Environmental Pollution and Its Effects

By Jennifer Noble | Aug 05, 2018

Environmental pollution is simply the addition of harmful substances to our environment. It comes in number of forms, and impacts everything from water sources to the food we eat to the air we breathe. While some forms of environmental pollution may have less of an impact than others, its impact on the atmosphere and our oceans is drastic.

Effect on the Atmosphere

Air pollution is caused by things like burning fossil fuels, driving cars, cutting down trees that filter carbon dioxide out of the air, and using certain harmful sprays. There are also more natural sources of air pollution, like the gases emitted by volcanoes, forest fires, and swamps. Even cows contribute to polluting the atmosphere, as they make large amounts of methane.

Most of the harmful gases produced in these ways - especially carbon dioxide - are called greenhouse gases because they turn the earth’s atmosphere into something like a greenhouse. Normally, our atmosphere works by letting in light and heat from the sun, trapping some of that heat close to the planet, and releasing the excess back out of the atmosphere and into space. Greenhouse gases trap that heat on earth instead of letting it pass back out into space, which means that the planet is slowly getting warmer.

Along with greenhouse gases, there are certain gases that are released by plastics, coolants, and certain propellants (like what you’d find in a can of hairspray) that decrease the amount of ozone in the atmosphere. Ozone is a natural part of our atmosphere, and it filters out many of the harmful kinds of radiation from the sun.

All of these mean many things for us. It means ice on mountaintops and at the north and south poles will melt too quickly to be replaced. It means that there will be more dangerous storms and more erratic weather patterns. It means that ocean levels will rise and flood beaches and towns near the coast. It means weather will get hotter, diseases will spread faster, and animals (even the ones in the oceans!) and people who aren’t able to deal with the warmer temperatures will die.

Effect on the Oceans

Oceans are incredibly important in the water cycle and the production of oxygen. While they’re big enough to handle small amounts of pollution, large amounts of pollution over an extended period of time can cause drastic changes.

Our oceans are polluted by things like soil runoff from farms, chemical waste from households, spills and waste from industrial factories, and spills by oil tankers. Things like acid rain, which is produced by the release of acidic gases into the air - can also affect the oceans (and land, too!).

Along with those kinds of pollution, the balance of the ocean’s ecosystems are being drastically affected by global temperature increases, overfishing, and continued production of waste. Things like plastic packaging and wrappers account for a huge amount of plastic waste, and much of it winds up in the oceans.

The effects of all these things on the ocean are twofold. First, it means that many species living in the oceans, from fish to whales to microscopic creatures, will die off. Some of it will be from temperature changes, lack of food sources, and necessary alterations to migration routes; others will be from ingesting toxic chemicals or choking on oil and plastics. Those that don’t die will pass harmful chemicals up the food chain, and eventually to humans.

Second, all of this also impacts the oxygen levels in the atmosphere. Plastics, for example, use oxygen when they degrade. This use of oxygen means less is getting into the water for ocean creatures to breathe, but it also means that the oxygen sea plants produce can’t get back into the atmosphere. That’s a big deal, because up to 70% of the oxygen in our atmosphere is produced by ocean plants.

It’s important to understand the impact of our actions on the world around us. While the earth is made to withstand a lot of things, the rate at which we are polluting the environment is threatening catastrophic damage to the ecosystems we rely on to survive. Learn what you can do to help raise awareness of the impact of environmental pollution, and take the steps you can to reduce your own impact on the environment.


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