Air pollution is a truly global environmental challenge, socio-economically and environmentally affecting both More Economically Developed Countries (MEDCs) as well as Less Economically Developed Countries(LEDCs). The extent of this issue is widely underreported with air pollution being responsible for 1 in 8 deaths worldwide (Who.int, 2017), arguably the greatest risk to human health globally. The World Health Organization (WHO) categorises pollution into: Ambient air pollution(outdoor) or Household air pollution(indoors). Globally, household air pollution has a slightly greater risk than ambient air pollution. There’s distinct differences between countries and wealth along with trends regionally which will be investigated in this essay.
The future uncertainty presents significant challenges for governments over the coming years as the number of deaths modelled on a continuation of current emissions rates means premature mortality will double by 2050 (Lelieveld et al., 2017). Air pollution is a real interdisciplinary issue which impacts us socially, through premature deaths and a reduced quality of life, environmentally, through acid rain, eutrophication and a loss of biodiversity. Surprisingly, the global economic impact is substantial due to the lost industrial productivity along with the direct costs the health services.
Air pollution consists of chemicals and particles in our atmosphere which are recognised to pose a serious health or environmental threat. However, what causes this air pollution and what does it mean for us and our environment? Natural source includes, but are not limited to, volcanoes and wildfires. An example of this is the 2001 Pinatubo Volcano which when erupted released around 15 million tonnes of Sulphur Dioxide directly into our stratosphere. This later reacted with water which forms sulphur aerosol particles (a pollutant). As there is no rain cloud system in our stratosphere, these particles continued to increase aerosol optical depth 10-100 times the average rate before the volcano. This pollutant had significant effects on the quality of air, however, it’s argued this caused a total net cooling of our Earth by 0.6 degrees C for up to two years. (Global Effect of Mount Pinatubo, NASA, 2017)
However, most air pollution today comes from anthropogenic sources such as the burning of fossil fuels or modern agriculture. When fossil fuels combust, greenhouse gasses are released into the Earth’s atmosphere, these emissions include Carbon Dioxide, Nitrous Oxide, Methane and Fluorinated Gasses. These gasses effectively ‘lock’ in heat from the sun within our atmosphere greatly contributing to rising global temperature. The reason why this is so significant in terms of air pollution is because of the wider impact it contributes to, climate change. A cycle is created where air pollution influences climate change, in turn higher temperatures are created which makes worse some types of air pollution. This has an adverse impact on the length of allergy seasons, affecting our health. “The longer growing seasons, along with higher temperatures and carbon dioxide levels, can increase pollen production, intensifying and lengthening the allergy season.” (National Climate Assessment, 2017)
Modern agriculture has become the largest source of air pollution within Europe, directly because of fertilisers (containing nitrogen) along with animal waste products contaminant industrial areas. Nitrogen Dioxides create solid pollutants within our air which greatly impacts our respiratory system. Another significant contributing pollutant caused by agricultural activities includes Ammonia gas. This is one of the most hazardous gases within Earths air and the European Environment Agency has stated “ammonia exceeds emission limits in 2015” and 2016. 94% of ammonia emissions within Europe comes from agriculture (Air pollution from agriculture: ammonia exceeds emission limits in 2015, 2017)