Air Clean Up
What Would Happen if We Stopped Polluting Today?
Apr 27 2015 Read 12061 Times
Attitudes towards our planet are clearly changing. While some sceptics remain, the world is gradually coming round to the idea of man-made climate change and the fact that we have deeply infected the Earth. More and more, the voice of the environmental activist is being heard, with politicians and governments the world over addressing the problem and attempting to reduce their pollution.
Last year, the US President Barack Obama took a historic step when he pledged to reduce American emissions by 30% by 2030. Such a policy is in line with an identical one posited by the EU some years ago, and now even China – long the world’s most polluted country – has subscribed to the clean-up act. Last year the government set aside funds to address water pollution, while earlier on this year it announced a new soil remediation project which is aimed at rehabilitating the almost 20% of Chinese land that is contaminated from heavy metals.
But is it a case of too little, too late? While such proposals are clearly a step in the right direction, there are fears that even if we stopped all forms of pollution today, the world would still never be the same as before the industrial boom.
The terms global warming and greenhouse effect are often jumbled together confusedly, but in fact mean very different things. The latter is actually a natural (and often beneficial) effect of the ozone layer, which traps air in our atmosphere and insulates us, keeping us warm. However, due to significant emissions of carbon dioxide (and other harmful gases such as methane) over the last half-century, the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere has risen more than it should.
This in turn leads to the melting of the polar icecaps, which causes ice and snowmelt to run into the Earth’s oceans and seas, raising their levels. This can adversely affect landmasses with a low elevation, potentially even completely submerging areas where people once lived and worked.
However, even if we were to cease all carbon emission today, the temperature of the Earth would still continue to rise. Why? This is because there is a delayed period in which the carbon dioxide already released will continue to accumulate and move among the atmosphere and oceans of our planet. The climate will take time to catch up with the carbon that is already latent in our atmosphere, but perhaps after 40 years, it will reach a plateau. Whether or not that plateau will be low enough to keep the ocean levels as they currently are remains to be seen… but many estimates say no.
Meanwhile, the vast amounts of garbage and waste in our oceans due to irresponsible disposal (mainly of plastic) mean that even were we to prevent any more waste entering the sea, pollution would still remain for hundreds of year. There are five significant deposits of such waste material, the largest of which is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located at the basins of each of the major oceans. Regardless of whether or not we stop polluting right away, these “garbage patches” are not going anywhere soon.
Of course, this is not to say that all is lost and that we should renounce hope in the reclamation of our planet. Taking measures to limit our pollution and look after the Earth are realistically our only chance of survival. However, no matter how efficient we are in our environmental policies, we can never hope to return the world to its former vitality. We can only nurse it back to an improved – but significantly and irrevocably different – state of health.
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