The air you breathe is not as clean as you may think. Air pollution is a big problem in the world today. Unwanted chemicals, gases, and particles enter the air and atmosphere, causing harm to the planet and all life on it. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), billions of people around the world breathe poor-quality air as a result of pollution. Here’s all you need to know about one of the biggest enemies of our planet.
Air pollution can be caused by natural events, such as volcanic eruptions, forest fires, and dust storms. One of the biggest air pollution disasters in history was the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. The eruption was so severe that the ash and smoke blocked out the sun’s light for an entire year! This is why the year 1816 following the eruption is known as the “Year Without a Summer.”
The biggest contributors to air pollution, however, are human sources. Many different types of gases are released by factories, power plants, cars, and airplanes. That’s why large cities, where these sources are concentrated, tend to have higher levels of polluted air. To make matters worse, tall buildings may prevent these air pollutants from spreading out. When too much pollutants build up in the air, the polluted air may appear as smog – a mix of smoke and fog. Cities that are prone to smog include New Delhi in India, Beijing in China, and Karachi in Pakistan.
Air pollution has a range of negative effects on human health. These effects can be minor, such as headaches or eye irritation. However, long-term exposure to air pollutants can cause serious health problems such as heart disease, lung cancer, and respiratory diseases such as emphysema. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that every year, as many as 7 million people die from the effects of air pollution!
Our planet suffers, too. Air pollutants may contaminate our water and soil through direct contact. They may also mix with water and oxygen in the atmosphere to form acid rain, which has significant and far reaching effects on our ecosystems. By changing the composition of our soil and degrading the water quality of our rivers and lakes, acid rain can affect a wide range of wildlife species dependent on these habitats.
Air pollution also contributes to global warming, one of the most pressing problems of our time. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane trap heat in our atmosphere, contributing to the rise of air and ocean temperatures around the world.
To fight air pollution, many nations around the world have pledged to shift away from fossil fuels and adopted laws to reduce or ban emissions that industries release. In some cities such as Jakarta, cars are banned on Sundays, a strategy to reduce the number of vehicles on the road.
We, too, can do our part to reduce air pollution by making simple changes in our lifestyles. Instead of taking a car, we can take public transport, or ride a bicycle. We can also be mindful of energy use, making sure to turn off the lights when they are not needed. It is also helpful to recycle and reuse as recycling materials requires less energy than making new ones.
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