Our environmental health is at risk thanks to the spread of human pollution. Pollution was first introduced into the environment upon the invention of fire in the Early Stone Age, about 2.7 million years ago. And all these years later we’ve left pollution and human waste at all corners of the globe, even the most remote places like the Gobi desert, the middle of the Pacific, and even Mount Everest, according to a story in the BBC.
Pollution comes in many forms on land, in water, and in the air and it has a negative impact on enviromental health. Air pollution results in smog and ozone pollution and its impact is huge. In India, ozone pollution causes crop losses of $1.2 billion per year. Outdoor air pollution causes the death of a million lives per year while indoor air pollution, usually the result of cooking over an open flame, results in an estimated 2 million deaths per year.
And air pollution can travel long distances. This means that even if you live in a place where the air is clean, pollution practices in other countries can contaminate your air. For example, slash and burn deforestation practices in Malaysia cause pollution haze in Singapore. But still some places on Earth have much cleaner air than others. The Southern Hemisphere has cleaner air than the Northern Hemisphere, for example.
“If one looks at pollution broadly, then it’s unlikely that there is a pristine catchment anywhere that hasn’t been polluted, because anthropogenic influences like air pollution have really gone all over the world,” Thomas Chiramba, chief of the freshwater ecosystem unit at the United Nations Environment Program said to BBC.
When it comes to water pollution of lakes and streams, the majority of contamination is runoff from the land. This contamination can lead to dead zones like the famous Mississippi Delta.
And then there are raw sewage practices worldwide. According to BBC:
Raw sewage and industrial waste are primary culprits wreaking havoc on freshwater. In many countries, “sanitation” refers only to removing waste from homes – not treating it before returning it to the environment. By some estimates, 80% of wastewater generated in developing countries is discharged directly into local waterways. That figure can be worse on a case-to-case basis: New Delhi dumps 99% of its wastewater into the Yamuna River, for example, while Mexico City pumps all of its liquid refuse into the Mezquital Valley.
And finally the oceans. I wrote a while back about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and Midway Atoll. Midway should be an untouched paradise, but as a result of waste coming from North America and Asia, upwards of 10,000 pounds of plastic washes up on its shores annually. The island is filled with towers of plastic waste and the dead birds that perished after ingesting it.
Human pollution spreads and as result, places that should be pristine because of their own practices fall victim to air, water, and land pollution from other parts of the world.
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Image: Wolfgang Staudt