Now that we’ve established (beyond any reasonable person’s doubt, anyway) that climate change is real and happening, sometimes it feels like we’re forgetting about the more “old school” environmental problems that contribute to climate change, like pollution. It’s not just that trash and bad industrial regulations hurt the planet — they hurt humans, too. There are so many infuriating things about pollution that we don’t realize, because they might not be affecting us directly. Some, like widespread water contamination or the ever-present garbage littering our streets, are things we’ve ended up just taking for granted, accepting them as normal.
The thing about pollution is that we actually have the power to do something about it. Whether it’s changing our consumer habits or demanding that our local governments enact policies that would help clean up our air and water supplies, there’s really no act too small to make a difference. It might seem like an impossibly large problem sometimes — and it is, but every little bit helps, and it mostly starts with awareness.
In the name of pissing you off enough to keep up the fight, here some of the most infuriating things about pollution that we don’t talk about enough.
1Pollution does discriminate.
A recent study of over 90,000 schools in America found that toxic chemicals in schools, likely caused by air pollution, disproportionately affect black, Hispanic, and lower-income students. We’re talking about over a dozen toxins such as lead, mercury, and cyanide compounds. These toxins are linked to a whole array of neurological problems and learning disabilities. So pollution isn’t just about health — it’s also a social issue.
The 140 worst schools identified in the study were in New York and New Jersey; 11 of the those were all in Camden, New Jersey. The city, which is notoriously blighted by poverty, is home to a cement plant, scrap yards next to schools, sewage treatment facilities, and roads that allow around 330,000 trucks a year. People living in impoverished cities are dealing with more health problems related to pollution than kids in higher income areas.
2There is a “continent” of garbage.
Did you know that there is a mass of garbage that we call the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? That’s how much trash ends up in the ocean. It’s mainly this area in the Northern Pacific Ocean that spirals around and around to the point that scientists can’t find a clear area without marine debris, most of it plastic. According to National Geographic, “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not the only marine trash vortex — it’s just the biggest. The Atlantic and Indian Oceans both have trash vortexes. Even shipping routes in smaller bodies of water, such as the North Sea, are developing garbage patches.” Cute, huh?
3Almost everything in landfills doesn’t have to be there.
Landfills are the biggest contributors to soil pollution, which means things decomposing release chemicals that end up in our water. It doesn’t have to be this way, since about 80 percent of the stuff in landfills can actually be recycled but isn’t.
4There are so many cars.
It’s hard to avoid needing a car depending on where you live, but having so many of them on the road contributes significantly to dangerous air pollution. And it’s not getting any better anytime soon. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 75 percent of carbon monoxide pollution comes from cars. Transportation in general contributes about 27 percent of greenhouse gases. It’s also Americans’ fault — we have about 30 percent of the world’s cars and contribute half of the world’s emissions from vehicles, so we really have to start supporting cleaner fuels and vehicles.
5Really, the U.S. needs to get its act together.
According to Reuters, China is the world’s biggest polluter, but the U.S. comes in close second, even though we have nowhere near the same number of people. Trump’s climate policies aren’t going to make anything any cleaner either. In fact, his pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement means that there will be 0.4 gigatonne more carbon dioxide in annual emissions by 2030 if we stay on his course. Doesn’t exactly want to make you take a nice deep breath, does it?
6Pollution actually kills/
People who live in high density pollution areas have a 20 percent higher risk of dying from lung cancer and respiratory diseases than those who live in less polluted areas. There are about 9 million “premature deaths” worldwide each year; 16 percent of those are pollution related. According to Time, that means that air pollution kills about 6.5 million people a year, water pollution 1.8 million, and deaths from pollution linked diseases (heart and lung diseases mostly) were three times higher than deaths from AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. So when people choose to deregulate industry or not care about the zoning around a new factory or landfill, they’re actively threatening you and your family’s health. Mad yet?