Life on planet earth is a delegate balance of fragile ecosystems that are interdependent on one another. The effects of man’s modern existence on the planet have and are occurring on an unsustainable level to support life on Earth. Scientists have noted that the climate is changing and whether or not it continues to do so is largely up to the way human beings respond to the challenges at the present time. In an effort to outline the potential effects of global warming and identify the main contributors to the phenomenon, this work will examine the case study of the Chesapeake Bay and Assateague Island as outlined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with attention to other peer reviewed and reputable published literature on the topic. This work will also outline the salient characteristics of primary and secondary pollutants with examples of each and how they are contributing to the current environmental situation. Findings of the study suggest that man made primary and secondary pollutants are threatening the well being of life on the planet today. Though some skeptics have postulated alternative theories, the bulk of scientists agree that global warming is occurring and that changes must be made to our current habits on the planet to stop the damage from continuing. The presented case study of the Chesapeake Bay is one example of how global warming is contributing to the rising sea level in a fragile ecosystem. Essentially, the primary foundations for pollution are those attributes that have come to characterize modern living.
Life on planet earth is a delegate balance of fragile ecosystems that are interdependent on one another. When any attribute of the ecosystem changes, very poignant anomalies will emerge that can threaten the quality and way of life of the species in those ecosystems. Today, the earth is in crisis. The effects of man’s modern existence on the planet have and are occurring on an unsustainable level to support life on Earth. Scientists have noted that the climate is changing and whether or not it continues to do so is largely up to the way human beings respond to the challenges at the present time. In an effort to outline the potential effects of global warming and identify the main contributors to the phenomenon, this work will examine the case study of the Chesapeake Bay and Assateague Island as outlined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with attention to other peer reviewed and reputable published literature on the topic. This work will also outline the salient characteristics of primary and secondary pollutants with examples of each and how they are contributing to the current environmental situation.
Background: A Review of Literature
Primary and Secondary Pollutants
A primary pollutant is an air pollutant that is emitted directly from the source. Examples of primary pollutants include but are not limited to vehicle exhaust, volcanic ash and industrial emissions. Some of these pollutants are natural, but more often they are man made byproducts of industry or modern living. Secondary pollutants, in contrast, are those pollutants that are not directly emitted, but occur as a result of primary pollutants reacting in the atmosphere (Green). An example of a secondary pollutants includes ozone, this forms when hydrocarbons (HC) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) combine in the presence of sunlight. Similarly, when sulfur dioxide and nitrogen reacts with water, this reaction causes acid rain which then in turn pollutes the earth’s groundwater. Smog is also an example of a secondary pollutant (Green). The isolation of these pollutants is often an oversimplification of a more complicated phenomenon as the pollutants often work in a systems capacity. Both primary and secondary pollutants effectively have the capacity to change the climate either temporarily or permanently. This can lead to profound changes in fragile ecosystems thereby damaging the quality of life for species on the planet.
Air Pollutants / Life Quality
Walck, Hidayati, Dixon, Thompson and Poschlod demonstrated how this affected plant regeneration. According to the authors, temperature and water supply are critical drivers for seed dormancy and germination (Walck et al.). As a result, when changes to this dynamic happen, plant propagation of species changes thereby influencing the oxygen cycle and also species that may rely on those plants for other capacities. On the human body alone, air pollutants have the capacity to produce eye irritation, cardiovascular problems, respiratory impairments, nasopharynegeal issues, and tracheobronchial issues that can manifest on a chronic level. In addition, they can produce carcinogenic conditions, particularly for the most susceptible members of society like children and the elderly (Godish). Air pollution, as a result, can manifest in a number of health related issues.
Ozone Depletion and Global Warming
According to Dixon, "Stratospheric ozone depletion threatens human health and the global environment." The ozone layer keeps the earth protected from ultraviolet rays that come from the sun. The depletion of ozone is linked to the release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Increased sun intensity has been leading to the melting of the ice-caps on the north and south poles. At the present time, global investment in the phase out of ozone depleting substances is under way and nearly 20,000 ozone depletion potential (ODP) materials are no longer being used. The ozone layer, when combined with other issues, has potential to increase the degree to which global warming is manifesting. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, "Global warming causes water at the surface of the ocean to expand and adds sizable quantities of freshwater runoff from melting glaciers and ice sheets." Though some controversy exists surrounding the extent to which global warming is occurring, 99% of climate scientists recognize that global warming is real. While some natural components related to global warming exist, it is generally regarded by scientists to be a product of burning fossil fuels and other human activities. This increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. At the present time, cars, trucks, heating, businesses and factories are the cause of 99% of U.S. anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions and about 20% of nitrous oxide emissions (EPA). Increases in agriculture, deforestation, landfills, industrial production and mining also contribute shares of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gas emissions (EPA).
Chesapeake Bay Case Study
Since 1890, the recording of tide gauges has found that the region’s sea level is more than a foot higher than it was previously. This makes the levels of Chesapeake Bay on the mid-Atlantic coast rising twice as fast as the global average (EPA). At the present rate, by 2100, the sea level will likely be at 27 inches higher than it is today (EPA). This environmental change will have profound impact on the wildlife and geographic character of the region. For example, islands of the area are being merged and eroded. Assateague Island is becoming narrower and more landward. Poplar Island has been eroded by more than 99.5% in the past 150 years (EPA). The sand beaches and marshes along the shores will vanish in those areas where development has created "armor" for the shoreline against the sea’s potential damage. As storms hit the area, more damage will occur (particularly flooding) as the sea will already be at a higher level. The EPA also estimates that this will affect wildlife in an adverse manner that necessitates attention. The EPA stated, "Warmer and more saline waters could encourage the spread of oyster disease and affect fish in the bay...[and] Global warming could have a major impact on the region’s bird life, including migratory waterfowl that overwinter in the Chesapeake Bay" (p. 1). The Chesapeake Bay stands as a well studied example of how global warming is changing the environmental characteristics in the developed world in a negative manner.
In an effort to outline the potential effects of global warming and identify the main contributors to the phenomenon, a variety of reputable scientific literature will be used in conjunction with a specific case study. The analysis of the content presented in the selected literature pertaining to the topic will produce the necessary results postulated in the research objectives. The selected case study for analysis will be the Chesapeake Bay and Assateague Island situation. The study that will be examined for the data regarding that case is one that has been produced and widely disseminated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Other sources that will be consulted are peer reviewed resources and studies that originally occurred in: Mitigation and Adaptive Strategies for Global Change, Global Change Biology, The Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association and Skeptic. The type of data that will be collected will consist of reoccurring themes of causation, reoccurring themes of effect and alternative interpretations. By using pre-existing published research from reputable sources, this study will have built in internal validity that cannot be compromised by employing emergent original scientific research methods to establish similar findings. In addition, the wealth of literature related to the subject is sufficiently robust to accommodate the scope of the research proposed by the study.
Man made primary and secondary pollutants are threatening the well being of life on the planet today. Since the 1980’s, it has been known that it is possible to emit dioxins from the heat and power generation sector. The body of knowledge regarding pollution and fossil fuels has only continued to improve over the years. Though some skeptics have postulated alternative theories, the bulk of scientists agree that global warming is occurring and that changes must be made to our current habits on the planet to stop the damage from continuing. The presented case study of the Chesapeake Bay is one example of how global warming is contributing to the rising sea level in a fragile ecosystem. The result in this particular area is irreparably changing the landscape and threatening the wildlife in the region. The primary foundations for pollution are those attributes that have come to characterize modern living. The burning of fossil fuels is a method that humans have been using for energy for the bulk of the Twentieth Century. Fossil fuels provide warmth, transportation and power to a variety of mechanisms on which we have come to rely. On the negative end of the spectrum, they have become such a mainstay that they are doing a great deal of damage to the environment both on the primary and secondary levels. As human beings live longer and expand the species, the environmental impact also continues to become more profound. Global warming has been referred to as an inconvenient truth; however, it is important to note that truth is the operative word in the equation as the bulk of scientific research supports this notion.
In the U.S., the nation is now into the fourth decade of significant regulatory efforts to protect and enhance the quality of air in the nation. Though this is a start, humans have to significantly change the way in which we treat the environment. While rejecting some modern conveniences could help the problem, the embrace of emergent green living and technology is the most proactive and logical solution for changing the identified trends. Solar, wind and other renewable energy sources are offering new chances to significantly cut back on greenhouse emissions. In addition, by producing more fuel efficient automobiles the damage to the environment can be reduced as emergent energy alternatives are developed and explored. For the members of the population who are still not convinced as to the existence of global warming, the fact that fossil fuels are a finite resource should be sufficient enough to support efforts for developing alternative energy. Regardless of the motivation, clean energy would produce less pollution and thereby be more advantageous to the situation that is currently present.
On a level of scientific operation, there are some specific ways to reduce secondary pollutants. These methods include but are not limited to: absorption on the activated carbon, catalytic decomposition of dioxins in the vanadium catalyst, the filtrating method (MEDIA), the absorbing method (ADIOX), the radiation methods, the corona discharge method, the absorption on carbon nanotubes and nano-catalysis (Wielgoinski). While none of these methods are without flaws, they can be used as important steps toward necessary change. Employing the Chesapeake Bay as a case study for the effects of global warming should not be regarded as an isolated context. Instead, the selected case study should be considered a microcosm of what is going on in fragile environmental areas throughout the world today. As a result, this case study is not unique and such problems are universal. Though many artificial divides separate humans from understanding one another on the sociological level, the need for a sound environment that supports human life is one of the few universal matters of consequence for all life on the planet. It is important to note that change is possible and that the development of emergent technologies and the acquisitions of new schemas as to our position on the planet are the keys to making the correct changes for the future.
Dixon, R. K. Global environment facility investments in the phase out of ozone depleting substances. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, 16(5), 567-577.
Environmental Protection Agency. Climate Change, Wild Life and Wildlands: Chesapeake Bay and Assateague Island. 1-10.
Godish, T. Air Quality. New York: Lewis Publishers.
Morrison, D. Letter to climate skeptics. Skeptic,16(2), 10-11.
Primary and secondary pollutants. Green Facts.
Walck, J. L., Hidayati, S. N., Dixon, K. W., Thompson, K., & Poschlod, P. Global Change Biology, 17(6), 2145-2150.
Wielgosinski, G. The reduction of dioxin emissions from the processes of heat and power generation. Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association, 61(5), 511-527.