Accepted Paper:

Nitrogen - too much of a good thing?  


Carly Stevens (Lancaster University)

Paper short abstract:

Nitrogen is essential for life but it is also a pollutant. Using a combination of scientific evidence of the negative impacts of nitrogen pollution and my experiences of researching this topic I will reflect on our changing relationship with nitrogen and the problems with communicating about it.

Paper long abstract:

Nitrogen is an essential element for life, plants and animals need it to grow. The atmosphere is 80% nitrogen but much of this is unavailable to plants so nitrogen is frequently the factor that limits growth. However, it can also be a pollutant and too much nitrogen can have a detrimental effect on plant communities. This poses an interesting challenge in communicating nitrogen pollution as a problem because it is both good and bad, there is lots of it but there is not enough of it and it is both tangible and intangible.

I will reflect on over fifteen years of scientific research on nitrogen pollution presenting the scientific evidence that nitrogen is a damaging pollutant as well as an essential nutrient. Using the concept of nitrogen footprints I will demonstrate how our relationship with nitrogen has changed over time and how it varies in different parts of the world. Unlike our carbon footprint our relationship with nitrogen is closely linked to what we eat and I will explore the implications of reducing our nitrogen footprint for society. I will also discuss the problem of communicating about nitrogen pollution and raising awareness with the general public.

Panel A20
Chemical entanglements: exploring ontologies at the atomic level