Since the Industrial Revolution, human activities have made a significant negative impact on the environment. Pollution and carbon emissions contribute to deteriorating our natural environment and atmosphere. These consequences of industrial action pose a threat to human society and all other life on Earth.
Understanding the environmental effects of industry is essential so we can move forward with appropriate decision-making and remedy these issues. When we comprehend the consequences of our actions, we can begin to make changes in our behaviors that can promote environmental protection.
Today, we will look into the environmental impact of industrial practices. First, we’ll cover the Industrial Revolution and what has occurred since then. Then, we’ll look at the specific ways industry impacts the environment and which industries are responsible for the most significant environmental impact. Finally, we will go over some solutions to the issues industry presents to us and cover the top companies that are working to make a difference in their business practices.
How Did the Industrial Revolution Cause Environmental Pollution?
The Industrial Revolution began in England in the 18th century and then spread through Europe and around the world. New industrial practices lead nations to depart from agrarian economies in favor of industrial economies. Fossil fuels were burned to generate power for these industrial practices and resulted in a deterioration of environmental quality.
The Industrial Revolution is also responsible for land-use changes. As industry grew, more land was developed for industrial practices. This meant that less space was devoted to farmland, so farming practices had to transform. Farming itself became industrial.
Industrial farming includes practices like the use of machinery that runs on fossil fuels and harmful fertilizers and pesticides. Other practices include giving livestock antibiotics and hormones as well as offering less humane living conditions. These practices have led to soil deterioration, air and water pollution, and increased greenhouse gas emissions.
Another environmental impact of altered land use is an overall reduction in natural carbon sinks. Deforestation and urbanization remove the land’s natural ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere, resulting in greater greenhouse gas concentrations.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels have increased 50% since pre-industrial levels. The increase of CO2 levels has contributed to global warming and climate change. The rise in carbon dioxide levels is directly correlated to a global increase in industrial practices since the Industrial Revolution.
Today, industrialization is still occurring in developing nations. Developing nations often do not have the financial ability to support clean energy and, therefore, resort to traditional practices like burning coal, oil, or petroleum to power their industry.
In addition to developing countries, many developed nations still rely on polluting industries to power their economies, further contributing to greenhouse gas concentrations and global warming.
What Are the Environmental Impacts of Industry?
Industrial pollution has severe environmental impacts. The consequences of industrial practices range from pollution at the local level to global climate change. These effects have devastating results for our environment and all life on Earth. Below are the various environmental impacts that come from industry.
Industry causes pollution in water, air, and soil. Needless to say, water, air, and soil are essential for the sustainability of human life on Earth. Pollution poses a threat to human health and Earth’s natural ecosystems.
Water pollution occurs in both fresh water and oceans. Water is used in industrial practices and is contaminated when it comes into contact with metals, chemicals, or radioactive waste. The water is then drained into rivers and oceans, resulting in contaminated ecosystems and freshwater sources. Dirty drinking water poses a threat to human health. Crops that are irrigated with polluted water can also become harmful.
Air pollution is any physical, biological, or chemical change to the atmosphere. Pollutants like gas, smoke, or particulate matter reduce air quality and lead to adverse living conditions for humans, plants, or animals. Harmful industrial practices like burning coal or natural gas can release pollutants that cause respiratory and heart problems in humans and threaten ecosystems around the globe. Contaminants in the air can also cause acid rain, ruining crops and acidifying fresh water.
Soil pollution is when chemical levels in the ground exceed normal levels and present a threat to human health or the state of an ecosystem. Soil can become polluted from:
The use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers
Soil pollution affects our ability to grow crops and can damage natural environments. Contaminated soil can also lead to health problems in humans and animals.
The environmental impacts of industry place a severe strain on the natural order of ecosystems. Pollution and altered land use have ecological consequences. In addition, the changes industry has caused result in poor environmental recovery after disasters and decreasing biodiversity.
Pollution and altered land use pose severe threats to ecosystems. Plants and animals suffer from waste contaminating oceans and other bodies of water. Pollutants in the air and soil can present survival risks for entire ecosystems. Activities like deforestation can disrupt forest lands and leave animals without a habitat to survive in.
Environmental recovery after disasters has become slower because of the strain ecosystems are under due to the changing climate. Natural disasters like wildfires and hurricanes are becoming more common with climate change. Industrial disasters like oil spills or leaking radiation are difficult to clean up and hinder natural environmental recovery.
Biodiversity is decreasing as certain animal and plant species go extinct. Other times, plants and animals are forced into greater levels of competition as their natural habitat is reduced in size, placing a strain on the health of the biodiversity of a region.
Industrial practices release large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Increased greenhouse gas concentrations cause global warming and climate change.
Global warming occurs when an abundance of greenhouse gases are in our atmosphere. Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide and other harmful greenhouse gases. Landfills and agricultural practices also release greenhouse gases like methane. These gases trap heat in the atmosphere and cause global temperatures to rise.
Climate change is a product of global warming. As global temperatures rise due to increasing levels of greenhouse gases, the global climate begins to shift. A shifting climate can lead to extreme weather patterns and changes in local climates. A changing climate makes agricultural practices more difficult and threatens natural habitats.
What Industries Have the Largest Environmental Impact?
There are six components of environmental impact that industries participate in. These components include:
Greenhouse gas emissions
Land and water pollutants
Natural resource use
Certain industries have an environmental impact that is greater within some of these components than within others. Let’s look into which industries have the largest environmental impact in these areas:
Electric utilities rank the highest in four of six components: greenhouse gas emissions, waste, air pollutants, and natural resources. It ranks third in water use and land and water pollutants.
Food production is the highest-ranking “non-other industry group” in the water use and land and water pollutants components.
Primary metal products ranks third in greenhouse gas emissions and waste. It ranks fourth in air pollution and natural resource use. It appears in all six categories.
How Can the Environmental Impact of Industry Be Prevented?
There are a handful of preventable causes of industrial pollution. Let’s look into some of these causes and the potential solutions.
Better Waste Management
Pollution caused by mishandling waste is a serious environmental hazard. If industrial waste is not treated and discarded properly, it can make its way into waterways and our soil. Industries can avoid this form of pollution by practicing proper waste management. If industrial waste is treated, transported, and disposed of properly, our planet and ecosystems will benefit greatly.
Unnecessary pollution occurs when recycling is not practiced. A good example of industrial recycling is when industries reuse water for industrial practices instead of releasing it into rivers or oceans.
Greenhouse Gas Mitigation
Reducing the number of greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere due to industrial practices can quickly slow the rate of global warming. Switching to renewable or clean energy can reduce emissions. Gas capture programs can also reduce the amount of wasted gas from industry.
Smarter Land Use
Industrial businesses should utilize land that is safe for them to perform their work. The location of an industrial site should prevent ecological devastation in the event of a disaster like a fire or oil spill on the site. Avoiding depletion of natural resources on land can lessen the environmental impact of industry. Another option for industrial businesses is to provide financial support for environmental restoration projects like reforestation.
Old technology is inefficient and can release a lot of pollutants. Switching to newer technology allows industries to reduce their environmental impact and improve energy efficiency. Industries can keep an eye out for advancements in technology, or they can participate in advancing technology themselves so less industrial pollution occurs. Switching to renewable energy provides industry a great opportunity to continue their practices while cutting down their environmental impact.
Promoting Environmental Awareness
Environmental education is essential so industries can understand the role they play in maintaining a healthy Earth. Performing environmental impact assessments and studying environmental changes is key to understanding what actions can be taken to mitigate the environmental impact of industry. When we understand the changes that are happening, we can continue to move forward in the right direction.
What Companies Are Reducing Their Environmental Impact?
Major companies have been reducing their environmental impact and set a great example for other companies to follow. Let’s look at the top three companies and what they’ve done to help the environment.
Microsoft: Microsoft has been completely net carbon neutral since 2012. They charge a carbon fee to business groups and reinvest the earnings into activities designed to reduce carbon.
Intel: By 2030, Intel aims to be net positive on its water use and achieve 100% renewable energy use for its operations. Intel believes employee involvement is important for it to achieve these goals and tie a percentage of employee compensations to corporate sustainability metrics.
Alphabet: Google uses AI cooling systems for its data centers. They have saved about 40% in energy by doing this. Data centers emit about the same amount of greenhouse gases each year as the air travel industry.
Changing the Environmental Impact of Industry
We have had enough time to study the environmental impact of industry since large-scale industrial practices began in the 18th century. Now that we understand that our actions have been harming the environment and threatening the sustainability of life on Earth, we must take action to prevent further degradation of the natural world.
Pollution, ecological consequences, and atmospheric changes are all negative products of industrial practices. Climate change and global warming are now forcing us to adapt the way we perform industry. The world will be better for it as we switch to renewable energy and industries find innovative, new solutions for their industrial practices.
If you are passionate about the state of the environment and want to make a difference, be sure to visit Terrapass and learn what you can do to offset your carbon footprint.
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