According to a new report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), urban air pollution is going to be the leading environmental cause of early death in the coming decades, ranking top above mass killers like lack of clean drinking water and poor sanitation. If no action is taken against current policies, pollution in the future due to greenhouse gas emission will exceed the level that scientists deem safe.
Pollution happens when pollutants – radiation, trash chemicals, noise, energy, light – contaminate the natural surroundings, causing changes that affect the normal lifestyles adversely. Although safety and environmental health groups strive to increase awareness of the potential dangers of pollution, if pollution persists at the current rate, the future effects could be devastating not just to the environment, but the human population as well.
So, what would happen if pollution doesn’t stop?
We already are seeing the effects of pollution in the form of contaminated seafood, global warming, rising cases of lung diseases and so on. But this is only a shadow of what’s to come. Pollution in the future will result in the following:
Long-term exposure to pollutants can have permanent health effects. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, exposure to contaminants is directly linked to lung problems, heart disease, and cancer. Air pollution is the major issue in cities and for people who live close to major roadways, as cars emit high concentrations of pollutants. Researchers anticipate an increase in adverse health effects with the increase in air pollution.
The combustion of fossil fuels for energy emits CO2 and other toxins into the environment. High CO2 levels increase the temperature, consequently causing the Earth’s average temperature to change drastically. If this goes on for decades, NASA predicts that:
- Frost-free season (and growing season) will lengthen
- There will be changes in precipitation patterns
- There will be more heat and drought waves
- Hurricanes will become stronger and more intense
- Sea level will rise 1 to 4ft by 2100
- Frequent wildfires
- The Arctic will likely be ice-free
Since pollution is linked to high levels of infections and illnesses, there will be a bigger percentage of the sick population. World Health Organization (WHO) notes that the rising levels of disease due to pollution will put a financial strain on individuals, government-funded health programs and insurance companies, thus affecting the economy as a whole. Besides, when employees are sick, they become less productive at work and students will fail to attend classes – which will further devastate the future economy.
Pollution has and will continue to have adverse effects on wildlife. According to a New Scientist post, pollution doesn’t kill animals outright; however, it messes with sexual development, affects reproduction and triggers bizarre behavior. Acid rain is killing trees and fish in Europe while sewage is ravaging Caribbean corrals. Carcinogenic pollutants are the reason why the Canadian beluga whales have cancer. Radioactive wastes are everywhere on land and in the sea. Oil spills continue to kill seabirds, coastal and marine life in Pakistan, Spain and Galapagos Islands. The list goes on and on.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 1 to 11% of marine animals fall into extinction every 10 years between 1975 and 2015, and the trend is not about to stop in the coming years.
The price of not doing anything could be colossal, both in human and economic terms. Without new laws, the global energy demand in 2050 will be 80% more and still 85% dependent on energy from fossil fuels, which could, in turn, lead to a 50% rise in greenhouse gas emission worldwide.