How I define pollution

January 31, 2023 by Joshua
in Nature

Talking about an amendment banning pollution raises many questions. One of the biggest is how to define pollution.

Beijing air pollution

I’d expect an actual law would result from democratic processes. Encyclopedia Brittanica‘s definition isn’t bad:

Pollution occurs when an amount of any substance or any form of energy is put into the environment at a rate faster than it can be dispersed or safely stored. The term pollution can refer to both artificial and natural materials that are created, consumed, and discarded in an unsustainable manner.

Wikipedia’s seems too broad:

Pollution is the introduction of contaminants into the natural environment that cause adverse change.

as does the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency‘s

Any substances in water, soil, or air that degrade the natural quality of the environment, offend the senses of sight, taste, or smell, or cause a health hazard. The usefulness of the natural resource is usually impaired by the presence of pollutants and contaminants.

and the United Nations‘:

The presence of substances and heat in environmental media (air, water, land) whose nature, location, or quantity produces undesirable environmental effects.

I’ll keep working on mine, but I generally think of two types I’d disallow:

  1. Substances brought from outside the biosphere that lower Earth’s ability to sustain life or hurt human health when brought into the biosphere.
  2. Substances created by people that when released into the biosphere lower Earth’s ability to sustain life or hurt human health.

I’m not sure if I worded them perfectly, but I see the first ruling out mining minerals and fissile materials, extracting fossil fuels, and possibly depleting aquifers. I see the second ruling out creating poisons like PCBs and forever chemicals.

When I talk about pollution, I mean these two classes. I should start to say more than pollution and include things like desertification and displacing people from their land.

I’ll keep working on my definition, but I talk about it enough that I should define it. So far I mean something like the above two-class definition, though I don’t oppose Brittanica‘s.

Why an amendment? I could list more reasons than could fit in a blog post, but if you create pollution entirely from within your property and can keep it in your property for ten million years (how long it takes to form new oil, coal, and gas) be my guest. If you take materials from land that is public, occupied by indigenous people, or stolen from indigenous people or can’t contain it for millions of years, I suggest polluting violates the Constitution, as well as the values of Do Unto Others What You Would Have Them Do Unto You (the Golden Rule), Live and Let Live (Common Decency), and Leave It Better Than You Found It (Stewardship).

car pollution

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