There are several ways to look at this issue. The most general, and probably best, answer is that we didn’t know we were doing anything wrong until well after the damage had already been done. It’s impossible to test every product or building for everything it could do to harm the environment, and in earlier years we didn’t even know that what we created could be so bad for the environment. Basically we had little indication of what we were doing until we saw the results and made the connections.
Another issue of the current time is that companies often rush to get products out on the market. This means that sometimes they miss or ignore the fact that some components are bad for the environment. So once again it takes a while before someone else can figure it out and get the problem solved.
With many processes, the first concern of anyone doing it is whether what they’re doing accomplishes the goal and is cost efficient. Other concerns come into play only when those first ones are met. Beyond that, even when things are bad for the environment, it may take a while for the harmful effect to be noticed. The same goes with things that negatively effect people’s health. These days, many effects are considered upfront, but only because we’ve done enough things that have turned out to have surprising consequences to be aware of the possibility.
I think the main reason it takes a long time to realize that an action taken by people has an adverse environmental effect is because the effects take a long time to show up. Many people don’t feel like the actions of one person could have a dramatic effect on the entire planet, but by the time changes in the environment become evident, the actions that caused them have taken place for many years by countless individuals. Many problems we are facing today are thought to have occurred during changes in society during the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th century, though we did not begin to take real notice of resulting changes until the 1970s.
Once we figure out the problem, then we also need to find a solution and educate people all over the world about it. Hopefully, tools like the internet will help scientists figure out problems together and will allow information to quickly get to the public. Until then, the best environmental lesson we have learned is to think about our actions and make informed decisions. If we conserve water and energy as individuals and as a planet, maybe the next environmental changes we notice will be good ones.
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