Soil Pollution: A Familiar Menace

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the threat of climate change? Do the warnings of an imminent global catastrophe, recently published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the United Nations, fill you with a sense of dread?

The phenomenon once known as “global warming” may represent a relatively new environmental threat, but it is certainly not the sole concern facing ecologists. Earlier this month, China’s Ministries of Environmental Protection and Land and Resources jointly published a study that indicated that 20% of the nation’s farmland is badly polluted.

Of course, for many years, China has been experiencing significant problems with air pollution as well. But the news that the earth beneath the feet of the Chinese population may be as badly polluted as the air in their skies has set off ecological alarm bells.

Meanwhile, Japanese residents of the Fukushima region are confronting similar concerns about their land. Although the Japanese government is now re-opening schools in the evacuation zone of the 2011 tsunami-triggered nuclear radiation accident, many remain fearful of soil contamination.

The United States is no stranger to the specter of environmental degradation. Over fifty years have passed since Rachel Carson wrote her landmark book Silent Spring, triggering the environmental movement.

But toxic soil, river, and canal pollutants still exist in places like Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal and Newark’s Passaic River, locations that are nestled deeply within the New York metropolitan region.

So if you’re struggling to grapple with the sheer immensity of the new, apocalyptic environmental threat of climate change, you may wish to shift your attention to an older, simpler, and more familiar menace. It’s soil pollution, an eternal and omnipresent problem.

Government officials in China, Japan, and the United States must address environmental threats with limited resources. How should they prioritize global threats like climate change against local threats like soil pollution?