The smog that blankets our urban centers is the most obvious kind of air pollution, and the most familiar kind of air pollution for many of us. The air quality index (AQI) is the Environmental Protection Agency’s measurement for reporting that air quality. Just like checking the weather report, in the hot summer months many of us, especially in larger cities, check the air quality forecast as a normal, habitual part of our everyday routines. Then we crank up our cars and trucks and head out, contributing just a little more pollution to the atmosphere as we go on our merry way. But how often do we pause to think about how unnatural this is? Think about the irony. Accepted and dismissed as a fact of life, just as ordinary and routine as brushing our teeth or having a cup of coffee. The smog that we deal with everyday comes from cars and trucks, factories, power plants, incinerators, engines, and anything else that burns fossil fuels, including coal, gasoline, and natural gas.
The impact of this pollution on human health is far-reaching, principally affecting the body’s respiratory system and the cardiovascular system, causing deaths related to stroke, heart disease, pulmonary disease, lung cancer, as well as other kinds of respiratory infections. Other common health effects induced by air pollution may include difficulty in breathing, wheezing, and coughing. And there is an untold emotional and psychological toll as well, as the physical impacts can lead to anxiety, or even shifts in mood resulting in depression. The World Health Organization tells us that around the world, air pollution is responsible for the deaths of an estimated seven million people per year. Think about that number for a moment. Seven million people a year, just from breathing tainted air,- a slow, insidious killer.
The air pollution that damages our lungs is the same air pollution that damages the entire planet, the air, as well as the oceans, effecting the entire world around us. The issue of air pollution is entirely interconnected with, and inseparable from the issue of global warming. The gases ammonia, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane gas, and a class of gases collectively known as the chlorofluorocarbons, are referred to as the greenhouse gases. Together, they produce an effect referred to as the greenhouse effect. These greenhouse gases act like a blanket for our planet. They wrap around the Earth and retain the sun’s energy in our atmosphere, holding that energy in. In an important way, the greenhouse effect is a natural part of our environment, critical for making life possible. Without the greenhouse effect, the warmth provided by the sun would just bounce off the surface of the planet, and radiate away into outer space, leaving our world far too cold for life to exist as we know it.
“It is extremely likely that human activity, in the form of the burning of fossil fuels, is the dominant cause of global warming.”
On the other hand, when human activities add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, like carbon monoxide and methane, this naturally occurring greenhouse effect is increased too much… And this is the result that scientists refer to as global warming. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it is extremely likely that human activity became the dominant cause of global warming following the industrial revolution. And of the aforementioned human activities contributing to global warming, the extracting and burning of fossil fuels is considered by many to be the principal cause. In fact, NASA estimates that humans have increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration by more than a third since the Industrial Revolution began, mostly as a result of the burning of fossil fuels. A global effort and initiative towards low-carbon renewable energy is the most critical aspect in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.
Another predominant threat to the air is found in our agricultural practices. Trees contribute to the health of our atmosphere by removing carbon dioxide, and one of the problems we face with agriculture is the removal of trees to make room for crops, and to make room for animals to graze. In addition to that, there are a number of ways that agriculture contributes greenhouse gases. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the animal agriculture sector, which includes the production of feed crops, the manufacturing of fertilizer, as well as the shipment of meat, eggs, and milk, is a primary contributor of green house gas emissions. This includes methane emissions directly from the livestock, as well as carbon emissions resulting from the transport of the livestock, as well as the decay of the organic waste (including manure) used as fertilizer. By contributing green house gases, animal agriculture is literally choking the life out of our planet.
The issues between air pollution and the topic of global warming are very interconnected as well as completely inseparable. Human activities burning fossil fuels for our cars and trucks, factories, power plants, incinerators, and engines, as well as our agricultural practices, contributing to deforestation, as well as raising livestock for fertilizer, meat, eggs and milk, are all activities generating a significant percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions, all polluting the air we breath, effecting our health, and contributing significantly to global warming. These effects result in a number of expressions of climate change, including an impact on both rainfall and weather patterns, extreme weather events ranging from heat waves, droughts, and forest fires, to hurricanes, the melting of ice caps and glaciers, and the rising of sea levels, just to name a few. The quality of our air is the most critically-linked concern relating to the issue of global warming.
References and Resources:
The World Health Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health. The WHO Constitution, which establishes the agency’s governing structure and principles, states its main objective as the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.
Established by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to assess available scientific, technical, and socio-economic information in the field of climate change. Links to full-text papers, meeting schedule, speeches and press releases, and an information center offering data viewed as statistics, graphically, and by map.
Vital Signs of the Planet: Global Climate Change and Global Warming. Current news and data streams about global warming and climate change. This NASA website is based on the evidence, causes, effects, and solutions of climate change.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is a specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger and improve nutrition and food security.
Air pollution data, ozone forecasting, information about public health and environmental effects of air pollution, and actions you can take to reduce pollution.
Recounts the historical development of United States air quality statutes and regulations, including an introduction to the technical concepts involved.
Federal Government’s principal program to control air pollution from motor vehicles. Primary responsibilities include developing programs to reduce mobile source related air pollution; evaluating emission control technology; testing vehicles, engines, and fuels; and determining compliance with Federal emissions and fuel economy standards.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is an American scientific agency within the United States Department of Commerce that focuses on the conditions of the oceans, major waterways, and the atmosphere.
NACAA is the national, non-partisan, non-profit association of air pollution control agencies in 35 states, the District of Columbia, four territories and 116 metropolitan areas. NACAA exists to advance the protection of clean air and public health, and to improve the capability and effectiveness of state and local air agencies.