Environment can be described as the sum total of all living organism’s surrounding, including living things and other natural forces (Gong, p.88). They provide conditions for growth and development as well as of danger and damage. Scientists discovered that living things do not exist in the environment, but they interact with it constantly. However, environment consists of the interactions among animals, plants, water, temperature, soil, light, and other non-living and living things. In medicine and psychology, a person’s environment refers to the people, places, physical things and events that a person live with. It affects a person’s growth and development.
Statement of the problem
Environmental issues refer to harmful aspects associated with human activities on the biophysical environment (Angell, pp.575-598). In the 1960s, environmentalism which is a social and an environmental movement was started to address environmental issues through education, advocacy and activism. The carbon dioxide equivalent of atmospheric greenhouse gases has become a global challenge which needs to be addressed with all due effort. The amount of GHG in the atmosphere has gone beyond the threshold that can potentially lead to dangerous climatic change.
Environmentally friendly alternatives
These are marketing claims which refer to laws, policies and guidelines that inflict minimal, reduced or no harm upon the environment or ecosystems (Mohanraj, pp.108-119). The International Organization Standardization established procedures and principles for environmental labels and declarations to be followed so as to avoid causing environmental degradation.
Cheapest new energy alternative
There is no doubt about new energy alternatives. Environmental movement has been working to ensure better energy alternatives are advocated. From solar-powered cars and watches to naturally derived cleaning curbside and sprays recycling as people are going green. Scientists, advocates and researchers for green technologies are working hard to reduce costs of acquiring energy. Technologies for storing and harvesting alternative energy are evolving quickly into an extent that it is difficult to distinguish which new alternative source of energy is the cheapest (Bartels, pp.8371-8384). Today’s technology that is promising may be surpassed by something even greener tomorrow. In addition, regional characteristics are faced with a huge effect in the cost of alternative energies, making better resources like cheaper solar power in the sun-drenched desert than in the cloudy areas. However, these sources have not been implemented or tested widely enough to be cost-competitive. Other alternative energies such as biodiesel are not strictly renewable, though they can be used in the existing vehicle fleets making them viable in the short term.
Algae as an alternative method for environmentally friendly condition
Algae fuel is an alternative fossil fuel that acquires natural deposists from algae plant. Some government agencies and companies are funding efforts to reduce operating and capital costs and make production of algae fuel commercially viable (SINGH, PP.10-16). Like other fossil fuels, it also releases carbon dioxide when burnt. Unlike fossil fuel, together with other biofuels, algae absorb carbon dioxide that is recently released to the atmosphere through photosynthesis as the plant or algae grew. The world food crisis and the energy crises have ignited agricultural interest (farming algae) for making biofuels and biodiesel using unsuitable agricultural land. Among attractive characteristics of algae fuels are that they can be grown with less impact on fresh water resources.
They can also be produced using wastewater and saline, having a high flash point, and they are relatively harmless to the environment and biodegradable if spilled (Johnson, pp.5179-5183). Algae compared with other second-generation biofuel crops cost more per unit mass due to high operating and capital costs, but they are known to produce more fuel that is between 10 and 100 times per unit area. According to the department of energy’s report in the United States, it estimates that if all petroleum fuel in the United States is replaced by algae fuel, it will require 15, 000 square miles of their land. The above characteristics of algae fuel make it an environmentally friendly alternative as it is biodegradable and harmless to the environment compared to petroleum fuels.
Blue-green algae plant
Environmental problems from oil
Most countries depend on oil when carrying out different activities. Different states will go greater lengths with an aim of acquiring an oil production capability or get an assurance of access to the free flow of oil. History indicates that states have even become involved in conflicts or war over areas which are believed to contain oil resources. This trend is likely to continue spreading even in the future until the world’s oil wells run dry or more economical resource is discovered. One challenge associated with oil dependence is the extremely damaging effects that its production, distribution and consumption have on the environment. In addition, conflicts and accidents can disrupt the actual oil resource or production, which can cause environmental devastation. One solution to these problems is to devise a more environmentally friendly resource to fuel the world economies. The following are some of the environmental problems caused by oil usage:
The greenhouse effect
This can be defined as a natural process through which some of the sun radiant heat is captured in the earth’s lower atmosphere, thus maintaining the earth’s surface temperature (Lal, p.35). The gases that assist in capturing the heat, also known as “greenhouse gases,” include carbon dioxide, water vapor, nitrous oxide, methane, and a variety of manufactured chemicals. Some of them are anthropogenic resulting from human activities while others are emitted from natural resources.
Over the past few decades, rising concentrations of greenhouse gases on the earth’s atmosphere have been detected. Although, within the scientific community, there is no universal agreement on the effects of increasing greenhouse gases’ concentration, it has been theorized that they may cause an increase in the average earth’s surface temperature (Knutti, pp.735-743). Up to date, it has been a challenge to note such an increase because of temperature differences around the earth throughout the year.
It also makes it hard to distinguish permanent temperature changes compared to the normal earth’s climatic fluctuations. Furthermore, there is no universal agreement between climatologists and scientists on the potential effects of an increase in the Earth’s average temperature. These effects have also been hypothesized that they may cause a variety of changes in the sea level, agricultural patterns, global climate, and ecosystems that could be detrimental. The most recent intergovernmental panel report on climatic change reached into a conclusion that: “peoples’ ability to quantify the influence of the human being on global climate is currently limited (Tol, pp.47-73).
Burning of oil is believed to emit carbon dioxide to the environment. This emission adds to the already CO2 supply that is in the atmosphere, increasing both the greenhouse effect and the earth’s temperature. Prior to the industrial development, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was below 280ppm. This was obtained from air bubbles analysis, trapped thousands of years ago in the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps. By the year 1958, the concentration of carbon dioxide had risen to 315 ppm, and to 350 ppm by 1986 (Naftel, p.403). The average temperature in the 20th century of the earth has been approximately 1 degree warmer compared to the 19th century.
As the rate of burning oils and other fuels increases, so too does the rate of carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere. Temperature increase caused by greenhouse gas leads to two side effects. One effect is that increased temperature leads to evaporation of more water from the oceans. This effect leads to adding of the number of water molecules or vapor in the atmosphere which is also a greenhouse gas. The other side effect is that there would be less snow and ice reflecting away the visible light from the sun which is absorbed by the Earth’s surface.
The importance of the greenhouse effect has become an issue to the public due to the recent abnormal droughts caused by hot summers that have reduced agricultural production severally. Averaged over the earth, in the past century, the five warmest years have been in the 1980s. This effect was experienced despite the facts that the output of the sun’s energy has been below normal and major volcanic activities have been experienced, which could have ordinarily reduced temperatures. Whether or not, this current abnormally warm weather manifesting increasing greenhouse effect is somehow debatable, but unquestionably this effect will become important sooner or later if people continue using fossil fuels. Therefore, there is a strong consensus in both the environmentalist and scientific communities that the greenhouse effect should be accorded high-priority attention.
Consequences of the greenhouse effect
In addition to combining hydrogen and carbon from the fuel with oxygen from the air produces water vapor and carbon dioxide, burning fossil fuels involves other processes. Oil contains small amounts of sulfur, with typical weight of 0.5% to 35. In the process of combustion, sulfur combines with oxygen from the air to produce sulfur dioxide an important contributor to acid rain. Air comprises of a mixture of nitrogen (79%) and oxygen (20%), and when subjected to very high temperatures their molecules combine to produce nitrogen oxides, which can also contribute to acid rain. Nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide undergo chemical reactions in the atmosphere resulting to nitric acid and sulfuric acid respectively. These acids then dissolves in water droplets from the rain and eventually these droplets reaches the ground being acidic (Wang, pp.70-77).
After this rain falls, it penetrates through the ground, dissolving materials out of the soil. This alters soil pH, thus introducing other materials into the water. The water acidity is neutralized if the soil is alkaline, but if the soil is acidic, the water acidity may increase. This water is in turn used by trees and plants for their sustenance, and eventually flows into rivers and lakes. Various reports have indicated that, in recent years, lakes and streams have been getting more acidic, although the effects seem not to be closely correlated with releases of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. Some of the most important challenges caused by acid rain are political. Sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides that cause acid rain originate from different countries and states. Report shows that the acid rain has caused a great damage in the forests and lakes in the United States and Canada.
The acid rain and greenhouse effect have received more public concern and media attention than general air pollution. This fact becomes a challenge to understand, because acid rain kills only trees and fish, and the greenhouse effect leads to economic disruption whereas air pollution that is ignored human suffering and kills people through illness. The process that is responsible with the production of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide has been well described, which are also important components of air pollution. During the burning of fossil fuels, sometimes carbon combines with oxygen and produces carbon monoxide instead of carbon dioxide which is a dangerous gas. Other thousands of compounds of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen, classified as volatile organic compounds or hydrocarbons, are also released in the burning fossil fuels (Bostrom, p.451). Some of the carbon remains unburned during combustion, and some other materials in oil which are not combustible. Some of these organic compounds formed during the combustion process attach themselves to smoke particles which are known to cause cancer. Sometimes nitrogen oxide released during combustion may combine with hydrocarbons in the presence of sunlight, resulting to ozone formation which is a very harmful pollutant.
Health effects caused by air pollutants
· Sulfur dioxide is believed to cause respiratory diseases, including colds, bronchitis, asthma, coughs, and emphysema. Research found that high levels of sulfur dioxide increases death rates among people with lung and heart diseases.
· Carbon dioxide chemically bonds with hemoglobin, a blood substance that transports oxygen to cells, hence reducing oxygen available in the body tissues. Heart contractions are also weakened by carbon monoxide, reducing father oxygen supplies which can be fatal to people with heart disease.
· Inhaled particulates lead to respiratory system damage causing chronic and/or acute respiratory illnesses.
· Ozone causes eyes irritation and the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract. It causes chest pains, pulmonary congestion, coughing, affects lung function and damages the immune system.
· Nitrogen oxides can cause pneumonia and bronchitis, lungs’ irritation, and lower respiratory infections’ resistance such as pulmonary edema and influenza.
· Toxic metals are believed to cause harmful effects to a human being. Arsenic, nickel, chromium, cadmium, and beryllium can cause cancer. Lead also causes neurological disorders such as mental retardation, behavior disorders, heart diseases, seizures and high blood pressure.
Prevention of environmental problems
1. Reuse, Reduce, Recycle
Release of waste products and materials which are harmful to the environment can be minimized through choosing reusable products rather than disposables. Recycling is another preventive measure that can be adopted to reduce waste. Items such as plastics, paper, glass, newspaper and aluminum cans, can be recycled instead of being burnt as it is believed to save 2,400 pounds of carbon dioxide annually.
2. Drive less and smart
Less driving leads to fewer emissions. Most of the toxic substances are released to the environment by vehicles, thus less driving is advantageous as it allows a person to do exercise and in turn less toxic substances which are environmental threats are reduced.
3. Buying or using energy-efficient products
Energy efficient products should be adopted as a way of minimizing environmental problems. When buying a motor vehicle, should choose one that offers good gas mileage as a way of reducing environmental emissions.
4. Planting of trees
Trees are very essential towards preventing environmental degradation. Trees and other plants are known to absorb carbon dioxide from the environment during photosynthesis and give off oxygen. They are an integral part of the exchange cycle of the earth’s natural atmosphere, but they are too few to fully counter the carbon dioxide increase caused by automobile traffic, human and other manufacturing activities. A single tree is believed to absorb approximately one ton of carbon dioxide in its lifetime.
5. Encourage others to conserve
Mostly those people who are learned should share information concerning environmental conservation such as energy conservation and recycling with their friends. They should also encourage public officials and the relevant authorities to establish policies and programs that are good for the environment.
In conclusion, human health is very essential and should be protected from any threatening factor. Both animals and human beings cannot survive without the environment. Environmental degradation has been a global challenge that needs to be addressed from all perspectives. People have to be taught on the ways of conserving the environment. From the discussion above, it is clear or evident that environmental pollution is dangerous to both human beings and other living organisms including plants. People should avoid the above factors that lead to environmental pollution and adopt the preventive measures discussed to ensure environmental conservation.
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