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Name: Jeffrey
Status: student
Age: 30s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 1999-2001

What causes the largest negative impact on the environment? (Natural and/or caused by human existence). Please provide a comparison of this environmental macro-threat to a micro-threat such as the environmental damage caused by one US American middle class family living in the mid-atlantic seaboard during a ten year period. Thank you in advance for your time and charity in responding to my query.


I'm not sure what your question is getting at, with regard to "largest" environmental negative impacts, most all of the natural ones are short term, unpredictable, and infrequent (e.g. Pinatubo), and all of the man caused ones are aggregates of the "micro-threat" of the average consuming family, e.g. a nuclear power plant meltdown or damming of a river are the result of thousands of average micro-threats all wanting more electrical energy. Likewise leaching landfills from all their refuse, strip mining operations, chemical plant or train truck accidents, all of these are activities made in the name of meeting the desires of the micro threats.


Donald Yee Ph.D.
San Francisco Estuary Institute
180 Richmond Field Station,
1325 South 46th St. Richmond, CA 94804


Your excellent question requires extensive research, and that is beyond me. You may want to start your research by using the Internet or a reference library. You may, however, find just the information you want in articles in popular magazines such as National Geographic, Scientific American, etc.

As for natural- vs. human-caused pollution, it is a rather complex issue. First there is a question of terminology. Does nature pollute? Perhaps the natural phenomena that lead to a "worsening environment" (as we understand it) are just that, natural. Can we call these phenomena "undesirable" and "polluting"? What is pollution after all?

We generally cannot undo what nature does on a maco scale. I doubt that we can ever reverse the effects of a massive volcanic eruption. Our understanding of our environment is marginal at best. For now, we seem to be mere bystanders in this evolving drama, the evolution of our planet, our environment. What we can do is to watch our activities and their impacts. When in doubt about their adverse effects, we should try to stay on the safe side. On the other hand, when there is evidence, compelling evidence that our use of CFC gases or our space flights contribute to the thinning and destruction of the ozonosphere it makes sense to curtail those activities....

What we can do is to watch study, and evaluate our planet and its environment and look for the changes that our activities may bring about. No doubt our activities have far-reaching effects, and the concern is that by the time we begin to understand them it may be late. Regarding the impact that a particular family in a particular setting may have on the environment, I would suggest that you use energy consumption as the yardstick. I do not know of a better one and I think energy usage, statistically speaking, correlates well with the waste produced, air polluted, and resources consumed by an entity, be it a person, a city, or a nation.


Dr. Ali Khounsary
Advanced Photon Source
Argonne National Laboratory
Argonne, IL 60439

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