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Pollution doesn’t always have to be about earth shattering issues that will determine the fate of the planet. Sometimes, pollution is about the little things that determine whether we have a good day or a bad day. I am speaking specifically of what is known as visual pollution. I remember as a kid walking out the backdoor of my house, and seeing nothing but woods as far as my little eyes could see. It was beautiful, and I have dozens if not hundreds of memories of exploring those woods with a wide eyed wonder. Then, when I was a teenager, I walked out my backdoor, and those woods were gone. They were replaced by construction sites as dozens of new homes were being built. Far be it from me to deny anyone a home, but I never had the same feeling of serenity walking out and seeing those construction sites, and later houses, as I did those woods. Now, you may be thinking “boohoo, cry me a river.” I understand, but visual pollution isn’t simply just a desire for an aesthetically pleasing view.
The term visual pollution “encompasses different visually unattractive elements of a certain landscape. This type of pollution doesn’t have to be necessarily connected to environmental damage, and is in fact more an aesthetic issue that can vary from one person to other.”[i] Visual pollution can encompass things from landfills to advertising billboards, telephone and power lines, street signs, graffiti, traffic lights, and really anything that someone might consider an eyesore.[ii] Visual pollution is also connected to most other forms of pollution. If you see a lake that is full of empty soda cans, garbage bags, and used tires that is actually two forms of pollution. One is water pollution, because I really wouldn’t want to drink water that had trash floating in it, and two it is visually not attractive at all; thus visual pollution. The same connection exists between visual pollution and littering, industrial pollution, air pollution (think smog), and light pollution.[iii] Think about how bright some of those electric billboards in cities are, how disgusting it can be to see used condoms and ripped garbage bags on the street, or how you feel when you’re driving on the highway through a major city right into some smog. These things all encompass their respective forms of pollution, but are also part of visual pollution.
The negative effects of visual pollution are actually more serious than you would think. For example, the World Health Organization determined that people who have a bad view out their window are 40% more likely to fall prey to depression.[iv] Have you ever just felt like you had to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and gone camping or taken a trip somewhere else? You wake up in the morning the first day of your vacation and see nothing but woods, or sandy beaches, or beautiful mountain ranges and you feel invigorated. Why? Because you’re not waking up and seeing a brick wall, or a giant billboard, or a construction site. Our surroundings affect us. There have been multiple studies that have found that our physical environment has an impact on our stress levels and mental health.[v] One conducted in Texas discovered that people who drive in city streets had much higher stress levels than those who drove on roads in the country side.[vi] Another effect of visual pollution is that it destroys the uniqueness that makes our world so truly unique. It used to be that every town, city, and suburb had its own unique character. Did you ever see “Back to the Future’? How many times did they mention the town clock tower? It was a unique piece of history that set the town apart from every other town in America. Now, our towns, cities, and suburbs are starting to morph into one ball of sameness. You have fast-food restaurants, billboards, highways, Walmart’s, and gas stations that, for the most part, all look the same no matter where you go. What used to make the United States so amazing was the level of diversity that existed. New York City alone had Hell’s Kitchen, Little Italy, China Town, and hundreds of other little districts that all had their own unique character and history. Though those places still exist it is harder to tell them apart.
A final impact of visual pollution is the effects on tourism. In 2012 the tourist industry in the United States accounted for 1.5 trillion in economic output, or 2.8% of total GDP.[vii] That is a lot of money! Needless to say, people don’t want to see graffiti, trash, brick walls, polluted water, smog, and decaying buildings and structures when they’re on vacation. They want to see something that will wow them in a good way. They want to feel reinvigorated from the hustle and bustle of their daily lives. Is a little trash going to stop someone from going to see Mount Rushmore? Probably not, but I bet if someone spray-painted mustaches all over the old presidents they might be annoyed. The point is that when people are on vacation they are trying to escape the dreariness of their day-to-day lives. They don’t want to see all the things that they see every day at home. They want to see beauty. They want to see wonder. That’s hard to do over electric billboards, flying trash bags, and cigarette butts.
Is visual pollution as serious an issue as water or air pollution? No, but it is connected to them. Think of visual pollution as a by-product of every other form of pollution combined, and then throw in man’s constant need to commercialize. I grew up in a small town that had a great deal of character and history. As I grew up, my town grew with me, until you couldn’t tell where my town ended and the next began. You can’t stop human reproduction, and expansion, but you can ensure that it is done in such a way that the world in which we live is preserved for future generations. I don’t want any future children that I may have to grow up in a world where everything looks the same. I want them to be able to see the wide diversity of this great big world in which we live. I want to continue to see that too.
About the Author
Dominick Principe is a graduate of Rowan University with dual Bachelor Degrees in Elementary Education and Writing Arts. He is a prolific reader who devours any book put before him, and feels that life is one great long book without an end. He fills his hours constantly exploring new information, and seeking to educate himself in the ways of the world. He puts all of that knowledge and his passion for learning to good use teaching English as a second language to students of all ages. When his nose isn’t buried in a book, or in class teaching, then he can generally be found typing away at his computer working on some random piece of writing that he was inspired to do.
[i] “Pollution Articles.” Visual Pollution Definition. Web. 18 Nov. 2014. <http://pollutionarticles.blogspot.com/2012/09/visual-pollution-definition.html>.
[ii] “The Environment Report.” The Environment Report. Web. 18 Nov. 2014. <http://www.inquirer.net/specialreports/theenvironmentreport/view.php?db=1&article=20060512-1758>.
[iii] “Pollution Articles.” Visual Pollution Definition. Web. 18 Nov. 2014. <http://pollutionarticles.blogspot.com/2012/09/visual-pollution-definition.html>.
[iv]“Large Analysis and Review of European Housing and Health Status (LARES).” Euro WHO. World Health Organization. Web. 18 Nov. 2014. <http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/107476/lares_result.pdf>.
[v] “How Does Your Personal Environment Impact Your Wellbeing? | Taking Charge of Your Health & Wellbeing.” Taking Charge of Your Health & Wellbeing. Web. 18 Nov. 2014. <http://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/enhance-your-wellbeing/environment/your-personal-environment/how-does-your-personal-environment-impa>.
[vii] “The Travel, Tourism and Hospitality Industry in the United States.” The Travel, Tourism and Hospitality Industry in the United States. Select USA. Web. 18 Nov. 2014. <http://selectusa.commerce.gov/industry-snapshots/travel-tourism-and-hospitality-industry-united-states>.