As our global population continues to grow, the world must manage an ever-growing amount of pollution, particularly as more and more people decide to live in energy-dependent urban areas. Reducing and managing fossil fuel emissions, chemical runoff, and solid waste on land, air, and water is necessary for the health of humans and the ecosystem.

Pollution in the Air, Water, and Land

Climate Change

Greenhouse gas pollution is the main driver of global climate change, a force that is disturbing the balance of the natural world. The burning of fossil fuels to meet energy demands and support other human activities releases vast amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These gases trap heat, leading to warmer temperatures, sea level rise, more extreme weather events, and ocean acidification. Droughts, floods, storms, and heat waves are forcing people from their homes and livelihoods. Land and water habitats are changing rapidly, making them inhospitable for some native species and giving way to invasive species.

Humans and Wildlife Health

Pollution directly affects the health of both humans and wildlife. Often as a result of sewage and industrial waste, 2.2 billion people globally do not have access to safely-managed drinking water services, and 4.2 billion do not have safely-managed sanitation services, putting them at risk for a host of diseases. Harmful particles released into the air from industrial and transportation emissions can damage the respiratory, immune, endocrine, reproductive, and nervous systems. Prolonged exposure to some toxic chemicals can harm an organism’s DNA or lead to cancer. Pesticide misuse has decimated the populations of bees and other pollinators by contaminating their food sources and destroying their habitats. Human activities produce light and noise pollution, which affects animal communication, and navigation, and even prevents some species from feeding and breeding normally.

Ecosystem Destruction

Pollution affects entire ecosystems around the world. Agricultural pesticides and other nutrients run off into marine ecosystems, resulting in unfettered algae growth that depletes oxygen levels in the surrounding waters and may kill aquatic life in the area. Acidification from pollution and climate change can heat up ocean waters, destroying coral reefs and threatening the entire marine ecosystems they support. Soil acidification, caused by acid rain and chemicals from agriculture and waste, destroys the microbes that are crucial for soil health, which in turn affects plants and trees that form the base of working ecosystems. Noise pollution is weakening and killing off species like whales that shuttle nutrients and perform vital ecosystem services where they live, resulting in cascading effects that can destroy whole ecological networks.