Pollution and Human Rights: Our Fate is in Our Hands Essay
Pollution is probably the most important problem in the world today. One of the reasons it is so important to human beings is that we know that we brought about pollution. Unlike most of the other problems in the world, such as AIDS, pollution is a human creation. Since the beginning of time, whenever human beings changed their environment, they were greatly affected. Areas where pollution is extremely high encounter death rates and disease rates that are sometimes 15 or 20 times more than areas without pollution. Greedy corporations are pushing these problems to areas not ready to encounter this high level of pollution, and if something isn’t done soon to curtail these problems, we will all surely feel the longstanding effects they bring.
During the 1960’s, which I call the “Throwaway” era, uneducated humans gave the planet a swift kick in the butt. Plastics and Styrofoam were thrown away without a care, and now we are finally seeing what that kind of stupidity can cause. At first, children began to understand the drastic changes that the entire world was facing. The planet was changing, and adults were doing nothing to save it. Yet, the polluted planet was
Nowadays, children are leading the environmental revolution. More educated and smarter on the issues that the world is facing, children are changing the planet. Still, all the education in the world cannot counter the pressure that Big Business is putting on the globe. Chemicals, human wastes, toxic wastes, and other kinds of pollution are beyond repair in some cases. Corporations do not care about the planet; they are willing to trade off small environmental risks for jobs and success in individual communities. Of course, most people in those communities don’t realize that them taking a job with these companies is detrimental to their survival.
Whenever I think of pollution’s effect on the world, I think of its effect on innocent human beings. When someone becomes sick or dies of some kind of sickness brought about by pollution, their human rights come into question. I think human rights, although usually reserved for genocide or other acts of evil, can encompass pollution as well. Our human right is simply the right we have to live our lives as we please, to live our lives without being hurt or affected unless we want to, and the basic needs we as human beings have. Pollution brought about by other people on us is not our choice. Therefore, whenever an area where humans live is polluted, it is a violation of that person’s human rights.
Nowadays, in an age where people are starting to fight back against corruption, the average Joe is winning the battle with Big Business. Pollution is being taken on with a vengeance, and people are beginning to notice how nice it is to rid the place they live in of pollution. Laws are being passed day in and day out in order to help the average person in their battle with pollution. In stories such as Jonathan Harr’s A Civil Action, which is a true story, a young boy comes down with a horrible disease and the disease is then directly linked to his drinking water by a laboratory scientist.
Of course, the family of the boy and the lawyer they hire must take on an international chemical company in order to win a huge settlement. Like many other cases just like it, the chemical company hires 15 or 20 lawyers in order to ensure a victory. But, the number of lawyers in this case did not sway the judge. The family, through much struggle and heartache, eventually wins the decision. Although still rare, this type of case has become commonplace in our society. Yet, even though people are winning these lawsuits, it has yet to put a dent in heavy pollution.
In order to talk about the problems we face today, we must go back hundreds of years to take a look at the effects pollution had on human beings in the past. The Industrial Revolution in both America and Europe let factories pollute the air without regulation. Because of that, the air pollution in certain areas of the world is causing death to this day. Certain cities in the Northeast United States have air that sometimes has 5 or 10 times more soot in it than the International Standard. The English “Black Country” is aptly named that because of the color of the air. For years, people there have lived in an area with the lowest quality of life in Western Europe. “The average live expectancy in “Black Country”, England, is 10 years less than the rest of the country.” (Johnstone, 15) The reason not much has been done to change that is because it has been that way for more than 100 years. One of the problems with pollution is that if it becomes common, then people stop caring.
Another problem stemming from years ago is waste disposal. For many years, human waste was just let out into rivers and streams, spreading disease and sickness. A prime example of that is London, England. “By the 1850’s, the Thames River was so polluted that it was portrayed in cartoons with Death rowing along it.” (Johnstone, 6) A public outcry then prompted the city to develop a proper sewage system, but years of damage had been done, and the river is still not clean to this day. Another problem dealing with waste disposal is the fact that human waste is still dumped into rivers, lakes, and oceans without the proper treatment.
Although the oceans aren’t greatly affected by a small amount of waste, over time it could definitely begin to hurt human interests in them, such as the fishing industry. In rivers and lakes though, there is usually no way for the waste to find its way out of the water. Because of the water systems we use on earth, this could be highly dangerous. “Using dirty water can make everyday activities like washing clothes and bathing dangerous, due to the infection that lies within the bacteria that live on human waste.” (Johnstone, 9) If people continue to use dirty water, that disease will spread to unimaginable levels.
Pollution itself is a very broad category, and there are many different kinds of pollution. One of those is air pollution. Air pollution is probably the longest lasting type of pollution there is. Because of the Industrial Revolution, factories spewed out smoke and chemicals that had never been in contact with human lungs before. To this day the same problem remains. Air pollution, although regulated, cannot be contained in many cases. In certain areas of the world, air pollution is out of control. According to Steve Pollack, people in Upper Silesia in the Southwest of Poland breathe air that has 4 times the maximum amount of dust allowed by international standards. (26) Of course, that doesn’t mean anything unless you compare it to death statistics in the same region. “1 in 17 deaths in Southern Poland and Hungary is connected to pollution.” (Johnstone, 10) Since this region of Europe is mostly industrialized, you can see the effect that air pollution can have on people directly in contact with it.
A further result of air pollution is acid rain. Acid rain basically appears when factories release high levels of sulfur into the air. The sulfur then combines with rainwater to form a weak sulfuric acid. Acid rain itself cannot harm humans, but it can harm our environment and our quality of life. Over time, the acid rain will kill plants, weaken structures and homes used by humans, and can even kill life in entire lakes and rivers. And since studies have yet to be completely conclusive, nobody knows how it affects us physically in the long run. One of the reasons it is such a threat is because it travels in the air and may fall on areas that did not produce it. Since acid rain can be prevented by government regulation, stopping the release of sulfur into the air is a definite first step to curbing acid rain.
In early 1974, scientists warned governments across the globe that the release of certain industrial chemicals, such as CFCs and Halons, could result in a thinning of our ozone layer. The ozone layer is a part of our atmosphere that prevents most Ultraviolet rays from entering the earth’s surface layer. It allows only enough high-energy radiation to enter so that Vitamin D in humans can become active. Too much radiation, and certain human mutations begin to occur. In 1985, a hole in the ozone layer was discovered over Antarctica. Over the past 10 years, more and more holes were discovered over different parts of the world.
Since then, skin cancer rates have skyrocketed, as well as levels of radiation among human beings. “Almost 4% of the world population will encounter some type of skin cancer within the next five years.” (Martin, 65) Contrary to popular belief, skin cancer can be deadly if not treated properly. All of these problems stem from air pollution created by factories and plants. If we can reduce air pollution, the air may be clean within the next 100 or 150 years.
Another type of pollution that is definitely a threat to human safety is toxic waste pollution. This type of contamination is caused when the byproducts of chemical reactions are basically just dumped anywhere the company that produced them so pleases. Although there are supposedly safe ways of disposing of these wastes, there is no natural way of ridding the planet of them. Therefore, most toxic waste is just left out to seep into water sources and into areas of human development. Usually, the outcome is very serious. Toxic waste dumpsites near Toms River, NJ have been under fire in recent years due to the unusually high cancer rates in that town. According to John Whitestone, since these toxic waste disposal sites have been abandoned, cancer among 12 to 16 year olds has almost quadrupled. (196) Serious diseases have become a huge debate on the issue of toxic waste disposal, and many people think there needs to be a safer way of disposing this kind of waste or that alternatives to the chemical processes that produce these chemicals need to be established.
Further areas of environmental contamination are nuclear waste, nuclear disaster, and nuclear war. All three of these are directly related to each other in that all can result in immediate death and death well after contamination. Nuclear wastes are the byproducts of nuclear reactions in power plants. There is a very safe way to dispose of nuclear waste, but it has been proven in the past that many of these techniques can be harmful to human beings if they are not properly completed. Nuclear waste contains high levels of radiation. Radiation, in levels of that height, can kill a person within hours. At lower levels, such as levels of radiation that someone would encounter over long periods of time, radiation can cause cancer and leukemia. Radiation is used advantageously in X-rays and cancer treatment, but it has not truly been proven if these tactics are actually safe, due to the short period of time of their use.
Nuclear disaster is just that: a disaster. This can occur at any nuclear power plant, and it is usually due to a system error in the plant’s computer. A nuclear disaster will release radioactive gas into the air, threatening the lives of the people living in that area. The most notable nuclear disaster occurred in Chernobyl, Ukraine, in April 1986. An error in the nuclear reactor’s core released radioactive gas into the air, immediately killing 30 people and raising the radiation levels of areas as far away as 31 miles to 148 times higher than normal. “Radiation released by this accident is expected to cause about 1000 deaths in Europe over the next 40 years.” (Whitestone, 320) Nuclear disaster can be avoided if a different energy source is found, but since nuclear energy is a big money maker, some companies are reluctant to research cheaper and safer ways to receive energy.
Nuclear weaponry is not necessarily a form of pollution, but it is definitely a wasteful, contaminating threat to our environment and well being. Nuclear weapons use the same type of energy as nuclear power plants, but that energy is used for mass destruction. Although many countries in the world have nuclear arsenals, only two atomic bombs have actually been dropped on human beings, both during World War II on Japanese soil. The first one was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the second on Nagasaki almost a month later.
Obviously, these bombs were meant to kill people, but it is not clear if anyone knew the long-lasting effects of their damage. One reason nuclear weapons are so useless is that their sheer power can be detrimental for years afterwards, and cannot bring peace, only death. “Besides the actual number of people killed by the immediate impact of the two atomic bombs, it is estimated that almost 100,000 people a year feel the effects of these bombs through cancer and other radiation-linked diseases.” (Martin, 194) Nuclear weaponry is just as damaging to advancement in human development as any other type of pollution.
This paper should have made it obvious that human beings are directly responsible for violating their own human rights. Since most people have no say in the pollution that is silently killing them, there is no way for them to know how to change that. Only education and power taken from Big Business can result in a turnaround for the people of the world. If everyone becomes more involved in curbing pollution, one day we will live in a pollution free society. There are many ways to begin that. Children should learn more and more about recycling and pollution from an early age, and adults should learn how to prevent pollution in their community.
Research needs to be done to come up with less dangerous ways of disposing of waste and even producing less waste in the first place. If alternatives to artificial processes are used, pollution may no longer be a problem in the future; we will live in a pollution free society, filled with healthy, happy people. Of course, if we keep polluting like this, then there may not be a future. Our rights as humans are simply that: our rights. If we keep polluting, then we will no longer have a choice in how healthy our lives are. These rights are ours to lose, and we have to push our governments to create laws that will enable us to keep those rights forever.