Industrial Pollution of Shared Resources

Industrial pollution has substantial impacts on our environment and human health, and is especially prominent in areas that are heavily industrialized.

However, the pollution of shared resources extends beyond localized areas and holds significant influence on worldwide resources.

This article explains how the pollution of shared resources affects the global environment.

What are Shared Resources?

The resources readily available to all people, or large numbers of people, are known as shared resources. These include essential resources such as:

  • Groundwater
  • Forests
  • Freshwater
  • Fisheries
  • Oceans
  • Atmosphere

Shared resources include all of the fundamental resources that we rely on to survive, and play a crucial role in our livelihoods. However, shared resources are easily exploited and are quickly used up when made openly available. This is known as the Tragedy of the Commons, coined by biologist Garrett Hardin in 1968, theorizing that shared natural resources will inevitably be destroyed as they become readily available.

As pollution and resource consumption increase worldwide, shared resources become more contaminated and depleted, putting growing strains on our environment and the people who rely on them.

How Pollution Affects Shared Resources

While industrial pollution can often seem like a distant and far-removed threat, its influences extend beyond localized industrialization. The pollution of shared resources has global implications and affects people worldwide. The primary consequences of global resource pollution include the contamination and loss of:

  • Oceans
  • Atmosphere
  • Forests

The sustainability of these resources is vital to the livelihood of every person on earth.

Oceanic Pollution

Oceans are a primary shared resource across the world, though no one government entity is capable of regulating oceanic pollution beyond its own coastlines. Because of pollution, the world’s oceans are heavily contaminated with plastic waste and other types of manmade materials. The majority of pollutants come from the growing amount of plastic. Of all plastic used in the world, approximately 70% remains in the environment, much of which eventually ends up in the ocean.

While the United States has relatively advanced policies in place to keep coastlines free of major oceanic pollution, the oceans are a shared resource, and pollution from one side of the planet can affect areas across the world. The majority of oceanic pollution comes from China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. These countries are among the largest producers of industrial manufacturing in the world, with their garment and plastic industries steadily growing. 

While the majority of oceanic pollution stems from industries and overused plastic material, individuals can help reduce marine pollution by limiting their personal consumption of single-use plastics.

Read more: How Does Consumerism Drive Industrial Pollution?

Atmospheric Pollution

The atmosphere is another shared resource that everybody on earth relies on. Industries are the primary source of industrial pollution, with atmospheric emissions causing major threats to both the global environment and to human health. In many parts of Asia where industrialization is particularly prominent, poor air quality leads to approximately one-third of premature deaths. Air pollution can lead to significant health concerns, including:

  • Stroke
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Heart disease
  • Lung cancer
  • Pneumonia

Read more: How Does Industrial Pollution Affect Human Health

However, the effects of industrial pollution extend far beyond heavily industrialized areas. Western regions in the United States experience high levels of air pollution despite low emissions for industries in those areas. This air pollution comes from Asian countries, particularly China, which emit high amounts of particulate matter and sulfur dioxide through industrial processes. These pollutants are transported across the ocean through wind currents and can affect those in entirely separate countries.

Read more: How Industrial Pollution Affects Global Air Quality

In addition to human health, industrial pollution also has major global implications on climate change. Industries account for the highest emissions of greenhouse gases worldwide. Regardless of the localization of the emissions, climate change is a global issue and affects populations worldwide through:

  • Rising oceans that destroy coastal communities
  • Increasing extremity of hurricanes and floods
  • Increased frequency of temperature extremes
  • Decreased food security

Read more: Industrial Contributions to Climate Change

Industrial pollution is a significant factor in decreasing the global air quality, as well as increasing the rate of global climate change. Because the atmosphere is a shared resource, emissions in any part of the world have global ramifications.


Forests are an essential shared resource that provide humanity with: 

  • Lumber for buildings and manufacturing
  • Habitat for wildlife
  • Clean air
  • Preventions against erosion
  • Buffers against climate change

The growing deforestation rates across the planet destroy approximately 18 million acres of forests per year. Forests are torn down primarily for industrial purposes, including the creation of agricultural fields and the harvest of timber. The increasing loss of forests has worldwide impacts, including:

  • Violation of human rights on indigenous peoples who occupy forests
  • Decreases in natural air purifiers
  • Loss of major carbon sequestration
  • Increases to climate change

Read more: Global Impacts of Industrial Consumption of Natural Resources

The loss of natural forests has significant impacts worldwide, affecting areas that are not directly impacted by deforestation. The indirect impacts of these shared resources are substantial and long-term, with effects on both human health and climate change. Efforts to curb deforestation include sustainable forestry and consumer-conscious purchases that avoid unethically produced goods.

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