The Air We Breathe
Air pollution has probably been with us since man discovered fire. But in those days, the smoke and gases rose in the air and were carried away by the wind. Air pollution usually did not begin to be a problem until men began living in the towns and cities, and had many fires burning at the same time within a small area. For thousands of years, however, in the Middle East, farmers have burned bushes and grass, causing muck local pollution.
About 700 years ago-in 1283-King Edward I of England made the first law that included an attempt to control smoke. Rules were established limiting the use of fire. Some years after this, in 1306, the English government made another pollution law, declaring that no person might burn coal during a meeting of Parliament.
Until the 16th century, people who were lucky enough to own silver spoons and other silver objects did not have to shine them often. But as the use of coal and oil began to increase, a black covering caused by sulfur gasses began to form on silver plates, pots, and other objects.
The first book eve written about air pollution was published in 1661. This book, written by John Evelyn, contained the first list of scientific solutions to the air pollution problem. Evelyn described in detail the smog over London. He warned that the cause of the smog was the burning of so much coal in the factories that were being built all around the city. He was probably the first man to study pollution control.
In Evelyn’s time, the people of the United States, compared with those of England, were having little trouble with their air. They enjoyed gentle winds that carried away the smoke from their fires. At that time, people lived in small towns or on farms surrounded by huge open spaces. Even New York City (New Amsterdam, when Evelyn’s book appeared) had only about 1,000 people. But about 200 years later, in 1873, some magazine writers in the United States began to warn about the soot and dirt that was polluting the air of the cities. And at that time, the country’s population was about one-fifth of what it is today.
Today, the air pollution problem is to be found in all parts of the world. Tokyo has had many serious smog warnings for the last several years. Now among the people of that city there are many cases of lung diseases caused by dirty air.
Near Athens, Greece, every Monday morning when the factories start productions the smog begins to increase. It spreads over the lower parts of town and finally reaches the Parthenon, the greatest ancient temple of the Acropolis. For more than 2,000 years, parts of the Parthenon were unchanged. We know this because in 1802 exact copies of some of the art objects were made. In 1965 those copies were compared with the objects as they are now. Some of the old art treasures have been damaged so much by air pollution that it is almost impossible to recognize them.
The Ruhr Valley of West Germany is a region of large factories. Warning signs can now be seen telling automobile drivers that if air pollution reaches an unsafe level they must leave the road. In this region, there is so much soot in the air that persons who wear white shirts must change them sometimes as often as three times a day.
In France, there is a law that requires automobile exhaust to be returned through the engine to burn up the gasoline completely.
Padua, Italy, is losing some of its art treasures because of pollution. Some walls painted by the artist Giotto in the 14th century are being destroyed. Air pollution in Florence is destroying some of its old bridges and buildings.
What will happen in the future? One American scientist tells us that the air from across the Pacific Ocean is clean when it arrives at the west coast of the United States. It picks up pollution in the western states, drops some of it when it passes over the Rocky Mountains, and then collects more and more as it travels over the country on its way toward the east coast.
But if the people in every big city in Asia owned as many automobiles as the people in Los Angeles do-almost one for every adult, then, what would happen? The air coming across the Pacific Ocean would be polluted before it arrived at the coast of the United States. Gradually, the world would be covered with smog and soot particles. Man would die-unable to live because of all the pollution in the air. Equally frightening pictures could be imagined concerning water and noise pollution.
What is the answer? How can we solve this worldwide problem? At best, in some places we are just able to control pollution as it occurs. At worst, in some places the land is bare and people are dying. The final solutions, if they are found at all and in time, must be found by the young people now growing up.
The work in pollution control must be made more rewarding. Money is now being spent on research programs to aid in the training of people to work for pollution control. In the United States, the government is offering training to university students who want to do this kind of work. Let us hope that we are not too late and that young people will become interested in preparing for this very important work.
(原載於 三民書局印行 民國七十六年二月五版)
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