Everyone has heard the term ‘air pollution’ and, if asked, I’m sure everyone could tell you that it isn’t good. But what is considered air pollution? And what exactly does it do that makes it bad? Basically, air pollution is anything that we humans put into the atmosphere that has damaging effects on the environment. Some examples are greenhouse gases, – like carbon dioxide and methane – that are created when we burn fossil fuels, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, smog and smoke. Here are some of the harmful effects that those things can have on us and the world we live in:
1. Global Warming
This, of course, is the big one that we all hear about. Climate change occurs when the greenhouse gases mentioned above absorb sunlight and radiation reflected off of the earth’s surface causing a gradual increase in temperature. That rise in temperature doesn’t really seem all that significant in the short term, but if we don’t correct the problem, the long term effects will be devastating. Perhaps even to the point of mass extinction.
2. Acid Rain
Acid rain is also caused by gases and chemicals that are released into the atmosphere. Acid rain is any precipitation that is more acidic than what is considered normal. It can have negative effects on plants and animals, which can cause problems within ecosystems and food chains. But on a more practical level, acid rain can have negative effects on our infrastructure, causing it to age and fail more quickly than it would otherwise. Not only is that an inconvenience, but it’s an expensive problem to have to fix.
3. Ozone Depletion
The ozone layer is an atmospheric layer around Earth that is largely responsible for absorbing UV radiation before it reaches us here on the earth’s surface. However, air pollution is causing damage to that protective layer and allowing more and more UV radiation through. The effect that this can have on people is a very direct one; namely, increased rates of skin cancers and even cataracts.
4. Health Problems
Air pollution’s effects can be hard to wrap your head around on a large scale, but it can also hit very close to home. According to the CDC, air pollution can contribute to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. It can exacerbate respiratory problems such as asthma in children and COPD in adults. New research, recently published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, even suggests that air pollution can contribute to increased risk of premature birth which carries with it a whole host of other potential issues.
Clearly air pollution is a major issue for all of us whether we have realized it before now or not. However, we are not doomed to suffer all of the effects forever. One major step that we can all take toward fixing our air pollution problem is reducing our carbon footprint. A few easy steps? Take mass transit or carpool when possible. Look into energy conservation within your home (improve insulation, unplug appliances not in use). Even decreasing the amount of meat we consume (livestock is a major contributor to methane pollution) can help. So do a little research and commit to some small changes that can have a major impact for all of us.