While the priority with air pollution could seem relatively novel to some people, it’s been considered a threat to human health since about 400 BCE. But as industrialization took hold worldwide, pollution levels soared, leading to many health issues for humans, animals, and plants.
In recent many years, humans have turn out to be more aware of air pollution and climate change and have tried to slow and even reverse each. While we’ve made strides in these efforts, we still must do more work to assist preserve our world.
Below, we take a look at air pollution and climate change to see just how they’re correlated in addition to pollution’s impact on humans, plants, and animals.
How Does Air Pollution Affect Our Climate?
Air pollutants have a broad-reaching impact on our climate, nevertheless it’s not all the time the identical impact. Some could make the climate warmer, while others could make it cooler, in accordance with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This may result in some confusion. Let’s review how the varied pollutants impact the climate and what larger-scale effect this may have on the world.
Pollutants Can Cause the Climate to Warm
Most individuals hear about how air pollutants could cause global warming, which implies they cause the worldwide temperature to rise, resulting in warmer climates worldwide. Greenhouse gases (GHGs), similar to carbon dioxide or nitrogen oxide, are among the many pollutants accountable for this warming effect.
GHGs naturally occur within the Earth’s atmosphere and help regulate the temperature so our planet is habitable. Nevertheless, because the early 1900s, the GHG levels within the atmosphere have steadily risen as a consequence of fossil fuel burning in automobiles, factories, power plants, agriculture, and more. Wildfire smoke also contributes to GHG emission levels.
These GHGs are causing warming within the Arctic regions, and while you warm these regions an excessive amount of, the abundant snow and ice there can melt within the spring and summer months. This not only drastically changes the ecosystems within the Arctic regions but additionally can dramatically change the Earth’s surface and result in much more warming.
The burning of fossil fuels also releases tremendous particulate matter into the atmosphere, often called aerosols. While aerosols all act otherwise and have various effects on the worldwide climate, one type of particle pollution often called black carbon or soot absorbs the sun’s heat and warms the atmosphere.
Pollutants Can Cause the Climate to Cool
As mentioned above, aerosols don’t all act the identical, and a few actually cool the Earth’s surface by reflecting the sun’s rays. In addition they aid in cloud production, so the more aerosols within the atmosphere, the upper the potential for cloudy, sunlight-blocking skies. This may end up in an overall cooling effect.
These aerosols occur naturally within the atmosphere as a consequence of volcano eruptions, sea spray, and other events, but additionally they come from fossil fuel emissions.
It’s easy to assume that the cooling effect of aerosols could offset the warming effect of GHGs, but that’s not the case. The actual fact is, GHGs can remain within the atmosphere far longer than aerosols can, meaning their warming effect is longer-lasting, leading to a net increase in global temperatures.
Simulations and models show these tremendous particles cause about half as much cooling as GHGs cause warming.
Does Air Pollution Worsen Climate Change?
Yes, high air pollution levels worsen our changing climate — specifically, excessive greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere from human activities, similar to cars, factories, power plants, and more. These GHGs remain in high concentrations within the atmosphere for many years and even centuries, steadily increasing the quantity of warmth retained on the Earth’s surface.
As we proceed emitting these GHGs, the impact of air pollution may be even higher global temperatures and more snow and ice melting within the Arctic regions. This may result in a wide selection of worldwide issues that we’ll cover below.
What Are the Foremost Effects of Air Pollution on Humans?
Air pollution has many effects on top of the impacts of climate change that all of us witness today. Let’s review the primary effects of air pollutants on humans.
Outdoor air pollution, similar to smog or ground-level ozone, has various long- and short-term negative health effects on humans. Sensitive groups — similar to children, the elderly, and people with existing illnesses — are particularly prone to these health risks.
Short-term exposure to poor air quality, especially in crowded cities like Recent York or San Francisco, may end up in mild symptoms, including:
- Eye, nose and throat irritation
While these can go away on their very own by entering into an area with clean air, the long-term impacts are much more serious. These long-term public health impacts include:
- Respiratory diseases like asthma or COPD
- Cardiovascular harm
- Heart attacks
- Harm to the liver, spleen, and blood
- Damage to the nervous system
- Lung cancer and other cancers
- Birth defects
- Premature death
Food Production Impact
Air pollution may also impact food production and result in scarcity of certain staple foods. Amongst probably the most sensitive crops to ground-level ozone are soybeans, wheat, potatoes, rice, and corn. A study showed ozone created an estimated 6% to 16% decrease in soy, a 7% to 12% decrease in wheat, and a 3% to five% decrease in corn.
On a grander scale, this might eventually end in food shortages and leave many individuals on the earth struggling to search out sufficient food. With acute food insecurity affecting 135 million to 345 million people worldwide and 49 million people being near famine, this is just not something the world can afford to disregard.
What Are the Foremost Effects of Air Pollution on the Environment?
Air pollution and climate change’s potential impact on humans is alarming, but there may be also significant environmental risk related to air pollution — starting from harm to wildlife to extreme weather conditions, similar to flooding and powerful hurricanes. Let’s explore these environmental risks.
Harms Animals and Plant Life
Like humans, plants and animals can experience severe harm from air pollution and climate change.
Animals can experience most of the same physical ailments as humans when exposed to harmful air pollution like smog, soot, and other particles. Similarly, when enduring short-term exposure, their symptoms can include:
- Eye, nose and throat irritation
Long-term exposure could cause lung disease and cardiovascular damage and disease, harm to internal organs, and cancer — similar to in humans.
Plants also suffer from excessive air pollution, as long-term exposure to airborne toxins can result in reduced growth. Ozone pollution damages plants’ stomata, that are what allow the plants to essentially breathe the air around them.
Air pollution may also result in reduced sunlight from the smog and heavy cloud coverage, stopping plants from performing photosynthesis and further reducing their ability to grow.
Air pollution may also result in toxins within the soil, similar to nitrogen dioxide, gaseous ammonia, and lead, robbing the plants of the nutrients they need. Plus, all these toxins within the soil can run off into the lakes, streams, and other bodies of water and seriously affect fish and other marine animals.
On top of all this, air pollution can negatively impact plant and animal populations, thereby limiting the natural food supplies within the food chain. This may cause worldwide food shortages for animals, resulting in lower populations across the whole food chain.
Creates Acid Rain
If you burn fossil fuels, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are emitted into the atmosphere. When these two mix with the water droplets within the air, they will create extreme weather often called acid rain, which is a mix of sulfuric and nitric acid. The wind can then carry these acid-rain-filled clouds hundreds of miles and dump it on the Earth below.
Acid rain impacts vegetation by damaging it physically and increases the acidity within the water and soil in the world.
On top of damaging plants, acid rain can also be related to over 500 deaths annually and might dissolve buildings and other structures, causing upward of $5 billion in damage annually.
Harms the Ozone Layer
While the hole within the ozone layer is showing signs of shrinking, it stays a key symptom of air pollution, specifically refrigerants, similar to chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). CFCs contain chlorine atoms that may destroy ozone atoms. In actual fact, one chlorine atom can destroy hundreds of ozone molecules.
The ozone layer blocks the sun’s harmful ultraviolet-B (UVB) radiation. A hole on this layer puts all life on Earth in danger by increasing risk of skin cancer in humans and animals, restricting plant growth, and slowing fish and amphibian growth.
Creates Extreme Weather Conditions
The opening within the ozone layer and GHG emissions retaining more heat on the Earth’s surface also may end up in extreme weather conditions. These can include drought, catastrophic storms, extreme heat, and extreme cold. All these conditions can result in various related issues, similar to wildfires, water scarcity, rising sea levels, flooding, and more.
Where Will We Be in 20 to 30 Years?
If we are able to manage to proceed reducing our carbon emissions, experts predict the worldwide temperature will rise 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius by 2050. This seems low, but be mindful that is the common. Within the sensitive Arctic regions, the temperature will increase by an estimated 5.5 to eight degrees Celsius, which is much more dramatic and might result in accelerated melting of snow and ice.
In turn, that may end in increased solar radiation absorption in addition to severe ocean conditions and 37% more heatwaves.
Even when we successfully reduce GHG emissions and other air pollution, things will proceed to worsen through 2050. That’s the sad truth. We’ll proceed seeing more droughts and wildfires, more flooding and extreme weather, more ice cap melting, and rising sea levels.
While which will sound like a depressing future, the facility continues to be in our hands to slow this variation and begin the road back to recovery.
Air Pollution and Climate Change Go Hand in Hand
Air pollution generally includes various GHG emissions and aerosols that may impact the ozone layer and the power for the atmosphere to manage the worldwide temperature. This leads on to climate change, meaning air pollution and climate change are correlated. If we give attention to air pollution mitigation, we may also help fight climate change and keep our planet habitable for generations.
Everyone can do their part, from switching to alternative fuel cars or public transportation to specializing in renewable energy that pulls us away from fossil fuels. We may also further help by funding initiatives that help lower GHG emissions through carbon offsets. These carbon credits fund carbon reduction or carbon sequestering — those specializing in absorbing carbon, similar to planting trees — programs and offset your carbon footprint.
Take a look at the carbon removal products Terrapass offers for each individuals and businesses.
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