We Have Polluted the Air
Clean air is important to good health. If the air contains impurities, they may be absorbed by our bodies and make us ill. We need clean air, but unfortunately, air pollution is generally present, especially in cities.
Our cities have many factories, which we need to make food products, clothing and many other things. Every day these factories pour millions upon millions of tons of smoke and soot into the air. Power plants that burn coal add greatly to air pollution.
Things made in factories wear out after a while and are thrown away as trash. We burn a lot of trash which produces more smoke and soot. And then there are the cars made in factories. Once they are out on the street, the car will take in air and replace it with poisonous gases which again produce more smoke and soot.
No area in the world is completely free of air pollution. We must take measures to control it.
Now, more and more people are realizing the importance of clean air. Schools are now teaching about the pollution problem. Industries are beginning to help to clean up, by installing equipment to clean up their smoke. Scientists and inventors are trying to develop cleaner engines for cars and trains; someday we will drive cars with electricity. A new kind of paper that will dissolve in water, and does not need to be burned. A new kind of glass bottle that will melt in sunlight and disappear is being developed in some countries.
The Environment in Perspective: Is Everything Getting Steadily Worse?
Much of the discussion of environmental problems in the popular press leaves the reader with the impression that matters have been growing steadily worse, and that pollution is largely a product of the profit system and modern industrialization. There are environmental problems today that are both enormous and pressing, but in fact pollution is nothing new. Medieval cities were pestholes - the streets and rivers were littered with garbage and the air stank of rotting wastes. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, a German traveler reported that to get a view of London from the tower of St. Paul's, one had to get there very early in the morning "before the air was full of coal smoke." Since 1960 there has been progress in solving some pollution problems, much of it the result of concerted efforts to protect the environment. The quality of the air in most Canadian cities has improved. In Toronto, for example, the concentration of suspended particulates, or soot, in the air has fallen dramatically since 1962.To put this figure in perspective, it should be noted that the current health advisory level for the index is 32.At a level of 58, people with chronic respiratory diseases may be affected. At 100, even healthy people may be affected by prolonged conditions, and those with cardiac and respiratory diseases could suffer severe effects Recently in Toronto, the index has exceeded 32 on fewer than half a dozen days annually.
Similar improvements have occurred elsewhere in Canada and in other industrialized countries.
Even the famous, or rather infamous, "fogs" of London are almost a thing of the past. There have been two high readings of particular note in the British capital in 1959 (when the index rose to 275 and there was a 10 percent increase over the normal number of deaths) and in 1962 (when the index rose to 575 and there was a 20 percent increase in mortality). But more recently, London's, cleaner air has resulted in an astounding 50 percent increase in the number of hours of winter sunshine. In short, pollution problems are not a uniquely modern phenomenon, nor is every part of the environment deteriorating relentlessly.
Environmental problems do not occur exclusively in capitalist economies. For example, in the People's Republic of China, coal soot from factory smokestacks in Beijing envelops the city in a thick black haze. Similarly, smoke from brown-coal furnaces pollutes the air almost everywhere in Eastern Europe. It has been estimated that a third of Poland's citizens live in areas of "ecological disaster". The citizens of Leipzig, a major industrial city in what was formerly East Germany, have a life expectancy a full six years shorter than the national average.
However, we do not mean to suggest that all is well with the environment in market-oriented economies or that there is nothing more to do. While there have been some improvements, serious problems remain. Our world is now subject to a number of new pollutants, most of which are far more dangerous than those we have reduced, even though they may be less visible and less malodorous. While environmental problems are neither new nor confined only to capitalist, industrialized economics, these facts are not legitimate grounds for complacency. The potential damage that we are inflicting on ourselves and on our surroundings is very real and very substantial.