Click! Flip! Stream!: The evolution of social media

photo credit: Lilly Wood

A woman walks down a sidewalk as a light breeze ruffles through her hair. It’s a beautiful sunny day, no clouds to be seen, and the sky a bright baby blue. She steps into the grassy meadows beside her neighborhood park, when suddenly she steps into a dirty plastic bag. She quickly steps out of it but as she takes a moment to look around, she sees there are plastic bags and trash lying all around her beloved park, ruining the image of it.

In 2020, there were around 3.2 billion people affected by land pollution according to the UN Environment Program. 

Land pollution can be caused by an array of things such as mining, construction, deforestation, and landfills.

“Here in Central Ohio, one of the biggest causes of land pollution is litter. Many of our inner-city neighborhoods are utilizing large 300-gallon trash cans in the alleys which are shared amongst neighbors. These 300-gallon bins are a huge source of litter as it removes accountability for keeping the area clean and encourages illegal dumping,” Shelly Douglas said. Douglas is the executive director for Green Columbus, a non-profit organization that works to improve the environment and stop land pollution in Central Ohio.

Landfills are also one of the main sources of land pollution. The purpose of landfills is to hold all the trash coming from homes, and it decomposes over a period of time.

“The decomposition process produces methane, a dangerous and flammable gas. In modern landfills, the methane is collected in pipes so that it can be vented, burned, or even used as an energy source,” according to National Geographic.

However, leaks do occur and when they do, they are catastrophic to the humans, animals, and plants near that environment. This directly impacts other parts of the environment such as the air.

“Methane emissions cause 25% of global heating today and there has been a “scary” surge since 2007, according to scientists,” according to the Guardian.

Fast fashion companies like Shein, also, make up a lot of landfills and cause a lot of serious repercussions for the environment. Fast fashion is when clothing is made very quickly to keep up with the latest fashion trends and is mass produced and sold very cheaply. Due to this, millions of these clothes end up in landfills.

“Myself and others can work to do our individual part when it comes to preventing land pollution. This can include being cognizant of the trash we are producing and keeping it to a minimum when possible,” sophomore Samira Kandhari said.

Deforestation causes the loss of biodiversity, and many animals lose their homes. It also creates a warmer environment that causes the soil to dry up and cause soil erosion. Soil erosion is when the effect of wind or water or the clearing of land takes away the soil particles and causes it to worsen, according to Iowa State University. 

“Forests are also home to more than 80 percent of the world’s life on land. However, the world is losing 137 species of plants, animals, and insects every day to deforestation and a staggering 50,000 species become extinct each year,” according to Earth.Org.

Mining causes a depletion of vegetation which affects the crops and animals in that area. Alongside that construction also contributes to the decrease in plants and causes soil to go bad because of all the chemicals at work while construction happens.

“One of my major concerns is the presence of microplastics in our environment. Our animals and wildlife are not used to plastic existing in nature, and often eat it or bring it back to their nests. Additionally, microplastics are found in the human body due to consumption of these animals or interaction with our environment. Each one of them causes serious negative effects on Earth and the inhabitants on it,” Douglas said.

There are a multitude of ways to prevent land pollution such as reusing materials, recycling, and reducing consumption. Using these methods can help better our planet as a whole.

“Green Columbus and other groups often lead litter cleanups to remove litter from the watershed before it reaches the river,” Douglas said. “Volunteering at a litter clean-up is a great way to limit pollution because it creates a personal connection to keeping our environment clean and shows the community that we are trying to be better.”

However, land is not the only environment in major need of clean up due to pollution. 

In the heart of the worlds’ bustling cities, an unexpected threat lurks, often underestimated. The air everyone breathes, although essential to sustain life, has been tainted by the invisible enemy of air pollution.

Today, air pollution levels in the United States have reached an all-time high. These levels exceed national standards for harmful pollutants such as ozone and fine particle pollution, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Most air pollution stems from burning fossil fuels for energy, whether its vehicles fueled by gasoline, a house heated with oil, or power plants, this has become a common practice.

 In developing countries, air pollution is a large issue because of overpopulation and uncontrolled urbanization. Accumulation of air pollution resulted in an increase in the number of deaths per year in New York City and London.

According to the World Health Organization, many health issues can stem from air pollution. Diseases that can stem from air pollution include stroke, diabetes, heart disease and lung cancer.

“Vulnerable populations, especially those with limited resources, within the United State and across the globe will be most adversely impacted.  So in the case of a place like Columbus, actions need to be taken to adapt,” The Ohio State University Environmental Science Professor Jeff Sharp said.

In order to change the current trend of a decline in the world’s air quality, big changes need to be made for the health of all citizens. This could include a change in the way people travel and live their daily lives less dependent on unsustainable resources.

“One challenge of addressing the climate crisis is identifying meaningful actions.  We can consider two broad categories of actions, actions that try to mitigate our impact (proactive efforts to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions) or efforts to adapt(reactive efforts to reduce the potential adverse impacts or climate change),” Sharp said

Environmental Science professor at The Ohio State University Nicole Sintov also believes society must change transportation methods to improve air issues, as it tends to be a large contributor.

“Many contributors to climate change are also contributors to air pollution, implementing regulations for commercial and industrial emissions and reducing single-occupancy vehicle use, particularly gasoline-powered vehicles,” Sintov said.

Everybody can contribute to a decrease in air pollution, taking some time each day to be mindful about energy usage. This could include carpooling, taking public transportation, or reducing gas consumption.

“Continued efforts to transition to renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions, especially from carbon intense sectors such as transportation or fashion,” Sharp said.

Although there could be a clear solution to the air pollution issue, most methods are easier said than done.

“I hate to be pessimistic but, yes, at least in the United States. I do not believe public support is sufficient to lead to the regulation that would be needed, nor is there enough of a groundswell to suggest that voluntary behavior change will work,” said Sintov.

However, there are certain arrangements cities and neighborhoods can make to mitigate climate issues in the meantime.

“But examples of adaptation might include trying to increase tree canopy (create more shade through trees), to reduce the heat island effect in some neighborhoods.  This is especially important as we see an increase in heat waves and high heat days in the future,” Sharp said.

There must be many large societal changes if the world wants to see a change in air pollution issues, including a societal shift towards climate awareness. Doing small things each day to work to improve the climate could potentially turn into a change.

Nevertheless, the Earth still has another key environment that is massively affected by pollution. That environment is the oceans, rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water that make up 71 percent of the Earth.

Although most of the trash we produce goes into landfills, a lot of it ends up in our rivers and oceans. According to the United Nations, water covers over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, and houses over 50 percent of all life. However, trash is not the only factor negatively impacting our oceans.

            One of the biggest contributors is “our reliance on fossil fuels. From extraction to processing to waste disposal, that is by far the biggest issue that we are facing globally,” AP Environmental Science Teacher Jessica Timmons said.

The use of fossil fuels in exchange for energy, increases the temperature and acidity of the oceans. The oceans are essentially storage containers for carbon, so when fossil fuels are burned and carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, the oceans will then absorb that carbon. When the carbon dioxide is mixed with the salt water it then forms calcium carbonate, and at dangerous levels it can lower the pH of the oceans, making it more acidic.

Acidification of the oceans is an ever-growing problem. When the oceans become too acidic it can be difficult for marine life to survive. Hydrogen is found in the water and is highly attracted to carbonate. When the carbonate and hydrogen bonds, bicarbonate is formed. Bicarbonate can be detrimental for shell-building organisms.

“Shell-building organisms can’t extract the carbonate ion they need from bicarbonate, preventing them from using that carbonate to grow new shell,” the Ocean Portal Team at Smithsonian said. Shells and skeletons found in organisms such as oysters, clams, lobster, shrimp and even coral reefs, won’t be able to grow causing a loss of biodiversity because of the population decline.

“With a less complex and capable reef structure, there will be challenges of supporting the biodiversity in the ecosystem,” Environmental Club Officer and senior Ohanna Cho said. Reefs provide food, habitats, and protect the shore from oceanic currents. When the pH of the water gets too low, the coral will have a bleaching event which can take away all the benefits that the coral provides.

Bleaching occurs when coral releases all of the microorganisms living in its tissues as a result of stress. Bleaching makes coral lose their number one source of food and they become more susceptible to disease. The reefs may look baren and dead but the coral are still alive.

In the Pacific Ocean, trash collects in what is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This patch of garbage is so impactful to the marine environment for many reasons, one being that the trash is often mistaken for food. Grocery bags collected in the reef are mistaken for jellyfish, especially by sea turtles. The World Wildlife Fund states that around 52 percent of the world’s turtles have ingested plastic waste.

Another part of the problem with the patch is the amount of fishing equipment found in it. Fishing traps still may work even when they aren’t meant to be used, which is referred to as ghost fishing. Ghost fishing occurs when old equipment still catches organisms even when they were not intended to. These traps show no mercy and can catch endangered species, causing more of a population decline which can then lead to extinction.

The World Wildlife Fund found that 46 percent of the garbage patch is lost fishing gear, including nets, lines, hooks, and rope. Commercial fishing produces an immense amount of pollution, contributing over one hundred million pounds of plastic into the oceans each year.

This plastic polluting the oceans and being ingested by marine life, eventually ends up in humans. People eat fish who have microplastics in their stomachs, which in turn causes people to eat those plastics negatively affecting human bodies.

“Around 70% of the fish that come out of the Pacific Ocean have microplastics in them, and then we ingest those fish. A lot of the plastics are found to be carcinogenic, which can then also impact our health, not just the quality of life in the oceans,” Timmons said.

The pollution that goes into the oceans is detrimental to all life. While not everyone fishes or directly contributes to fossil fuels, it is still important to be aware of the waste produced and where that waste may go.

 Overall, pollution has had a massive effect on the wellbeing of the planet. Many scientists and civilians are concerned with how this will shape the future and what that means for the human race. However, there are many things, such as using a reusable water bottle and recycling, that anyone can do to help the betterment of the planet and hopefully work to solve some of these issues.