Pollution: a daily struggle for 500 years
Economic activity has always generated waste, but the phenomenon has clearly increased with the consumer society.
In 1510 an investigation is carried out by the authorities: the air has become unbreathable since the exploitation of coal in the city. A doctor says that the smoke produced is dangerous, that no one can stand such an odor, and that as a result people may die suddenly. Proof that pollution is already seen as a scourge that must be protected. In 1673, the foul-smelling tanneries were expelled from Paris and, a century later, laundries and dyers followed the same path.
At that time, the health and well-being of the population was still the priority. Things were reversed during the industrial revolution. With this new era where industry becomes all-powerful, we no longer care about local residents or nature. In 1774, a memorable trial began this turning point: intoxicated by the leaks of sulfuric acid escaping from the Holker factory, residents attacked the industrialist, demanding compensation and the relocation of the factory.
They are rejected because the production is considered of national interest! Industrial pollution, it is at this point that the expression appears, is perceived as the price to be paid for progress and economic development. So we stoically support the fumes.
Pollution in modern times
After 1945, the advent of the consumer society amplified the phenomenon: everyone now has the means to become a polluter on their own scale. If a few voices are raised to worry about this pollution, they are inaudible.
A series of dramas in the 1970s and 1980s forced the world opinion to open their eyes.
First in the United States, where 1969 is a dark year: in California, the beaches of Santa Barbara are soiled by the leaks of an oil platform, and in Cleveland (Ohio), the Cuyahoga River catches fire under the effect of flammable products spilled on it.
In France, it was the sinking of the Amoco Cadiz off the coast of Finistère in 1978 that raised awareness. Broadcast on television, images of thousands of birds stuck in the black mire upset the whole country. Demonstrations are improvised in the region. What will Brittany be like when I turn 20? Can we read on a sign brandished by a kid. Thousands of volunteers come to help the locals to clean the beaches for weeks.
Pollution has become a concern. A 1981 poll found that 47% of people considered environmental problems very important, and 42% important. But not to the point of changing their way of life. After all, the Amoco Cadiz oil spill only affected a small part of Brittany. If you are not from there, you can still think you are spared.
After Chernobyl, mentalities change
On April 26, 1986, reactor 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded in Ukraine, and a radioactive cloud covered Europe.
In France, there’s panic. In early May, they stop buying fruits and vegetables for fear of contamination. Sales of strawberries and asparagus plummet by more than 30%. Geiger counters, which measure ionizing radiation, are appearing everywhere: the Skyrock radio makes daily readings, while a journalist measures vegetables. This time, there is no longer any question of hiding behind your little finger: pollution concerns everyone.
In an attempt to limit its effects, decisions are multiplying. In 1991, Europe tackled nitrates that contaminate water in agricultural areas, and introduced the first standard for combustion engine emissions a year later. In France, the 1992 law lays down the principle of recycling. Paying attention to the environment is gradually becoming a habit: the time is over when, as in this scene from a movie, you dump your trash in nature after a picnic …
The fight against pollution integrates educational programs. Everywhere, green alternatives are developing: Japan and Germany are betting on solar energy by funding roofs covered with photovoltaic panels in 1995, and the first wind farm was established in France in 2001 in the Somme.
The ecological cause is now embodied by freshly converted people: little concerned with environmental issues at the start of his career, Commander Cousteau played a role in the media coverage of the Earth Summit in Brazil in 1992. And Nicolas Hulot, first photographer and backpacker, created in 1990 the Ushuaïa Foundation – renamed since Nicolas-Hulot Foundation for nature and man.
However, the efforts made have little weight in the face of a general deteriorating situation. We realize this at the dawn of the 2000s with a new oil spill in Brittany, that of the oil tanker Erika, on December 12, 1999.
Two years earlier, the American navigator Charles J. Moore discovered that a gigantic continent of plastic waste is floating in the Pacific. There has also been a failure to manage nuclear waste, most of which has a lifespan of 100,000 years and which we do not know what to do with.
Scientific analysis of pollution
The scientific work relating to the impact of pollution on our health is increasing. In 2002, a study carried out by the cardiologist Yves Cottin proves that when the quantity of fine particles exceeds 25 micrograms per cubic meter, the number of heart attacks jumps by 161%.
Pesticides are now presented as potential serial killers. A grain farmer becomes the symbol of these dangers. A heavy user of phytosanitary products, in 2004 he inhaled toxic vapors while bending over a tank filled with herbicides and has since accumulated neurological problems. In 2007, he filed a complaint for lack of information against Monsanto, which markets the herbicide in question, Lasso, which was banned the same year. The agrochemical giant was ordered to compensate him in 2012, but appealed against this decision.
The 2000s are the years of another realization: pollution does not just harm our health, it hampers the climate. Waste management companies like Little Rock Dumpster Rental HQ try to help clean the mess, but junk removal is not enough. While the first two reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, created in 1988) had gone relatively unnoticed, the third, published in 2001, is widely reported in the media. As well as the hypothesis – now proven – that climate change is anthropogenic.
Many people realized that warming was a problem during the heat wave of 2003, because it showed the weaknesses of our system in the event of an extreme episode, according to expert climatologists.