Air pollution is all around us. Sometimes, when levels of air pollution are particularly bad, we might notice it in the form of a smell, or reduced levels of visibility caused by smog – but the majority of the time it goes unnoticed.
In the modern world, air pollution is sadly unavoidable. So many of our industrial processes, methods of transportation and even lifestyle choices increase the number of particulates, biological molecules and other harmful materials in the earth’s atmosphere.
Air pollution is an extremely hot topic at the moment because we are finally waking up to the destructive potential it has to change life on earth. Experts cannot agree the extent to which the earth is warming, while some dispute it’s actually warming at all; however, the rest of us can’t help but notice the shift in our seasons and the increase in dramatic weather events in recent years.
2014 has been confirmed by the Met Office as the UK’s warmest year on record, whilst record rainfall in December 2015 made 2015 one of the wettest years since 1910. It is thought this increase in freak weather events is the result of increased air pollution that’s ultimately causing the earth to warm.
So, if increased levels of air pollution are responsible for such a dramatic change, it’s clearly something we need to combat. But, before we can think about the steps we as individuals can take to reduce air pollution, it’s essential we understand it a little more clearly…
Understanding air pollution
Carbon dioxide (CO2) and particulate matter (PM-10) are the main pollutants responsible for warming the earth and increasing levels of air pollution.
Carbon dioxide – CO2 is emitted by living things when they breathe. This level of carbon dioxide is not generally considered harmful to the earth thanks to the work of our trees, which take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and turn it into the oxygen we all need.
In the last 150 years, the number of trees has fallen dramatically as a result of deforestation, while the amount of carbon dioxide, a by-product of the burning of fossil fuels by cars, aeroplanes, power plants and other human activities, has increased.
This has raised levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to higher levels than it has been for hundreds of thousands of years. Much of this excess carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere and acts as a blanket warming the earth. The result is global warming.
Particulate matter – PM-10 is the primary cause of the high levels of air pollution in our cities. This is the term used to describe the solid or liquid particles found in the air. Some of these particles are large enough to be seen as soot or smoke, while others can only be detected with an electron microscope.
PM-10 is made up of smoke, dirt and dust from factories, farms and roads, as well spores, pollen, mold and other floating debris. PM-10 can have a potentially damaging impact on our health, evading the respiratory system’s natural defences and lodging deep in the lungs. This can cause irritation to the airways, worsen existing cases of heart and lung disease and lead to premature death in those who are already ill.
There’s more to air pollution than CO2 and PM-10
An air pollutant is any substance in the air that has an adverse effect on the ecosystem. This can be anything from harmful gases (vehicle exhaust fumes) to liquid droplets (aerosols) and even solid particles (ash from a volcanic eruption).
The primary air pollutants produced by human activity, include:
- Sulphur oxides – Produced by volcanoes and a by-product of various industrial processes.
- Nitrogen oxides – A chemical compound produced by high temperature combustion. This is often the brown haze you can see hanging in the air.
- Carbon monoxide – A product of the incomplete combustion of gas, coal and wood. Vehicle exhaust is a primary cause.
- Methane – A greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.
This is just a handful of the air pollutants that are damaging our planet; but what can we do to stop them?
What steps can you take to reduce air pollution?
Reducing air pollution is something we all need to take seriously. You might not think your efforts alone will have any impact, but if everyone did their bit we’d soon have a happier, healthier atmosphere. These are the small changes that can really make a difference…
- Reduce your household waste
This hugely important step is one of the simplest things you can do to reduce air pollution. The process of manufacturing packaging releases harmful emissions into the atmosphere, so buy brands that use as little packaging as possible.
You should also take care to recycle absolutely everything you can. It’s now easier than it’s ever been before, so make sure you do your bit to recycle paper, aluminium, cardboard, plastic, glass and any other materials you can. No excuses!
You should also dispose of hazardous materials such as batteries, paint and solvents in the most environmentally friendly way. Contact a local waste disposal company or your local authority to find out more.
- Drive less, walk and ride more
Riding a bike or walking is not only beneficial to your health; it’s also good for Mother Earth. Only drive when it is absolutely necessary and enjoy the feel good factor that comes from all that extra exercise. Sharing a car for trips to work can help you save hundreds of pounds a year on fuel costs and reduce the wear and tear on your car. And, you might even make a new friend!
When driving is unavoidable, do so in a controlled, responsible and relaxed manner. Driving with one eye on your fuel economy will decrease your carbon dioxide emissions, save you money and help to reduce wear and tear on your car. Accelerating quickly, braking hard and charging from one traffic light will increase your CO2 emissions, heighten the risk of accidents and take the joy out of driving – so take it easy, it’s not a race.
- Reduce your household energy consumption
Using less energy does not mean you have to freeze during the winter months or only spend a couple of seconds in the shower. Saving energy around the house is simply a case of being smarter. Turn off the lights when no one is in a room; use compact florescent bulbs; turn off the heating when you go on holiday; check for drafts around your doors and windows; and make sure your loft is properly insulted. These steps are kinder to the planet and gentler on your wallet.
- And in the garden…
If you’ve been meaning to do a spot of gardening then why not plant some trees? Even if you’d rather take the low maintenance option and pave over all that grass, a few well placed plants in potters can help to make a difference.
When lighting the garden, connect your outdoor lights to a timer, or better still, make the most of all that natural light by installing solar lighting. They say the sun shines on the righteous, and while righteousness might be a bit strong, at least you’re doing your bit!
Embed This Image On Your Site (copy code below):