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The Implications Of Water Pollution

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The Consequences of Water Pollution

Annually, 90 million people add to the current population of 6.5 billion. At this rate the global population will reach approximately 8.5 billion by 2025 ( As the global population grows exponentially, so does the demand for natural resources. Of all these natural resources, water, is the most vital for survival and expansion. Human's dependency on water will never go away, making it a key part to any civilizations future. It is used daily for purposes such as: drinking, washing, bathing, sustaining agriculture, acquiring energy, and transporting goods. All of which help sustain a society's stability. In Jared Diamond's book, Collapse, he reveals similarities and differences in past failed societies and determines that societies that have failed or will fail, do so because of a combination of factors. These factors include environmental damage, climate change, hostile neighbors, friendly trade partners, and primarily, how the societies respond to their problems (Diamond p.11). Applying water pollution, to Diamond's proposed, "five-point framework," explains that water pollution's implications contribute directly and indirectly to a possible collapse of society.

By combining a historical perspective with scientific advances, Diamond's five-point framework strongly supports his claim that society's ignorance and disregard for the environment could lead to their collapse. Thus, to fully understand how water pollution could contribute to a possible collapse, a deeper explanation of Diamond's five-point framework is required.

"The first set of factors involves damage that people inadvertently inflict on their environment. The extent and reversibility of that damage depend partly on properties of people, and partly on properties of the environment (Diamond p.11)." Basically Diamond shows that excessive consummation and pollution of environmental resources has proven to contribute to the downfall of societies in the past. Societies undermine themselves by destroying their environments too quickly for it to recover. For example, constantly growing crops on soil unfit to support the crop will eventually result in soil degradation, or the loss of equilibrium of a stable soil, because it can not replenish the right amount of the necessary nutrients. Crops that are not native to the land, will throw off the formation of the soil, making it useless for any vegetation.

Diamond's second consideration is climate change. Climates may become hotter or colder, wetter or drier either from natural forces or by global warming. "In many historical cases, a society that was depleting its environmental resources could absorb the losses as long as the climate was benign, but was then driven over the brink of collapse when the climate became drier, colder, hotter, wetter, or more variable (Diamond p.13)." Societies tend to increase production and population when times are good, causing them to become accustomed to their ingrained habits. They consistently damage their environment, however do not notice any negative changes because the climate can replenish the resources. When these good times end and the climate turns for the worse, the society cannot sustain the population it once could. The society's environmental impact coincides with climate changes, which together has shown to be a possible cause for a society's collapse (Diamond, p13).

The processes through which past societies have undermined themselves by damaging their environments fall into twelve categories: deforestation and habitat destruction, soil problems, water management problems, over hunting, over fishing, effects of introduced species on native species, human population growth, increased per capita impact of people, human caused climate change, buildup of toxic chemicals in the environment, energy shortages, and full human utilization of the Earth's photosynthetic capacity. (Diamond, p.6-7). Water pollution negatively affects many of these categories.

Water pollution is a global issue and its' implications are illuminated when we put the problem in the context of the first two points, that is environmental damage and climate change. Main sources of water pollution include: industrial discharge of chemical wastes and byproducts, surface runoff containing pesticides or fertilizers, acid rain caused by industrial discharge of sulfur dioxide, discharge of contaminated or heated water used for industrial processes, surface runoff containing spilled petroleum products, silt runoff from construction sites and farms, discharge of poorly treated or untreated sewage, excess nutrients added by runoff containing fertilizers, and underground storage tank leakage leading to soil contamination. Each source of pollution correlates to one or more of the twelve processes through which past societies have undermined themselves by damaging their environment. Thus, water pollution is considered to be a contributor to a possible collapse.

Industry is responsible for the majority of water pollution because its practices produce several contaminants. The combined industrial discharge of chemical wastes and byproducts pollute rivers, lakes, and oceans by producing organic and inorganic contaminants that enter groundwater and soil, which can compile at the bottom of oceans. Subsequently, industrial discharge significantly increases the acidity of water. Heavy metals' toxicity combined with increases in acidity yields water that cannot sustain life that it once could. The biodiversity that once existed created rich ecosystems in which we could utilize for food and medicine. Consequently, the risk of the spread of disease and food shortages destabilizes society by placing burdens on its social systems. The morale of citizens is negatively affected. Countries that are not able treat enough water for their population, also become vulnerable to contaminated water, which leads to increased disease and death.

Industry provides for



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