Questions & answers 2: Pollutant types, ecological footprint, IPAT equation, and environmental problems

Question 1: What are pollutants?

Answer: Pollutants are any substances or materials that contaminate or pollute land, water, or air environments.

Question 2: What are biodegradable pollutants?

Answer: Biodegradable pollutants are noxious or harmful materials that natural processes, bacteria or microorganisms are capable of degrading, decomposing or breaking down over a period of time. Examples are newspapers, food waste, sewage, and human/animal wastes.

Question 3: What are non-degradable pollutants?

Answer: Non-degradable pollutants are harmful materials or chemicals that natural processes, bacteria or microorganisms are not capable of degrading, decomposing or breaking down over a period of time. Examples are poisonous or toxic chemical elements such as arsenic, mercury and lead.

Question 4: What is sustainability?

Answer: Sustainability can be defined as any condition in which usage or exploitation of natural resources enhances the environment and increases its current and future potential of meeting human and animal needs.

Question 5: What is unsustainability?

Answer: Unsustainability can be defined as any condition in which usage of natural resources leads to wastage, environmental pollution, and depletion of natural resources beyond nature’s capacity to replenish them for current and future use by humans and animals.

Question 6: What is ecological footprint?

Answer: Ecological footprint is the impact of human activities as determined, expressed or indicated by the quantity of land, air, water and natural resources used up, either sustainably or unsustainably by people living in a particular country, area or region. Ecological footprint could enhance the status of an environment or degrade it.

In 2008, the Global Footprint Network and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which both develop and employ tools for promoting sustainability (and also estimating ecological footprint and biocapacity, and measuring the quantity of resources used and leftover), estimated that mankind’s global ecological footprint exceeded the Earth’s biocapacity (biological capacity) to support humans and other forms of life indefinitely by at least 30%. That figure was reported to be about 88% in high-income countries like the United States.

Question 7: What is environmental degradation?

Answer: Environmental degradation is the decline in quality of the natural environment as a result of natural or man-made activities which pollute or deplete resources such as air, water and soil, and destroys wildlife, ecosystems and habitats. Environmental degradation is one of the major threats facing the world. If the environment is compromised beyond a certain limit, the existence of all forms of life could come to an end.

Question 8: What is biocapacity?

Answer: Biocapacity can be defined as the capacity of life-supporting and biologically productive areas to renew on-going supply of renewable natural resources, and remove or filter pollutants and degrading materials like carbon dioxide from the environment. Unsustainability occurs if an area’s ecological footprint exceeds its biocapacity.

Question 9: According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), what quantity of Earth would at least be needed to sustain this generation of mankind indefinitely and prevent environmental degradation?

Answer: According to WWF, today’s mankind requires at least approximately 1.3 planet Earths—i.e. 130% of planet Earth—to continuously supply renewable resources at the current average rate of resource usage per person and indefinitely dispose resulting pollution and wastes.

It was once stated that if the average rate of renewable resource usage per person continues at the projected rate, mankind would need the equivalent of 2 planet Earths—i.e. 200% of planet Earth—by the year 2035 in order to supply resources indefinitely and prevent environmental degradation.

Question 10: What is “per capita ecological footprint”?

Answer: Per capita ecological footprint is a measure of the quantity of Earth’s renewable resources used by a single individual. It can also be defined as the result obtained by dividing a nation’s ecological footprint by its total population.

Anyone can estimate their own ecological footprint by visiting this website:

Question 11: Who developed the ecological footprint concept?

Answer: The ecological footprint concept was developed by 2 people: William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel.

Question 12: What is IPAT?

Answer: IPAT (or, I = P × A × T) is a model or mathematical equation developed in early 1970’s by scientists Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren; it has been used to determine how population size (P), affluence, or resource consumption per person (A), and beneficial or harmful environmental effects of technologies (T) contribute to the environmental impact (I) of human activities.

I = P × A × T, where:

Impact (I) = Population (P) × Affluence (A) × Technology (T).

The three factors (P, A & T) on the right side of the equation have been employed in determining environmental impact in different countries. Environmental impact (I) is a rough estimate of how much people are either sustainably using or degrading the natural capital located in their environments.

Question 13: What forms of technology (T) can increase environmental impact (I)?

Answer: Forms of technology that can increase environmental impact include: factories that spread pollution; power plants that burn coal; motor vehicles that burn gasoline; etc.—all these can increase the T factor in the IPAT equation, and also increase I (impact).

Question 14: What forms of technology (T) can reduce environmental impact (I)?

Answer: Forms of technology that can reduce environmental impact include: pollution prevention and control technologies; renewable energy-using solar cells and wind turbines that produce electricity; fuel-efficient cars; etc.—all these can decrease the T factor in the IPAT equation, and reduce impact (I).

Generally, it has to be noted that some forms of technology are environmentally harmful, while some other forms are environmentally beneficial.

Question 15: How do increases in both population growth and resource use per person combine to deplete non-renewable resources and degrade renewable ones?

Answer: Non-renewable resources become depleted and renewable ones become degraded when human populations increase and raise demand on use of more nutritious topsoil by increasing food production; underground water resources get depleted when increasing populations raise demand for more water and water wells; fossil fuel gets depleted when increases in population lead to increase in demand of fossil fuel for transportation of food, materials, products, people, etc; etc.

Question 16: What is ecological tipping point?

Answer: Ecological tipping point, or ecological threshold, is a threshold level above which there is unsustainability and often an irreversible shift in the behaviour of a natural system—caused by natural or mostly man-made activities. When an ecological tipping point is passed, an ecosystem may no longer be able to return to its natural sustainable state.

Reaching a tipping point is like stretching rubber. Rubber can be stretched several times, but it permanently deforms or breaks at a certain irreversible point.

Question 17: Give examples of potential ecological tipping points.

Answer: Examples of potential ecological tipping points include:

  • permanent distortion of natural generation of certain populations of fish—due to overfishing
  • premature extinction of many species of living organisms, due to overhunting by humans
  • climate change caused by burning of oil and coal, and emission of gases that cause the atmosphere to warm more rapidly than it would when there are no emissions.

Question 18: What are the major causes of environmental pollution & degradation?

Answer: According many environmental scientists, experts and researchers, the major causes of environmental pollution & degradation are population growth, wasteful and unsustainable use of natural resources, poverty, and failure to tackle negative environmental impacts of many goods and services.

Question 19: With regard to unsustainability, what is affluence?

Answer: Affluence can be defined as any acquisition and consumption/usage of abundant resources and property in such a way that leads to unnecessary wastage of resources, and environmental pollution/degradation.

This type of affluence is based mostly on the assumption that continuous purchase of more and more material goods will bring fulfilment and happiness. Unfortunately, the acquisition of excess material goods has often lead to the degradation of most environments.

Question 20: Define affluenza, and list its negative and positive impacts on environment.

Answer: Affluenza can be defined as the addiction to purchasing more and more material goods and resources. Affluenza could impact the environment, both negatively and positively.

Negative impacts of affluenza include:

  • unsustainable use of resources
  • environmental pollution and degradation as a result of high consumption and wasteful lifestyles
  • discontentment, dissatisfaction and unhappiness

Positive impacts of affluenza include:

  • better education which could enable people become more aware and concerned about the environment
  • provision of technologies to reduce wastage of resources, environmental pollution and degradation
  • improvements in environmental quality due to financing of scientific research and technological advancement—all of these have been sponsored by affluence.


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