Pollution: Air and Water Quality

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Pollution: air and water quality –a big issue of our times. The air and water quality of our world is connected to our experience of life as good. Air and water being basic to life, this quality is important and is one of the bigger concerns when we speak of pollution. According to Indur Goklany in The Improving State of the World, there is an enduring environmental myth that before the federal takeover of environmental regulations, air, water and other pollutants were increasing. Moreover, the thought is that such matters would have continued to deteriorate if such regulations had not been implemented. Not true! A closer look at the cases of the Clean Air Act of 1970, the Clean Water Act of 1972, and the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 shows that much of the improvement in the United States for air and water quality indicators came before the enactment of the environmental laws.

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Pollution: Air and Water Quality

Air quality will be the first topic to address in pollution; air and water quality. In The Skeptical Environmentalist, Bjorn Lomborg offers evidence that both air and water quality have improved over the years versus being worse—which one might assume given the increase in population. In terms of air pollution, the six most important pollutants are: particles (smoke and soot), sulfur dioxide, ozone, lead, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide. Each of these pollutants has been dramatically reduced in the Western World even while the economy and the potential polluters have increased dramatically! We have doubled the amount of car miles being driven over the past 30 years, and the population has increased by more than a third. Granted, air pollution in the developing world has gotten worse, but this is simply a matter of economic growth. This is, in fact, how developed countries progressed. Over time, the environment and economic prosperity are not opposing ideas, but indeed are complimentary: “…without adequate environmental protection, growth is undermined, but environmental protection is unaffordable without growth” (Skeptical…, p. 210). Thus we can expect developing countries to do just as the developed countries have done—namely, as they achieve higher income levels, they will choose and be able to afford an ever-cleaner environment!

Pollution: Air and Water quality

The topic is pollution: air and water quality. As far as water quality goes, Lomborg goes on to note that the quality of coastal waters has definitely improved. He does discuss the issue of oxygen depletion currently in many coastal and marine areas. This problem is largely due to fertilizer run-off—the same fertilizer which has allowed us to feed the world on much less land and reduce pressure on forests and other natural habitats. This issue can be alleviated but at a huge financial cost, and consideration has to be given to what other uses such vast monies might have!


Rivers, on the other hand, have generally improved by all indicators. The Rhine, Thames and New York Harbor are primes examples, showing increased oxygen content and supporting a much wider flora and fauna than just 20-40 years ago. Moreover, when looking at long-lived toxic contaminants in aquatic environments through analysis of fish and herring gull eggs in the Great Lakes (which make up 20% of all the fresh water surface on earth!) pollutant concentrations have decreased 80-90% since the late 1960’s!! As with other environmental issues, the more developed a country becomes, the better care they are able to take of the environment. So air and water quality in developed countries is better than it’s ever been. It makes perfect sense to me that general well-being and our care-taking abilities are linked! So get to work on your own sense of seeing and experiencing life as good!


Life is Good  🙂 

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