Air pollution is the release of toxic pollutants into the air. These pollutants can come from factories and energy use, and is usually in the form of carbon dioxide or smog. However, chemicals such as mercury, lead, and benzene are often released into the air as well from gas combustion.
Pollution leads to many detrimental health effects in humans, the biggest of which is severe respiratory issues such as cancer, asthma, and bronchitis. Air pollution can also lead to cardiovascular diseases, heart attacks, and a variety of cancers.
A creative solution
Daan Roosegaarde is a Dutch artist, inventor, and engineer. He works with a team of innovators at Studio Roosegaarde, a design lab creating projects and solutions to global climate problems.
One of Studio Roosegaarde's biggest projects is known as the Smog Free Project, a group of inventions that contribute to cleaner air.
Smog Free Tower: The Smog Free Tower is the most ambitious solution that the group has come up with so far. It is a 21-foot tall aluminum tower, powered by wind energy, that uses positive ionization technologies to purify toxins in the air that is cycled through it and blown back out. Each tower can provide clean air for over 100,000 people per day, and its award-winning design and technologies have been praised by scientists and research labs around the world.
Studio Roosegaarde has also created similar products such as the Smog Eating Billboard, which has a similar technology as the tower but is meant to be incorporated into existing billboards around the world, and the Smog Free Bicycle, which is currently in development.
Air pollution is a pressing problem facing our world today, but with the introduction of pioneering technologies from labs and companies like Studio Roosegaarde, people around the world are finally able to take truly clean breaths of air.
An oil spill is an uncontrolled release of oil, gasoline, or any kind of fuel into the environment. Oil spills can happen on land or in the water, and harm the species who come into contact with the polluted area. The recovery time from an oil spill can be anywhere from a few days to years.
How oil spills happen
Oil spills can happen in many different ways, including the release of crude oil from tankers and offshore drilling rigs, equipment breaking down, or even from natural disasters such as hurricanes. Once spilled, the oil floats on top of the water and thins out as it spreads rapidly, creating a layer called an oil slick.
The effects of spills
In the water, oil spills can be extremely harmful and even deadly to marine animals. Oil destroys the ability to insulate by mammals such as otters, and the water-repelling ability of bird feathers, exposing them to the elements. Animals also may swallow the oil when trying to clean themselves, which is poisonous.
On land, oil spills can harm crops, plant life, and seep into waterways as run off. Protecting human health is the top priority when cleaning up a land oil spill, since oil can spread quickly and contaminate food and water sources.
A study by Mace Barron, Adriana Bejarano, Robyn Commy, Devi Sundaravadivelu, and Peter Mayor, research ecologists for the Environmental Protection Agency looks at the toxicity of oil spill cleaning chemicals and their effect on wildlife. To do this, they selected three chemical agents commonly used in oil spill cleanups (Accell Clean, CytoSol, and Gelco200) and three crude oils differing in their chemical composition. They tested how mysids (a small, shrimp-like organism that resides in estuaries, shown to the left) and inland silversides (a fish) reacted to these agents, observing that the chemical agents were often more toxic than the oil itself. Freshwater species were also affected at the same level as saltwater species, showing that no organisms were safe from the toxicity of chemical agents.
Other ways to clean oil spills include booms (floating barriers), skimmers (machines that remove the oil from the top layer of the water), and hydrocarbon pads that absorb oil on land.
Oil spills are toxic, not only from the oil but the cleanup too. Crops, coral reefs, and many lifeforms are harmed by this environmental destruction. Fortunately, organizations such as the EPA and the Coast Guard are diligent about cleaning up the spills as quickly and safely as possible, and safer alternatives to the chemical agents are being developed.
The human race depends heavily on forests. Forests make up 31% of the Earth’s land and house half of the planet’s species and approximately 300 million people. The trees provide us with oxygen and timber, and muffle noise pollution. Clearly, these are crucial parts of our planet. So why are they disappearing at a rapid rate?
What is deforestation?
Deforestation refers to the removal of forest lands for other uses such as urbanization, mining, or farmland. The rate of deforestation has been growing since the 1960s due to human activity, and according to The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, the deforestation rate is 10 million hectares per year.
Main causes of deforestation
Deforestation is either caused by natural factors or human activities. Natural factors include forest fires not caused by humans or parasitic diseases. Human activities are the main cause of deforestation, though, including the expansion of agriculture and infrastructure construction.
1) Agriculture (~80%)
Large-scale agriculture (particularly cattle-ranching and the production of soy beans and oil palm) accounts for 40% of deforestation, and local agriculture makes up the other 40%.
2) Construction (15%)
Construction makes up for 15% of deforestation. Infrastructure being built such as roads, airports, and rails often take up large amounts of space and require forests to be bulldozed to make room.
3) Urbanization (5%)
People are moving from rural to urban areas at an increasing rate. The urban growth is leading to an increase in housing, requiring more land and therefore more deforestation happens.
The effects of deforestation
The biggest effect is the threat to biodiversity. Since many species live in the forests, they all have to face the threat of deforestation to their habitat. As species go extinct, natural imbalances occur and the entire ecosystem is at risk.
Animals aren't the only creatures at risk, though. 1.6 billion people have forest-related jobs, especially in developing countries. There is also the consequence of soil erosion, which can result in an increase in natural disasters like landslides and floods.
Another severe consequence of deforestation is increased greenhouse gas emissions. When forests are cut or burned they emit carbon instead of absorbing it. Because of this, deforestation is responsible for 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions, which can lead to an increase in extreme weather events such as floods and rising temperatures.
Solutions to deforestation
A simple way that you can help stop deforestation is to consume less meat and dairy products. Studies have shown that by lowering your consumption of these foods, global farmland use could be reduced by over 75%. You can also be conscious on other products you use, especially ones that use palm oil, and try to buy as much as possible from eco-friendly brands and smaller, local farmers.
We can educate local communities about the need to protect forests, enact laws and policies to ensure the conservation of these areas, and fight illegal logging. Organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund are also actively working to combat deforestation by promoting sustainable bioenergy and working towards sustainable infrastructure.
Deforestation is a global problem, and is threatening our environment and the livelihoods of many. However, now that you know the causes and effects, you can make the decision to do your part to curb this environmental destruction.