warming as a result of greenhouse gases released from combustible processes. Still, as many critics declare, the Protocol is too little too late.
It is estimated that the reduction of 5.2% will do little to slow the onset of global climate changes resulting from human actions, and doubtlessly, it will not reverse any of the damage already done to the world's atmosphere. However, the real blow to the Kyoto Protocol is the fact that the most polluting nation in the world failed to enact its policies -- the United States.
In response to pressures to adopt the Kyoto Protocol, the Bush administration put forward the "Clear Skies" bill. Yet, this bit of legislation appears even more insignificant than its foreign counterparts. "The 2005 version of the Bush administration's 'Clear Skies' bill includes new loopholes that weaken the Clean Air Act and allow increases in emissions of mercury, arsenic, lead, and other toxic chemicals from a wide range of industrial facilities."
So, many of the preventative measures taken by the United States government to reduce air pollution have, ultimately, been masked attempts to relax the laws that have already been enacted. This is a dangerous national direction and approach towards pollution, and is likely to have significant consequences for the global environment.
Global warming is deemed a direct consequence of air pollution -- specifically greenhouse emissions -- by many scientists but it still remains a subject of controversy. Generally, natural geological processes that last millions of years have provided mankind with energy sources such as coal and oil; when humans use these sources they release into the atmosphere, in seconds, gases that have taken the earth ages to confine.
The general opinion among most scientists is that human activities are altering the global climate by increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, but not everyone is convinced. A significant portion of the scientific community believes that the earth's natural processes will counter-act these fractional increases; still others argue that there is no empirical evidence supporting the hypothesis that global warming is occurring at all. But generally speaking, most experts believe that the rate at which mankind is releasing greenhouse gases will ultimately influence the global climate in one way or another.
Unfortunately, despite the mounting evidence that human actions are or will result in drastic changes in global climate, there exist no real immediate incentives for governments, corporations, or even individuals to significantly alter their actions. The United States in particular -- which is responsible for thirty six percent of worldwide greenhouse emissions per year -- failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
It was deemed counterproductive from an economic standpoint. It is unlikely that a capitalist economy, which is primarily concerned with short-term gains, will independently adopt policies that may result in monetary losses. Therefore, it needs to be the duty of the government and individual citizens to impose upon corporations and consumers forms of energy and products that do not drastically harm environmental processes.
Still, individual citizens tend to contribute significantly to pollution in all of its forms. Operating an automobile contributes to both the level of toxic chemicals in the air and to global warming. Additionally, "Homeowners often apply as much fertilizer and pesticides per unit area of their lawns as farmers do to their crop fields."
This practice leads to harmful chemical runoffs that can alter the natural ecology in undesirable ways, and can contaminate drinking water. One of the most common forms of water pollution occurs when a bed of water is situated nearby city or agricultural lands. "Lakes with substantial agricultural land uses in their watersheds [are] more eutrophic. When wetlands remained intact in the watersheds, less lead was present in the lake water. Percent urban land use has also been found to be positively correlated with the export of phosphorous."
In other words, once naturally occurring ecologic features are removed from lands bordering lakes, nutrient runoff occurs. A common chemical that is exported is phosphorous, and this can have negative consequences that influence wildlife, and human activities. Namely, phosphorous inhibits the growth of all species of algae save one: blue algae. Consequently, this single species tends to dominate the entirety of the lake, killing wildlife, making boating and fishing treacherous, and causing the lake to smell terrible.
Nutrient pollution is not limited to runoff, however. Although most cities and towns tend to chemically treat the majority of their raw sewage, as much as twenty-five percent is still dumped into local rivers, lakes, and the ocean by most American cities.
The negative aspects of this practice are rather obvious, but they continue to haunt many portions of the world in which local waters are often sectioned off, and drinking water is at a quality well below national standards. Recently, "Thames Water has been fined Pounds 50,000 after 8,000 fish were killed when raw sewage surged into the river because of a blockage. Staff allowed the effluent to flow unchecked for six hours."
Importantly, the issue that caused the problem in London was not that raw sewage was being dumped into the river, but that a surge of too much raw sewage caused people to notice that fish were dying. The fact that it is ultimately too costly to treat all of a community's sewage demands that some of it be pumped into natural waters.
Pollution, in all of its forms, can cause health problems for those exposed to it. "Pollutants from vehicle exhausts, power stations and cigarette smoke have for the first time been shown to trigger abnormalities in the chromosomes of growing fetuses. As a result, scientists say tougher measures are needed to control air pollution and protect children's health."
The implications of studies like this are significant. Ultimately, it questions the functioning of our entire society. If its byproducts possess the potential to routinely dispense death ruin in an arbitrary fashion, should we continue the consumer and industrial practices that deal this level of human suffering? Obviously, the answer to this question from a moral standpoint is: yes. But, from a realistic perspective, individual citizens and, most significantly, businesses have vested interests in keeping potentially destructive energy and waste management practices operating. Consumers are resistant to change, but corporations are resistant to a much higher degree.