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Chemistry of the Environment

In 1992 representatives of 172 countries met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development—a conference that became known as the Earth Summit. Five years later, in December 1997, representatives of 130 nations met in Kyoto, Japan, to discuss the impact of human activities on global warming. Out of that meeting came an initiative to work toward a global treaty that would, among other things, spell out actions to be taken to reduce emissions of gases that cause global warming. In July 2001 in Bonn, Germany, 178 nations signed a treaty based on the so-called Kyoto Protocols.* These efforts to address environmental concerns at the international level indicate that many of the most urgent environmental problems are global in nature.

The economic growth of both developed and underdeveloped nations depends critically on chemical processes. These range from treatment of water supplies to industrial processes, some of which produce products or byproducts that are harmful to the environment. We are now in a position to apply the principles we have learned in earlier chapters to an understanding of these processes. In this chapter we consider some aspects of the chemistry of our environment, focusing on Earth’s atmosphere and the aqueous environment, called the hydrosphere.

Both the atmosphere and hydrosphere of our planet make life as we know it possible. Thus, management of the environment so as to maintain and enhance the quality of life is one of the most important concerns of our time. Our daily decisions as consumers mirror those of the leaders meeting in Bonn and similar international meetings. We must weigh the costs versus the benefits of our actions. Unfortunately, the environmental impacts of our decisions are often very subtle and not immediately evident.

* The United States, almost alone among nations, refused to sign the treaty.

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