If Mother Nature was to be a living walking human, then Air pollution would be nothing less than a disease or an Asthma attack for her. Today the quality of air around us is so bad, that even the most seemingly clean and hygienic surroundings have millions of pathogens and toxicants dwelling in the atmosphere, which are not visible to the unaided eyes.

We roam around in luxurious vehicles, roam around in malls, travel via airplanes, ships and trains for vacation and work, and we all wonder what an easy and convenient life we have. But what if I tell you that these luxuries and urban development schemes are the primary reasons behind the rapid rise in Air pollution over the past 20-30 years?

Air pollution exposure is the second most important risk factor for ill health in South Asia, contributing to between 13% and 21.7% of all deaths due to several infections and illness like COPD, Lung , ancer and Cardiovascular diseases. Half of the people don’t even realize that the air in our secure homes is almost as polluted and contaminated as the air outside. Why and How is what we are going to discuss in this post.

AIR POLLUTION

Before getting on with the Whys and Hows, we need to know “What is Air Pollution?”. In the most simple words, Air pollution is the pollution that occurs when unwanted toxicants and pollutants enter the Earth’s atmosphere from various sources and bring undesirable changes into the atmosphere and quality of air.

The pollutants or toxicants can be solid (SPM), liquid or gaseous/vapors. The difference between pollutants and toxicants are that pollutants may or may not be toxic/poisonous, but all toxicants are poisonous. In other words, all toxicants are pollutants, but all pollutants are not toxicants.

Furthermore, these pollutants can be in Biological, Physical and Chemical substances or even energy, such as noise, heat or light whose excess release into the atmosphere can cause direct effects or indirect effects through chain reactions.

Sources of Air Pollution

There are numerous sources that have been studied to cause air pollution today. Sources of air pollution can be primarily categorized into 2 major type.
  • Natural sources
Sources from the natural environment that release pollutants that contaminate the environment. These sources are mainly natural calamities like Volcanic eruptions and forest fires, that release large amounts of CO2 and other harmful gases and material into the environment.
  • Anthropogenic sources (Man-made sources)
These are man-made sources or activities caused by humans that release pollutants and contaminants that harm the environment. The most common examples of Anthropogenic sources of pollution are
  1. The burning of fossil fuels for energy generation. (Thermal power stations, etc.)
  2. Emissions from various modes of transportation.
  3. The burning of agricultural wastes like dead plants, leaves, and fertilizers.
  4. Improper disposal and treatment of solid wastes.
  5. Excess Methane (CH4) released from Gobar Gas plants and garbage landfills.

Consequences of Air Pollution

With the constant emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (CO2e) into the atmosphere, the threat that we face is not just limited to air pollution, but also the aftermath of it.

Increasing air pollution has been noted to cause numerous health hazards to humans and animals and also causing widespread damage to plant life. Apart from CO2 and other harmful gases, pollutants in the air also include Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) and Respirable Suspended Particles (RSP) that have been observed to cause respiratory problems and chronic diseases like Asthma, Emphysema, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Bronchitis, and even Lung Cancer or Congestive Heart failure.

Extreme exposure to polluted air can also cause damage to people’s nerves, brain, kidneys, liver, and other organs while some suspected air pollutants also cause birth defects.

Rising levels of CO2 and CO2e in the air not only degrades the quality of air but also leads to an undesirable and unnatural rise in the atmospheric and surface temperatures.

According to various international environmental organizations and protocols, there are 7 major gases that are classified as greenhouse gases and harm the atmosphere and environment in direct or indirect ways.

  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
  • Nitrous Oxide (N2O)
  • Methane (CH4)
  • Sulphur Dioxide (SO2)
  • Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)
  • Perfluorocarbons (PFCs)
  • Sulphur Hexafluoride (SF6)

The excess of these gases in the atmosphere from various modes of transports, domestic and agricultural activities combine to form an invisible gaseous envelope over the Earth’s Stratosphere.

This gaseous envelope traps all the radiated Infrared radiations from the Earth’s surface and reflected UV radiations and prevents them from escaping into the atmosphere. This mechanism is similar to what happens in greenhouse plantations and is hence called the Greenhouse effect.

As a result of this heat-trapping process, the Earth’s atmosphere begins to unnaturally heat up, causing the phenomenon of Global warming.

Global warming is the unnatural heating of the Earth’s surface and it’s atmosphere due to the excess emission of CO2 and other Greenhouse gases also known as CO2 equivalents (CO2e), that trap the planet’s heat and prevents it from escaping into the atmosphere. This has further lead to the uneven melting of the ice caps and glaciers, thus leading to an abnormal rise in the sea level.

International concerns

Most of the successful global warming protocols till now like Kyoto Protocol (1992) and Paris Agreement(2016) have dealt with Greenhouse gases (GHG), it’s causes, consequences, mitigation, adaptation and its role in increasing Global warming.

Various reports by UNFCCC, IPCC, NASA, and NCAR reveal that over the past 20 years, the Earth’s average temperature has risen by around 3°F and if the current trends of CO2 and other Greenhouse gases continue, then the figure would increase to 7°F in the next 50 years.