The act of balancing economic growth and protecting the environment is a very precarious one. While mass-production is important, what are the long term effects? With the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reporting more than 1,300 toxic federal Superfund sites, and nitrogen levels in China more than doubling in the past 30 years, according to Nature.com, things are getting scary. Remediation company Sevenson Environmental’s Michael Elia has helped spearhead the reduction and removal of some of the most dangerous sites, but plenty still must be done. The prospect of living, eating and bathing in toxic slurry is enough to gross out even the fattest of fat cats. No matter what your political stance might be, we can’t keep creating toxic waste at this rate.
Each year, 140 million tons of nitrogen is added to the environment, which, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has a number of effects on public health and the environment. UNEP estimates this causes up to $2 TRILLION dollars of damage in the world each year (yep, that’s the largest amount we’ve ever seen quoted in an editorial too).
A Crash Course in Nitrogen
A simple gaseous element that takes many forms, nitrogen or nitrates can be present or result from waste (human and other), manure, chemical manufacturing, exhaust, fuel combustion, fertilizers, and a whole host of other compounds we have come to rely on. Although small amounts are necessary, nitrites decreases the oxygen carrying capacity of blood in humans, and act as a major free-radical, among other suffocating traits.
To the environment, nitrites are basically the relentless villain in the heroic story of the Earth’s saga, theoretically entitled “Am I Sustainable?” We don’t know if the ending is a happy one.
Bigger, Faster, More, Now
The allure of great wealth, accomplishment, and of course, consumer demand has propelled industry since the industrial age. But at what point will the pendulum of “manufacture more” swing too far? Each pork producing company, on average, discharges 26 million tons of dangerous waste into the environment—and that’s just in the U.S. In China the pollution from various industries has made life so bad that flights have had to be canceled due to poor visibility. Although Spiegel Magazine has referred to China as “The World’s Toxic Waste Dump,” pollution is a serious concern for more than just a few industrialized nations—it’s a health risk for the world. According to a study by the World Wildlife Fund, we will need two more Earth-sized planets by the year 2050 if we keep using resources at our current rate.
What Happens Next?
The reality of the world is a scary one, but before we abandon our civilized life and run to the woods in tears, take some time to learn about things we can do to help reduce the massive onslaught of pollution problems we are facing. The EPA is a valuable resource for learning about the state of the environment in your community. From there teach other people to make small changes that make a big impact. You don’t have to be a millionaire philanthropist to incite a mini-environmental revolution. You could just be an average Joe who feels passionately enough about it to submit an article to an environmentally conscious blog.