Human Advancement on the Environment

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The Industrial Revolution was “the transition to new manufacturing processes from 1760 to sometime between 1820-1840. ” This transition mainly meant the change from working from hand to using machinery, and the introduction and growth of steam power and factories. But with factories, comes pollution. Smoke pollution, to be precise. The birth of great factories and the accompanying boom in coal consumption allowed a new pressing matter to come to light; a staggering rise of air pollution in industrial centres, and after 1900, the large volume of industrial chemical waste added to the growing encumbrance of untreated human waste. The first large-scale, modern environmental laws were from Britain’s Alkali Acts, which was passed in 1863, to regulate the excess atmospheric pollution. This inspectorate was gradually increased in scale due to the rising pollution exhausts, and achieves its final form of the Alkali Order 1958, which placed all major heavy industries that produced smoke, grit, dust and fumes under supervision.

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The manufactured gas industry was founded in British cities between 1812-1820, which expunged extremely toxic residue that was expelled into sewers and rivers, and were constantly sued and constantly lost, but chose to adjust the practices that would least affect their coefficient. As a result, the city of London indicted multiple gas companies in the 1820s for polluting the Thames and poisoning its fish. This practice also spread to the United States in 1850, which also brought forth pollution and multiple lawsuits. With the advent of the great factory, much more fossil fuels were being consumed and burnt than ever before, leading to a great deal more smoke pollution plaguing the Earth, toxic waste dumping poisoning the soil and waters. In the long run, this has very detrimental effects on the environment and in turn, animal ecosystems living in those environments. One example of this is acid rain, which is a by-product of when factories release copious amounts of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere, and react with water, oxygen and other chemicals to form acids within the cloud substances, which then fall back to earth as acid rain. The main cause of this, as stated from National Geographic, is “due to human activities, mostly the burning of fossil fuels by coal-burning power plants, factories and automobiles. ” Acid rain has many effects on the environment, but none of them are comparable to its impact on bodies of water and other aquatic environments. Acid rain makes the water acidic, and causes it to absorb aluminium that filters from soil into lakes and streams, making these bodies of water toxic to aquatic animals living there.

This results in a chain effect throughout the aquatic ecosystem, even going as far as to affect non-aquatic species like birds. This form of water pollution can even lead to entire zones of the oceans completely empty of oxygen and therefore aquatic life. In developing countries, 70% of industrial waste is dumped in their raw state into waters, tarnishing and polluting the usable water supply. Acid rain also destroys forests, especially those at higher altitudes, and robs the soil of nutrients and releases aluminium, which inhibits trees from absorbing water in the soil. Of course, acid rain also directly harms and dissolves leaves and bits of bark on trees. This, in addition to other environmental factors negatively impact the flora, leaving them weaker to colder temperatures, infestations and pestilence, as well as degenerate their ability to reproduce. Areas where the soil is unable to buffer the negative effects of acid rain are much more prone to harm. [15]A case where the earth was detrimentally affected and plagued the soil around it is the infamous Chernobyl Accident of 1986. The accident was the result of a faulty reactor design that was operated with personnel that lacked the training to do so. The resulting steam explosion and fires released about 5% of the radioactive reactor core into the atmosphere. This resulted in two of the Chernobyl workers dying on the night of the accident, and 28 more people perished within a few weeks due to acute radiation poisoning.

This was a direct after-effect of Cold War isolation and a stunning lack of worker safety. Conifers in about 10 square kilometres of forest close to the reactor plant were instantly killed by the drastic radiation levels, but surprisingly, regeneration occurred and went underway from the following year. [16] “In the first year alone, in the most contaminated areas many soil invertebrates were killed and the small mammal population plummeted,” says Nick Beresford, hailing from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Lancaster, UK. However, according to Jim Smith at the University of Portsmouth, UK, in large areas of the exclusion zone radiation levels have lowered drastically within months, and wildlife began to bounce back, owing to the absence of mankind. In the late 1980s, local scientists started surveying the exclusion zone aerially, specifically targeting three species of animals, elk, roe deer and wild boar. The studies reported slow but steady increases in the abundance of all three species. In the mid 1990s, a better understanding allowed man insight on what was occurring. It was found that the abundance of animals and the diversity of species was practically the same both in and out of the exclusion area. Within 10 years of the recorded Chernobyl disaster, the small mammal populations had no detrimental effects from the radiation. Between 2008 and 2010, another survey was conducted of hundreds of kilometres of animal tracks, to assess the density of the elk, wolf, boar, roe deer and fox populations, and found that they were similar to those recorded at four radiation-free nature reserves in Belarus. If anything, wolves are faring better at Chernobyl than in the reserves, the data showing that they might even be seven times as abundant.

Beresford and Mike Wood of the University of Salford, UK, set up motion camera traps to better understand the risk to humans and wildlife which were exposed to radioactivity, and found an incredible range of species; beavers, lynx and bison, and even brown bears were spotted. [17]The overall environmental effect of the accident has been larger biodiversity and abundance of species, leading the exclusion zone to be a unique sanctuary to the wildlife, a safe zone for flora and fauna where man fears to tread, and are safe from human intervention. Taken together, the results indicate that human advancement, as unavoidable as it is, is mostly detrimental to the living environment around them.

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