A review of the environmental problems caused by gases produced by industry.
Through most of modern history, the subject of a changing environment is usually discussed alongside the issue of man-made pollutants. The most significant part of this is the “greenhouse gases” – substances produced by human industry or agriculture which have been allowed to escape into the air. They are named thus because of the effect they have – trapping heat from the Sun within the Earth’s atmosphere so that the planet stays warm. Increasing the amounts of these gases will therefore increase the temperature.
Prominent among the greenhouse gases is Carbon dioxide. CO2 is produced whenever hydrocarbons are burned, and therefore large amounts are generated by industries which rely on fossil fuels. It is believed that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen by around 30% since the industrial revolution, and it accounts for 75% of global warming by greenhouse gas. Methane (CH4) is another 14% of this, coming mostly from agricultural industries and the rotting of organic materials. A further 8% is caused by Nitrous oxide, which comes from animal waste and nitrogen-based fertiliser.
There have been many different recorded effects of this, such as the global increase in average temperature. In 1900, the temperature was 3.8 degrees. In 2000 it had risen to 4.4 degrees Celsius – and increase of 0.6. Yet it is predicted that by 2100 the temperature will be 5.8 degrees Celsius, meaning that the rate of temperature rise will have more than doubled.
This in itself will lead to other damaging effects – such as a dramatic rise in sea levels as ice melts, leading in turn to flooding of coastal settlements and the contamination of drinking water with salt. It would also have a drastic impact on species or communities whose existence is tied to the land – temperature plays a significant role in determining the sustainability of a particular area, and therefore a sudden rise might destroy a habitat, potentially rendering many currently endangered species extinct and bankrupting groups who subsist from agriculture when their land becomes unusable and their crops worthless.
Another big impact of the temperature rise would be a change in weather – changing water distribution could mean heavier rainfall in some parts of the world and worse droughts in others. This again would force animals to migrate or die. As the creatures move around, so do any pathogens which they carry, which means that diseases are able to spread further than before. It also means more freak weather – such as hurricanes. It is reckoned that, since 1980, the destructive power of the average hurricane has increased by around 50%. thunderstorms, too, have nearly doubled in frequency in some parts of the world and volcanic activity is expected to worsen in the near future.
Outside of “warming” problems, there is a fear that the constant pouring of exhaust gases into the atmosphere could form a “cloud of smog” over the ground, as has already been observed in some major cities. This could have dire consequences for those living there, as it has been shown to lead to a higher risk of cancer, breathing problems and other maladies.
Sources: globalwarmingweb.com; wikipedia.org; environmentalleader.com; theguardian.com; environment.about.com; environment.nationalgeographic.co.uk; environmentalgraffiti.com