In a world of global warming and mass-killing by pollution, what does it mean when pollution levels hit levels we’re used to?
This article investigates some of the big environmental questions that have taken centre stage in recent years, and whether humans are the main culprits.
The world’s pollution problems started in the 1990s, as countries and companies started to exploit natural resources such as fossil fuels and mining, and in turn began to dump more of the pollution.
In the early 2000s, countries around the world embarked on aggressive strategies to tackle global warming.
The US and UK had introduced the Clean Power Plan, which aimed to limit the emission of greenhouse gases.
China introduced the National Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Scheme (NGES) in 2008, and South Korea announced its own programme in 2011.
What makes the US and South Africa different?
US and British governments both have an appetite for oil and gas, but the US has the advantage because it has more coal-fired power plants than South Africa, and because the US enjoys the protection of US-led climate agreements.
This is because the American industry is highly dependent on the export of coal, and it is also dependent on cheap, abundant natural gas.
China, which is now in the process of constructing two new coal-burning power plants, also depends on cheap gas, and its emissions are a lot lower than those of the US.
In 2010, China’s pollution peaked at 1.3 million metric tonnes per day (Mtoe), and was then only 2.1 million metric t/d (Mtpd).
This is still about 30% of the world average, but by 2030 the country is expected to have reduced its pollution by almost 40% and emissions will be down by about 40%.
South Africa’s pollution has fallen by about 50% in the past 20 years.
However, in 2020 South Africa had about 2.7 Mtoe of pollution.
In contrast, the pollution levels of the Indian Ocean are expected to drop by as much as 50% by 2030, thanks to the advent of cleaner, cleaner shipping.
But there are other countries that are not expected to be as clean as India in terms of pollution, and some are already experiencing pollution problems.
A major reason for this is the use of dredging, which has led to the dumping of more than 200 billion tonnes of toxic waste in the Indian ocean.
Another reason is the dumping in the Amazon of millions of tonnes of heavy industrial waste that has caused pollution in Brazil, Peru and Argentina.
There is also a huge amount of waste that is stored in remote locations, such as in Alaska, the Pacific Ocean, the Antarctic, the Atlantic Ocean and in the Arctic Ocean.
All of this is not being recycled, and there are a number of issues with how it is being treated, and the impact it is having on the ecosystem.
Environmental campaigners and governments are calling for better monitoring, and better regulation of the industry.
But the situation is far from improving.
Many of the countries that rely on coal to produce power are experiencing problems because of climate change, with many of them already having to undertake severe cuts to their power production to keep their economies afloat.
In South Africa alone, coal-fuelled power generation is down by around a third in recent decades, according to the South African Energy Market Assessment (SAMOA).
There are also huge amounts of waste generated by the industry, such a large amount of toxic chemicals that are stored in rivers and on beaches.
This is a significant problem, especially because many of these chemicals have been found to cause cancer, reproductive and respiratory diseases, and to be carcinogenic to humans.
The problem is even more acute in Africa, where the coal industry generates around half of the country’s electricity, but in the coastal areas, it accounts for just one-third.
There are also environmental problems related to pollution, with large-scale industries such as power generation, construction, oil and mining all being heavily reliant on fossil fuels.
Why are the problems so serious?
We can only hope that the situation will improve in the years to come, but there are still some huge problems to be dealt with.
In addition to the huge amount that is generated by coal, we have a significant amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere each year, and this contributes to global warming, as well as to global pollution.
For example, a study from the University of Texas found that a single barrel of coal released 10 times as much CO2 as that produced by a single oil or gas well.
This means that for every million tonnes of CO2 released, we produce about 100 tonnes of carbon pollution.
And the more CO2 we produce, the more pollution we are releasing.
There is a similar relationship for water, with a doubling of CO 2 emissions from a single well.
So how can we do better?
One way to address these issues is to improve the efficiency of the extraction of fossil fuels, which means