Pollution is one of those words you hear a lot.
But what exactly is pollution and why should you care?
The truth is that pollution of our air, water, land and bodies is a far greater threat than many of us realize.
Here’s why, as well as what to do about it.
9 reasons why people should care about pollution
First of all, it’s important to establish what pollution is. The word pollute means to make impure or dirty.
Environmental pollution comes in various forms and spreads into our atmosphere, waters, soil and bodies in numerous ways.
Here’s a look at the top forms of pollution and why you should care.
1) Air pollution is strangling us
We can last several weeks without food, several days without water, but only several minutes without air.
For that reason, let’s start with the problem of air pollution, which is a very big problem indeed.
Air pollution hurts humans, livestock and our forests and fauna. Small particles, gas and condensed liquids and chemicals enter the air and wreak havoc.
The majority of air pollution comes from exactly where you’d imagine: car exhaust, factories, spray cans, air travel and industrial production.
Air pollution also comes from things like volcanoes and forest fires, which are worsening due to global climate change.
According to the latest statistics, the most polluted city on earth in terms of air quality is Lahore, Pakistan.
Air pollution is a very serious crisis and directly harms and kills human beings, as well as leading to birth defects.
As National Geographic explains:
“Long-term health effects from air pollution include heart disease, lung cancer, and respiratory diseases such as emphysema.”
2) Water pollution is drowning us
If you want to know why people should care about pollution, the answer is crystal clear:
Go turn on your faucet and then take a cup of that water to a lab and have its contents tested.
What you’ll find is that this water is likely anything but crystal clear.
Lead toxicity alone is a massive problem throughout many nations including the United States, leading to all sorts of illnesses and problems among people.
Other common and devastating forms of water pollution include:
- Sewage and wastewater runoff and treatment plants
- Pesticide and fertilizer runoff from industrial farming
- Fossil fuel power production facilities which emit pollution into the air that then condenses and falls as rain into water bodies
- And much more.
As the European Environment Agency (EEA) notes:
“Currently, only 40% of Europe’s surface water bodies achieve good ecological status.”
3) Soil pollution is poisoning us
Soil isn’t just what we walk on or pave over. It’s also what we use to grow the food to put in our bodies.
Without healthy and fertile soil, we’d all be bones by now.
And the bad news is that soil quality is steadily getting worse due to pollution.
“Soil pollution has serious implications for agrifood systems and human health because of its long-term impact on the environment.”
The main causes of soil pollution are contaminants from industrial farming, pollutants that fall in air from industry and use of dangerous and unhealthy pesticides to increase crop yield and decrease growing time.
The use of pesticides went up by 75% between 2000 to 2017, with hundreds of millions of tons of harmful nitrogen fertilizer chemicals leaking into the earth.
Industrial chemicals also continue to increase in production, harming the soil.
4) Pollution is getting worse…
Air, water and soil pollution are all getting worse in most parts of the world, including in the United States (particularly high air-pollution cities like Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Atlanta).
The fact of the matter is that instead of embracing renewable technology on the scale it should be, many nations are sticking with Industrial Revolution-era practices and putting profits over people.
The results are disturbing, especially in the most polluted nations in the world: China, Bangladesh, Chad, Pakistan, India and Tajikistan.
As this report from Lisa Rapaport of Everyday Health notes:
“Scientists examined pollution data from air monitoring stations in 6,475 cities and 117 countries, regions, and territories to see how many places had average PM2.5 levels in 2021 that fell below 5 micrograms per cubic meter (mcg/m3) — the air quality standard set that year by the World Health Organization (WHO)….
“Not one country measured up to this standard. And just 222 cities — about 3.4 percent — made the grade.”
These numbers are not good, to say the least!
5) …And there’s a simple reason for that
To be precise, there’s a host of simple reasons for the worsening pollution crisis.
The top reason is that many corporations are unduly influencing the policy in their nations to turn a blind eye to the damage they are doing to the environment.
From Brazil to Chad, corporations carry a heavy stick and tend to lobby and argue intensely to find and exploit loopholes for maximum profits.
In addition, the corporate practice of “greenwashing” has become increasingly serious.
This is where environmentally damaging companies and industries repackage and rebrand to seem “green” while doing very little to actually become more sustainable or change the way they operate at the bottom line.
6) Pollution isn’t inevitable
Some non-man-made pollution is inevitable, but anthropogenic pollution doesn’t have to be happening at the scale that it’s happening.
There are policies and changes that can begin to already be implemented and changed in the way we live, consumer and produce that will already begin making a difference.
Mountains of plastic pollution in the oceans, for example, can begin to be remedied by decreasing the use of wasteful plastic bagging, shampoo bottles and other diffuse plastics.
Indonesia’s problem with plastic waste has become so bad that it’s main river in the large city of Bandung was blocked for quite some time!
But there are people making a difference, as I wrote about for the Cowichan Citizen in 2016, for example, regarding a man named David Pennington who’s helped build plastic recycling facilities in Indonesia and done fundraising runs to help power his dream.
His organization Friendly Drifter and many others continue to do excellent work, and along with reducing all forms of pollution, projects like Pennington’s also show the way to begin engaging differently with it.
7) Pollution is all about the details
Pollution can seem overwhelming and unsolvable when viewed as a giant, tangled up crisis.
But once you begin taking it apart piece by piece, it becomes more manageable.
The key is to bring it down to the individual consumer level and then filter that up to the corporate level.
Consumers must show that greenwashing won’t fool them and that they really are changing what they find acceptable in the products they buy and use.
This includes things like food and drinks such as bottled and canned beverages, of course, all the way to the way we drive and live in our modern world and what politicians we vote for and the policies they endorse for agriculture, industry and renewables.
Which brings me to my next point…
8) Pollution is closely linked to policy
Pollution does matter at the individual level. Millions of plastic bags or paper bags lead to a lot of pollution and deforestation, respectively.
Chucking out shampoo bottles every couple weeks or cheap flip flops and spraying on unhealthy deodorant for a week before tossing the steel canister is far from sustainable.
But at the bigger level of changing how we eat, live and produce, it is also about policy.
For this reason, it’s important to pay attention to those you are electing and demand change on the national and even international level.
In my opinion, this isn’t a left-right issue, it’s a human issue.
9) Renewable energy is on the rise
Renewable energy is on the rise and many governments in the First World are rising to the challenge and trying to tackle pollution.
However at the same time it’s important not to be too easily drawn in by some of the rhetoric.
A lot of the green projects appear to be a smokescreen for big government control involving many of the stakeholders who created these crises, while many renewable technologies that are often touted like wind and solar also have their own significant and damaging environmental impacts.
And that’s not even getting into the issues of electric vehicles and their harmful battery production and other issues.
Nonetheless, nothing is perfect and we must continue to strive collectively to look for answers to the pollution challenges we face.
How much pollution is too much?
The truth is that some pollution is inevitable. There have always been disruptions in weather and climate systems.
But widespread and worsening pollution as well as increasing man-made pollution are making our world a sicker and dirtier place.
There is no reason not to begin working to cut out the majority of human-caused pollutants into our air, water and soil.
Changing our policies in each country to protect the earth and beginning to change wasteful and harmful consumption patterns are two ways to tackle this crisis from both ends.
From excessive packaging to a fossil-fuel based lifestyle and quick food that’s full of terrible chemicals and made with harmful pesticides, we as consumers can begin making different choices that will also drive change at the national and international level.
Government funding can also go to restoring and recovering areas of land, water and air quality in order to start the path back to a healthy earth.