Pollution of our rivers, oceans, atmosphere and land has affected all our major resources. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was one of the first to trace pesticide use, its effects and staying power in our soils, water, fish and food—and ultimately human health. Today, there are still people who question the staying power of pesticides. These same people have also questioned that our climate is changing.
Emissions from energy use also play a large role in pollution. The industrial/residential and transportation sectors are the biggest users of energy. Coal is the primary source of fuel in most parts of the world. The health effects of coal burning are well documented, such as in the report by Physicians for Social Responsibility, but few people realize just how hazardous it is to human health. Annually, there are approximately 40,000 coal-related deaths as compared to 4,000 nuclear-related deaths since nuclear fuel became a source of energy in the Fifties.
This creative interactive documentary focuses on coal mining, usage and its effects: http://www.poweringanation.org/
Ocean pollution and overfishing
Oceans cover 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and contain 97 percent of the planet’s water, yet more than 95 percent of the underwater world remains unexplored. Oceans and lakes play an integral role in many of the Earth’s systems including climate and weather. The ocean supports nearly 50 percent of all species on Earth and helps sustain that life, providing 20 percent of the animal protein and five percent of the total protein in the human diet.
For a short overview of ocean issues and statistics, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qojYm8JHKfE&feature=player_embedded#!
Over-fishing has led to the collapse of the world’s major fisheries. Worldwide, by some estimates, 90% of the big fish are gone. Tuna, swordfish, halibut, cod, and flounder populations have been devastated by overfishing. In general, the National Marine Fisheries Service defines a population as “overfished” if it falls below 20 percent of historic levels. Currently, 39 of the U.S.’s most commercially and recreationally important ocean fish populations are subject to overfishing, and 43 have been depleted to unhealthy levels. This blog series by The Pew Environment Group is a good guide to the issues: http://www.pewenvironment.org/news-room/compilations/overfishing-101-85899359054
Fisheries have become unsustainable as technology keeps pace with growing demand for and globalization of a resource that once was in the hands of local fishermen. What was once a local resource is now available worldwide because of technology. Revenues from such fishing now accrue to large companies and governments, and not to the local fishermen who once captured these resources for food, and subsistence trade.
For more on how governments and distant nations ‘mine’ the open oceans where migratory stocks of fish are found, and where quotas are hard to establish and enforce, see: Making Laws on the High Seas: A TED talk by Kristina Gjerda, international lawyer, http://www.ted.com/speakers/kristina_gjerde.html
For a guide to certified sustainable seafood, see Blue Ocean Institute’s website: http://www.blueocean.org/seafood/seafood-guide
Ocean pollution, warming and acidification
Warming climate has led to warming of the oceans, and increased carbondioxide absorption by the oceans, causing acidification and coral bleaching. Algal growth due to warming and overfishing has smothered coral reefs in many areas of the world, as well.
Coral reefs protect coastlines, generate hundreds of billions of dollars in annual revenue, and, according to the Planetary Coral Reef Foundation, provide the basis for 10 percent of the world’s diet. In the Earth’s oceans, they are the charismatic canaries in a coal mine—10 percent have already been lost, and an estimated 60 percent more are at risk.
For pollution effects on reefs, see this report by the World Resources Institute: http://www.wri.org/publication/reefs-at-risk-revisited
— Anukriti Sud Hittle