What is Pollution?

A long, but insightful, extract from Bojidar Marinov’s Technology and the Environment

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…indeed, we see that our productivity has exceeded everything the world has known, and as a result we have conquered so many previously unimagined frontiers . . . but what about the environment? What about pollution? What about the side effects of all this technological development, namely, the destruction of our nature? In this apt illustration of the cannonball rolling down the hill, where is pollution included, and how can it be explained?

The answer should be simple: pollution is energy that our current technologies are still not capable of capturing.

Let me repeat this again: pollution is simply energy that our current technologies are still not capable of capturing.

See, by its very definition, pollution can’t come from substances or objects that are at their lowest energy status. In order for something to become a pollutant, it must have some residual stored active energy in it; things that are at their lowest energy state do not pollute. Take, for example, helium and all the other noble gases (neon, argon, krypton, xenon). Because of their nuclear structure and electron combination, their structure is the lowest energy level for all chemical elements. All these gases can absorb huge quantities of energy but they never give it back. (Helium and argon are used as so-called “shielding gases” in highly dangerous processes like tungsten welding, because of their ability to absorb energy.) And guess what: these gases never pollute. You can breathe them and they will never affect you. (Although, breathing in helium will make you voice funny.) You won’t even smell them – they have no smell. They won’t react in any possible way with anything in the nature around you, or in your body, or in your food. They produce ZERO pollution. Why? Because they are at the lowest possible energy level. They can give away no energy.

Returning to our simplistic illustration of the cannonball rolling down the hill, helium is like the cannonball at the bottom of the valley. Unless you do something to move it up the hill, it won’t move spontaneously. It can’t produce anymore kinetic energy for your waterwheels, but neither can it affect or destroy anything in its way. It’s just not moving, and it can’t move, even if you give it a push. It has become part of the environment.

Only those things pollute that still have some potential energy left in them, think of the cannonball rolling down the hill, but think of it after the last waterwheel, but before it reaches the bottom of the valley. It still has some energy in it, it is still moving, but its energy is not spent on anything productive, because there are no more waterwheels. Suppose that in this last section of its path there are houses instead of waterwheels. The cannonball still has some potential energy left, that potential energy is transformed into kinetic energy, but because there are no more waterwheels in its path, it hits the houses. The kinetic energy now serves not for creating a productive momentum but the opposite: it serves to destroy? Why? Because there are no more waterwheels. The technology was not develop to the point where the last drops of energy could be sucked out of the cannonball and put to productive use.

And that’s what pollution is: remaining drops of energy not harnessed to productive use. Since they are still active, they affect the environment. Since they are not harnessed, they affect it in ways unfavorable to man. (Remember, after the Curse, nature spontaneously opposes man and his efforts; it takes self-conscious effort by man to make nature serve man.) Pollution is not some magical power out there. It is simply unharnessed energy. It is simply what the cannonball would do while rolling down the hill, if we haven’t built enough water wheels, or if we have built them in such a lousy way that it hops out of their path and continues on a path different from we have predicted. Where there is no active energy remaining, there is no pollution. Which means, where our technology has captured all the energy available in an energy source and has put it to productive use, there is no pollution.

Now stop and think about it. This changes everything, right? It turns the current environmentalist narrative on its head. The current narrative is that pollution is just some magical entity out there which grows bigger and bigger the more we apply technology to the world around us. But when we analyze the nature of pollution and its relation to energy, we discover that pollution is always around us, ready to happen in a spontaneous way, for there are so many different energy sources – physical, chemical, nuclear – around us. What if we didn’t have any technology? Would we be free of pollution? Landslides and avalanches bury whole villages, volcanoes erupt and bring ice ages to the whole planet, hurricanes and tornadoes bring destruction to living things in their paths. Ever been to the Black Sea? You know that its water is anoxic (that is, has no oxygen dissolved in it) below 200 meters deep, and this made it possible for certain bacteria to thrive that produce hydrogen sulfide. That means, 90% of its water is replete with hydrogen sulfide, one of the most reactive, flammable, and toxic gases in nature, buried under a 200-meter-thin layer of salt water. (200 meters is only half the height of the Empire State Building.) Scientific modeling shows that if just a medium-size meteorite hits the water, it will release so much of that gas in the air that the area may easily become uninhabitable for a while. No matter where we look, there are natural sources of energy that with or without us produce pollution and can potentially kill and devastate at an enormous scale. Pollution is simply  energy in an uncaptured state, unharnessed for man’s purposes. Where there is no available energy, where all things are in their lowest energy state, there is no pollution.

I hope you already understand where this all is going. If all pollution is simply unharnessed active energy, then the only solution to pollution must be obvious: find a way to harness it. Find a way to put it to productive use. You can’t stop active energy from affecting the world around us; it will continue to pollute until the source of energy is depleted. So instead of waiting for it to be depleted on its own and do damage, work to find a way to deplete it ourselves and use it for our purposes. If there is still potential energy in that cannonball rolling down the hill, don’t try to stop it. Just build more waterwheels in its path, until it gets to the bottom of the valley. That’s the only logical answer to the problem of pollution.

Think of the most obvious example we have in front of our eyes today: internal combustion engines. 60 years ago, cars had to have large engines in order to have enough power to move. These large engines were a source of serious pollution. If back in those days we had as many cars as we have today, our levels of pollution would have been much higher. But why did those cars pollute so much? Because the technology of the times didn’t allow for capturing all of the active energy in the fuel and for transforming it into motion. The efficiency of those engines was low and therefore the spilled active energy was high. Over the years, however, advances in technology made it possible to build smaller engines who captured more of the active energy of the fuels, and thus decrease the level of pollution. The more energy our technologies were able to convert into motion, the lower the pollution. And, also – which is the main purpose of technology – the cheaper the use of fuel. By capturing more of that spilled energy, we have been able to lower the cost for using fuels, and, as a consequences of that, we have been able to reduce pollution. In short, our own drive to cheaper and more productive use of energy is what naturally led to lowering pollution. Eventually, more and more, we will be able to make engines that will convert all of the available energy in the fuels to water and carbon dioxide – and both water and carbon dioxide are the lowest energy level for carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, thus producing no pollution.

I can give another example I picked up in the course of my own professional career. The production of copper and many other non-ferrous metals (lead, nickel, tin, to mention a few) produces great quantities of sulfur dioxide as a waste product. Sulfur dioxide is a toxic gas – not as toxic as hydrogen sulfide we mentioned earlier, but toxic nevertheless. That’s because the molecule contains high levels of stored energy in the bonding between oxygen and sulfur; it’s a long story to explain why, so I won’t go into that. Sulfur dioxide has some limited use in food preservation, winemaking, and cleaning, but certainly not in the large quantities produced by the metallurgic plants.

The original solution was to oxidize sulfur dioxide to sulfur trioxide (an even more dangerous pollutant) and then dissolve it in water. The result is what we all know as “sulfuric acid”: one of the most potent inorganic acids known to man. It has more and greater applications than sulfur dioxide, but not enough to take all the quantities produced. And it is still a high energy level, and it can do a lot of damage – the only difference being that it is liquid, not gaseous. Still, the solution for its deposit was to build special containers and bury them underground – except that, eventually the acid would dissolve the containers and contaminate the soil.

The problem was solved in an area that no one expected to offer any solution: the production of chemical fertilizers. The new agricultural technologies required the application of three elements to the soil: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash. Of these, phosphorus proved to be the most difficult to obtain. In nature, it can be found in great quantities in the deserts, where it exists in the form of a rock called “rock phosphate.” Chemically, it is calcium phosphate, a very stable compound which takes a lot of chemical energy to break up. But guess what: sulfuric acid breaks it relatively easy, producing as a result phosphoric acid, which is the active basis for the production of many phosphate-based products, from fertilizers to plastics and polymers to cleaning agents to food preservatives etc. Since phosphoric acid is so valuable, the process can take all of the produced sulfuring acid by the metallurgic plants, and ask for more. The other product from the production of phosphoric acid is calcium sulphate. Is it a pollutant? No. Calcium sulphate is the formula for gypsum – the same gypsum used as plaster in construction. (Well, to be precise, there are still remnant phosphate elements in it, which make it a bit more reactive, but new technologies will take care of it, I am sure.) So, from the highly toxic sulfur dioxide, technology can take us all the way to producing useful compounds for agriculture and the home and food production, and the only waste product is low energy enough to not be a pollutant. That’s the only way of dealing with pollution: use up all available energy.

And that takes higher and higher technologies. Not lower. Not stagnation in technological development. Not refraining from technological development even if we had it. Not refraining from higher productivity, or from mass production, or from lower prices, or from industrialization. Not a return to more primitive levels of social organization. (New York City, before the advent of the automobile, had to dispose of 2.5 million pounds of horse manure every day. Google “the great horse manure crisis of 1894” to learn more about it.) If pollution is unused, unharnessed energy, there is only one way of reducing it: develop the technologies that will be capable of harnessing of all available energy for productive use. Once you have them, you will have zero pollution, and at the same time, a highly developed and prosperous society.


The conclusion to our modern policies should be obvious. Ever since environmentalism became a fashionable ideology in the West, its impulse has been to lobby politicians to stop this or that technological development, because it would produce more pollution. This has been based on the erroneous assumption that better productivity leads to more pollution. But given the scientific facts, such a proposition is nonsensical; no one builds a better vessel to spill more water out of it. In the same way, no one builds a better technology to leave more unused energy out of it. Government intervention, then, to continue blocking the development of newer technologies, has been not in favor of less pollution but in favor of more pollution. And guess what: where the government controls the economy to block any private initiative, and any possibility for inventors to profit from their own inventions, the pollution levels have been unimaginable. The Soviet Union and the whole Eastern bloc were among the most polluted places on earth; the air in some cities was barely breathable, while at the same time their economy was barely producing, and their GDP per capita was 1/10 to 1/20 of that of the Western countries,. Pollution doesn’t come from less production; it comes from less efficient production,. When you lack the technology to produce more efficiently, you pollute more.

The Biblical solution to the problem of environmental cleanness should be then obvious: Free the way for individuals to fulfill the Dominion Mandate. Create the conditions for full market freedom for innovators to create better technologies and profit from them. Get the government out of the economy, and shut down all environmental organizations. Make it possible for the entrepreneurs to reap every single benefit of their increased productivity and efficiency. Remove any government protection and corporate welfare from any industry and make it compete on the basis entirely of price and quality; this will force them to seek ways to utilize every bit of energy available in nature to achieve their goals in a more efficient way.

The final result will be that the cannonball will roll its way downhill producing the maximum useful effect: it will rotate the maximum water wheels it can hit, and it will do it in the most efficient manner, with the maximum energy transformed into work. And it will never hit any other object and destroy it. It will be pure work.

And that’s the only way to prevent pollution. Anything else will only create more pollution, and finally, destruction.

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This is what the world needs: insightful and wise application of Christian technological principles.

Something that the meaningless-universe, ‘Stuff Happens’ Darwinians simply can’t provide. All those Progressives can give — ever since the dream of a White World died in the 1940s — is a longing to Stop Change, and Keep Things the Same.

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