The Pollution and the Wildlife

Hello, Mr.Downes
My name is ---------- ------. You can call me Amy. I am 15 years old. I live in Thailand. Now I have a project about the environment. And I have to search about the pollution and the wildlife. May you answer me my questions about the pollution and the wildlife. If you have no time it's okay, but if you want to exchange me, please send me your answer.

Thank you very much. :)

Hiya Amy,

Thank you for writing. I am afraid I do not know nearly as much as I should about pollution and wildlife. But if you have specific questions you would like to ask, I will answer them as well as I can.

-- Stephen

OK. Thank you very much for your answer. I have read in your block on the internet about the pollution and the propaganda. But I don't understand it too much. So I sent you my email. There are not difficult questions. Well I want to know about the pollution in the past and now. What do think about there? And do you think technology is the one which can change the pollution? My mom has told me about China that now are using propaganda to say that it is good to have polluted air for false reasons. I don't understand why they use it.


Hiya Amy,

On may places, pollution was worse in the past than it is now. The air in London, England, for example, was so polluted with coal smoke that you couldn't see your way around. In Los Angeles, there was a permanent haze in the air. Where I lived, in Ottawa, the waters of the Rideau Canal and Lac Leamy were so polluted people had to stay away from them. The air became so acidic the rain fell as 'acid rain' and killed the fish in the lakes.  A woman, Rachel Carson, wrote about 'Silent Spring', because so many birds were dying from chemicals in the environment.

All of this pollution was addressed with a series of measured in the 1970s and 1980s:
- cars were required to use non-lead gasoline and lower emission standards
- the use of coal to generate power and for heating was replaced with much cleaner fuels
- pesticides, such as DDT, were banned, and phosphates were removed from detergent
- poisonous chemicals, such as polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) were strictly controlled
- sewage treatment plants were built to clean water being dumped in rivers
- factories and power plants were required to reduce emissions
- chloroflourocarbons (CFCs) were removed from aerosol sprays to help the ozone layer

This had the effect of greatly cleaning the environment. However in many cases they cost money, and they took time to spread to poorer regions of the world. Many places still burn coal (I can smell it in the air when I travel; it's very distinctive) including eastern Europe and China. Many nations still use older cars, which continue to pollute. In many places, garbage is still a major problem, because there isn't enough money for public cleaning and garbage collection. And sewage treatment continues to be a problem.

In the past, wildlife suffered most from hunting. Species like the passenger pigeon, which was used for food, became extinct. Wolves and buffalo and and moose became very rare. Strict limits on hunting saved many species. In the oceans, species like the right whale and the cod have been fished almost to extinction. We now have strict limits on hunting these species, though some nations do not observe them.

After hunting was limited, many species of wildlife continued to be harmed by pollution. In the past, great flocks of songbirds used to fill the skies of North America, but now these are greatly reduced in number. The monarch butterfly lost its major food source, the milkweed, and while I used to see many butterflies as a child, I no longer see them in nearly the same number. We have had to restock lakes and rivers with fish, and we have set up preserves for buffalo (such as Elk Island National park in Alberta).

Another problem with wildlife is caused by invasive species. These are animals or insects that travel great distances using modern transportation and take hold in environment where there are no natural predators. Australia, for example, now has a problem with cane toads. Here in Canada, we have had problems with starlings (an aggressive bird species), lampreys (a type of fish) and with Eurasian water-milfoil (an invasive plant).

All countries try to minimize their impact on the environment, and no country that I know of believes that any of these pollutants are actually a benefit. I have not heard of China saying it is good to have polluted air. During the Olympics in 2008 the Chinese government undertook measures to reduce pollution in Beijing, which helped a lot. But these were only temporary, because of the cost, and Beijing still has major problems with pollution.

Today, a major concern about pollution is climate change. This is the result of the emission of greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide, into the air. These gases trap sunlight that is reflecting from the surface of the earth, causing the atmosphere to warm up (it's the same way a greenhouse warms up in sunlight, because sunlight can enter through the glass, but reflected energy is trapped inside.

Some measures have been undertaken against greenhouse gases, but there has not been the widespread action there was in the 1970s and 1980s. Many governments have denied that greenhouse gases cause climate change, though there is strong scientific evidence that they do, and though we have been observing temperature increases in recent years. There is a cost to reducing greenhouse gases, because we have to convert from coal and oil and gas to energy sources that do not release carbon dioxide, such as solar or wind energy.

One of the major results of climate change is that as the global temperature increases, polar ice melts, and the sea level increases. Just recently, the western Antarctic ice shelf begin to melt and slide into the sea, a process scientist said is "irreversible", and will result in the sea level rising 10 meters. This will take decades to happen, though. I have myself seen evidence of retreating glaciers - the Colombia icefield, for example, has been shrinking for years. As the mountain glaciers disappear, major rivers that depend on the ice will dry up.

Where you live, in  Thailand, the major impact of climate change will be less predictable and more extreme weather. You have always had to weather major hurricanes and other storms. These will increase in frequency, and will become more severe. You will also experience wider variations in temperature, including periods of unusual cold as well as periods of extreme heat.

The impact of climate change on wildlife can be severe. They cannot adapt to change the way humans do. In Canada, polar bears depend on sea ice to go out and hunt fish and seals, but the sea ice isn't there, and they starve. Warm water allows invasive species to displace natural fish populations. Food supplies become scarce, as forests die from insects or burn in fires, and small animals and birds are impacted.

Unlike in the past, when pollution could be addressed locally, issues like climate change require global cooperation. To date, however, we do not have effective means of international cooperation. The rich nations do not provide the poor nations with the assistance they need to address pollution and climate change. And the poor nations continue as a result to pollute their environment and cause climate change. We have been successful in addressing many forms of pollution in the past, but will have to work together much better in the future.

I hope this helps.


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