We have only one Earth, and most people recognize that it’s important to keep the environment safe and protected. While many may feel that the onus of controlling pollution should fall on the largest polluters, governments, and corporations, there is much that students can do to help make the environment cleaner and safer for all of us now and in the future. After all, while children contribute only 10% of the world’s pollution, they suffer about 40% of the global disease burden, a burden exacerbated by environmental pollution. Each year more than 3 million children under the age of 5 die from pollution-related environmental factors.
Pollution is hazardous. In 1952, for example, 4,000 residents of London died from air pollution of the course of just a few days in an incident that became known as the Great Smog Disaster. Consider this: The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, killed fewer than 3,000 people.
Around the world, one half of the population is under the age of 25, and that means that primary, secondary, and university students can have an enormous impact if they were to gather together to use their collective numbers to advocate for change. Currently, surveys find that many young people waste massive amounts of materials, from paper to plastic bottles, and more. By changing their attitudes and values, we can make a big difference in how much material ends up in the millions of tons of waste dumped into landfills and into the oceans around the world. Fourteen billion pounds of pollution, mostly plastic, is dumped into the world’s oceans each year.
So what can students do about pollution? The first thing students can do is to take personal action against pollution right now. Students can change their own consumption patterns. They can recycle more and waste less. They can choose sustainable products from ethical manufacturers, and they can avoid food waste by planning meals more carefully. All of these steps are good foundations for helping to create a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.
Beyond this, students can work together to encourage family and friends to do the same, and they can advocate in their communities for better recycling programs and for sustainable practices at the business level and the governmental level.
The United States has only 5% of the world’s population, but it consumes 25% of the world’s resources and emits 30% of the world’s pollution. The number of cars is expected to double to 1 billion worldwide by 2030, which means that even if they are all energy efficient cars, the sheer number will ensure that pollution will increase. Given these astonishing figures, it should be evident that there is plenty of room to make improvements to lower our carbon footprints and reduce pollution no matter where in the world we live, but especially for those in the United States.
One of the most important things to remember is that today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders.
When students become educated about the role of pollution and the many ways to reduce environmental pollutants, they take that knowledge with them into the future, when they will be in a position to effect real change. Studies have shown that ideas that we adopt in our youth help to shape our actions decades late. When we develop a cohort of students who understand the risks of pollution and feel strongly about the need for a clean environment, we create a real core constituency that will demand action and change when they come of age. Even in the immediate present, students who develop strong feelings about pollution can put pressure on their parents to advocate for change and to vote accordingly right now.
Ultimately, the fight against pollution won’t be won until the largest polluters, including major multinational corporations, agree to work together to impose sensible limits on the amount of pollution released into the environment. Many governments have tried to regulate pollution, but corporations merely move to places with laxer regulations, or lobby to change laws to allow more pollution. Students around the world can pitch together to lobby their governments to stand up to pollution and to work with one another across the globe to ensure that there is no place for polluters to run to maintain their unsustainable and dangerous business practices.
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