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The Human Footprint on the Environment: Impacts and Solutions
Mar 1, 2015

Environmental destruction is wreaking havoc on treasured resources, like the Ganges River, but it’s also striking closer to home, in our local communities.

The Ganges River flows majestically through the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. It is ancient, sacred to the millions of Hindus who rely on it for daily sustenance, and unfortunately, becoming increasingly polluted. The causes of this pollution are plentiful; however, one of the most obvious is the wave of industrialization that has swept through the country in recent years and has left factories near the river, most notably tanning factories, whose runoff mixes with the water of the Ganges and contributes to the various health problems of those who live near, drink from, and bathe in the river. The case of Ganges River pollution is one of the many highly visible examples of the effects of modern industry on the environment. Today, industry supplies much of the world with items that are essential to everyday life, but the “footprints” that industrial pollution leaves behind are harmful to the environment and to the lives of many.

The effects that industrial pollution has on health are numerous, well researched, and in many cases frightening. Chromium, a chemical that is emitted by tanneries that operate along the Ganges, is a likely carcinogen. The toxic fumes that many different types of factories emit can cause suffocation, and even contain particles that burrow into and damage the lungs.

As previously mentioned, those who live near the Ganges often suffer from adverse health that is the result of the river’s pollution. However, the adverse effects of industrial pollution are also present in a land that many often erroneously associate with universal equality and prosperity, and the freedom to live in a safe, sheltered environment. In the book Sacrifice Zones, environmental writer Steve Lerner catalogs the struggles of communities of poor and marginalized peoples in the United States living with the physical and emotional effects of industrial pollution. One story of a communal victory against the forces that dispense pollution is that of several neighborhoods in Ocala, Florida, that lay in the shadows of Royal Oak, a charcoal plant. The plant emitted dark soot that coated and would even sneak inside of homes, cars, gardens, and children’s toys, and wreaked havoc on the health of those who were forced to live near it. Despite this, Royal Oak continued to operate, until community activist Ruth Reed galvanized the formation of a grassroots organization that contacted local government leaders, collected evidence of pollution in the area, obtained a lawyer, and eventually, with enough lobbying, was able to have Royal Oak shut down.

The struggles of the communities in Ocala began after the Royal Oak plant was built in the late 1960s, and continued well into the earliest years of the twenty-first century. To spread the news about the pollution that was impairing their lives, citizens contacted the local news, both newspapers and television stations. They did not have the luxury of utilizing today’s internet to reach out for assistance beyond their communities, as is often done today when social justice is the issue. The way people use the internet to communicate with each other today is much more sophisticated than it was only a few years ago. The average user of one of today’s popular social media sites like Facebook and Twitter sees a myriad of posts written by individuals and organizations encouraging the public to donate money to a worthy cause, vote yes or no on a certain political issue, or to even keep an eye out for a missing loved one, and these posts are very effective. The internet and social media are dominated by young people, and because of this, young people today have an unprecedented amount of societal and political influence, influence that can be used to help quell pollution. If industrial pollution is to be combated, and if the destructive human footprint that is being left on the environment is to be reduced, children, who wield the power of using the internet to share information about their environment and the injustices done to it, must receive a much more comprehensive environmental education.

What constitutes a comprehensive environmental education is sure to vary wildly. However, one thing is certain – it must involve the development of communication and leadership skills among young people, skills that enable them to come together, collaborate, and develop new ideas to lessen the human footprint on the environment, and make the world a safer place to live in the future.


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Lerner, Steve. "Ocala, Florida: Community Blanketed by "Black Snow" from Neighboring Charcoal Factory." Sacrifice Zones: The Front Lines of Toxic Chemical Exposure in the United States. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2010. 19-40. Print.