environment_pollution

The Environment and Pollution

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Stand on a street corner and you'll notice the pollution. Some of it is sound: heavy machinery, car engines, honking. But a lot of it is smoke and smells. What we create goes into the environment, and much of what we create we don't like.

But most of the world is not street corners. Most of the world is ocean and forests and beaches and fields. In most places, it's not at all evident that human beings are even on the planet.

This is why environmental issues are tough to discuss, because our impact on the environment is not evenly distributed. If you're standing in a field watching wildlife, it seems as if there is no problem. If you're standing in a field that has been used as a toxic waste dump, the situation seems dire.

That's why the Environmental Protection Agency—and experts in this field in general—-identify pollution is either being point source or non-point source. That is, negative impacts on the environment either come from single, easily-identified points of origin like factories and treatment plants, or pollution comes from broad areas like rainwater runoff in an urban area.

But we should probably back up: why do we generate pollution in the first place? The reason is that it is a byproduct of doing something else. Our goal is to create electricity so we burn coal, which also generates sulfur dioxide, various nitrous oxides, particulates, and of course carbon dioxide. We have waste water (from sinks, toilets, industrial uses, and rainwater that carries trash) that has be to treated, which generates sulphur and nitrogen.

The other reason we create so much pollution is economic: it's a better deal to have byproducts than it is to be efficient. Of all of the electricity that is made in the United States, about 75% is wasted through the process of generation, transmission, distribution, and usage [1]. Part of this is on all of us: we leave the lights on, we leave the car running, and we are generally wasteful because electricity is cheap. But much of the inefficiency happens farther up the chain, because it's not financially feasible to do much better.

These should be our environmental goals: use less, waste less, be more efficient. Policies and regulations can help, but it is always difficult to force people to behave better. The more we can make smarter choices as individuals and organizations, the better stewards we can be of the environment.

For ourselves, and for our future.


[1] https://www.edf.org/blog/2014/05/27/why-you-only-get-25-electricity-you-pay


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