Pollution is everywhere. Some forms occur naturally, such as acid rain falling when volcanoes erupt. That's called ecological pollution, and we really can't do anything about it. However, most pollution that harms people and wildlife is caused by humans!
It's not a new problem. But pollution is far more serious now than it was when our parents were kids. Today, chemicals released in one place can poison air, soil and water halfway around the world. We're now learning that even burning fossil fuels that provide energy to heat our homes, or using ordinary household products, causes environmental problems everywhere.
An Acid Study
Acid precipitation is one good example of human-caused pollution that is a major problem. It can start in one place but have terrible effects even thousands of kilometres away. Commonly called acid rain, it's made when gases dissolve in rain, snow or fog to form sulphuric and nitric acid. These gases come mostly from three sources:
- smokestacks of petroleum refineries and other industries;
- burning coal and oil used to create electricity in our homes; and
- exhaust from the millions of vehicles we use for transportation.
When they finally return to earth as acids, they are deadly for wildlife and unhealthy for us. Here are some examples:
- Fish and Aquatic Life: When the acidity or pH level changes in water, fish and other organisms die.
- Vegetation: Scientists suspect trees, especially hardwoods like maples, are harmed by acid precipitation.
- People: Acid rain pollutes water supplies. It also can increase mercury concentrations in fish we eat.
Acid rain is an international problem, and international agreements between countries will be needed to solve it. But we can still vastly improve the situation with many local actions of our own. Here are some tips to start your action plan:
- Recycling: Recycling helps reduce manufacturing processes that add to acid rain.
- Vehicles: Walking or biking whenever we can will do a lot to cut down on vehicle exhaust.
- Letters: Expressing your right for a clean environment in a letter to your Member of Parliament informs politicians that you want a healthy planet.
- Education: Educate your parents, friends and school-chums about what they can do!
- Energy Conservation: Cutting back on heat and electricity we use cuts back on emissions produced when we burn oil or coal.
Your actions will help reduce acid precipitation. But you'll also be easing another major worldwide problem — the greenhouse effect, which is also called global warming. This is caused by an alarming increase in carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere. It happens when we burn coal, oil and gas which pour huge quantities of carbon dioxide into the air. Or when we use items like spray cans or air conditioners that release gases such as Freon or CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons).
Global warming means higher temperatures on earth and drastic changes in our climate. These will cause habitat changes. Many species of plants and animals may not adapt to these changes and will die out or shrink in numbers.
Pollution Control Patrol
Humans cause most of the pollution that is eating away at our planet. And pollution wreaks havoc with ecosystems, so we must do all we can to reduce it. Let's get started by looking at the three types of pollution listed below:
- Chemical pollution occurs when an ecosystem is bombarded with toxic substances. Acid rain is a form of chemical air pollution, for example.
- Thermal pollution is caused when we create a temperature change from normal. This happens in water used by industry for cooling, and it occurs at electric power plants, for example. These operations use large amounts of water for steam turbines. But oxygen does not dissolve easily in heated water, and this can be a problem for aquatic wildlife.
- Organic pollution is caused when we pump too many nutrients into an ecosystem. We do this, for example, when we use fertilizers that can wash from lawns into water. Fertilizers make large amounts of algae grow on the water's surface. After using up all the nutrients, the algae then die and sink to the bottom where bacteria feed on them. As bacteria multiply, they use up most of the water's oxygen, causing aquatic animals to die. This process is called eutrophication.
Use the chart on this page to help you think of pollution sources in your area. Then have a brainstorming session with your classmates to list things you can do to reduce pollution together.
Wild Energy Savers
- Turn off the lights, TV or radio when you leave a room.
- Know what you want before you open the refrigerator. It uses extra energy to stay cola when the door is open.
- In winter, turn the heating thermostat down. Put on warmer clothes if you're cool. If you use an air conditioner in summer, turn the thermostat up. Encourage your parents to replace or clean the furnace air filters once a month.
- Help your parents fix drafty doors and windows.
- Help your parents hang clothes outside to dry. Mother Nature does a good job, and she's much cheaper than an automatic dryer!
- Change light bulbs. You can buy fluorescent bulbs that are made to work in all kinds of lamps and will last much longer than ordinary bulbs!
- Only use the washing machine or dishwasher when you have enough for a full load. Better yet, wash dishes the old-fashioned way by hand! (Don't forget to help.)
- Take fewer, cooler and shorter baths or showers.
- Have your parents lower the temperature of your hot water tank a few degrees.
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