When the environment is threatened, it’s our job – as a part of the environment – to care.
We hear all the time that pollution of air and water is bad but we rarely hear how bad. People tend to help themselves before thinking about the environment, and perhaps they should be helped with knowledge.
“For pollution to be understood, there has to be an understanding of how things worked in their de-stressed state,” said professor Lewis Molot, a York University environmental studies professor.
University of Alberta ecology professor David W. Schindler agrees. “Most areas these days are so affected that it is hard to tell what they were like in their original forms,” said Schindler. “Air pollution is affected by a number of characteristics, but at this point we don’t know whether what’s emitted came from directly on-site or not.”
This is one reason it’s important to examine the burning of coal and oil and why it’s so detrimental to the environment. “When coal ores or oils are burned, impurities get released at high temperatures and some of them are actually released as powerful gases,” explains Schindler. “One example is mercury, which travels long distances, as well as other small particles that are emitted from the stacks and fall back to earth and can be traced up to 50 kilometres from the origin. Almost every toxic metal on the periodic table is there in some quantity, and that varies from fuel to fuel, ore to ore.”
When these trace metals and particles fall back to earth, they are absorbed into the soil, making it hard to grow vegetation and affecting the lakes, notes Schindler, making Canada’s great tracts of land not so useful, and making our clean water that much rarer.
“When you wake up in the morning and the dew covers the grass, the sun shines over it and the dew disappears. It travels back into the atmosphere and the next night the particles are deposited all over again in that exact way,” he added.
Schindler points out that some types of ecosystems naturally protect us from our own pollution. “Automobiles and burning fossil fuels will produce these toxins, and they’re carried onto the streets and deposited into the storm drains,” he said. “The water level in some lakes are so high they have to treat the lakes as toxic wastes. However, before they are deposited, some marshes and wetlands may be the destination for some of these pollutants, which actually act as filters for them, rendering them harmless.”
That doesn’t make pollution okay, of course, and the government, Schindler says, should be aware of this worsening problem.
“There are those scientists who choose a narrow vision path,” offers Molot. “But it is more than necessary to look at things in every possible light, with more perspectives than one.”
Professor Schindler agrees practical connections need to be made. “We can publish extensive scientific journals, but they’d just end up at the back of some library bookshelf, never making it into policy. A direct path to policy is crucial. It isn’t enough to just do research and publish papers,” Schindler said.
Federal and provincial governments are finally coming to an agreement on these contaminates findings, and there may be some changes to regulation, according to Schindler.
When it comes down to policy, he is aware that people are just as important.
“When people vote, they need to be aware of who they’re supporting, and not just getting a lot of propaganda.”
In other words, people need an environmentally minded government they can trust. In June 1996, the Alberta government established a think tank called the Northern River Basin Study, who incorporated industrial, agricultural, municipal perspectives into their work, as well as that of aboriginal chiefs. Members called to action these different governmental facets, and according to Alberta’s environment ministry, at no time in the four-year study was there a disagreement in the studies.
“This posed a real threat to the politicians who feared that the citizens on board would see what was going on, so instead of renewing the funding when time was up, they disbanded the group and took everything behind closed doors.”
It may appear the Canadian government doesn’t like to keep their citizens informed about what’s being done to pollution; they might even fear what citizens will think when word spreads about the actual state of our planet.
“They also like to pit groups against each other and industries will hire the same people to spread scepticism and propaganda on topics, saying whatever they want to be true, using propaganda. The trick to get these companies to stop playing this game is to get people educated enough so that the game doesn’t work anymore,” said Schindler.
The importance of direct policy is again clear; all the technology in the world can be out there, but it needs to be put to use. As the professor points out, “The oil sands’ techniques for extractions were introduced in 1925, so their theory is, ‘as long as we’re making money, why should we stop?’ When regulation is introduced to stop this, they’ll then sing a different tune.”
Will it be too late to change anything eventually? Schindler said no. “As long as people become educated on the topics and try hard to understand our position and what we can do about it, it’s never too late.”