Air Clean Up

  • Why Is Tackling Air Pollution Dangerous?

Why Is Tackling Air Pollution Dangerous?

Feb 15 2018 Read 1459 Times

It might seem like a no-brainer that air pollution and climate change go hand-in-hand. Many of the most damaging sources of poor air quality – power plants, industrial factories and transportation vehicles – are also responsible for exacerbating global warming by emitting greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere.

However, the relationship between the two might not be quite so simple as previously assumed. A new study from the Norwegian Centre for International Climate Research (CICERO) has found that removing the tiny particles of pollution from the air could in fact facilitate global warming by allowing the sun’s rays to reach the Earth more easily.

First of its kind

Scientists have long known about the effect that aerosol pollutants have on the Earth’s atmosphere. At lower elevations, they block sunlight from passing through to the Earth’s surface – which, in turn, can result in increased rates of warming at higher elevations, such as mountain peaks and ice caps.

This is, in itself, a major concern. However, the Catch-22 of the situation appears to be that the removal of the particles would allow the sunlight through unimpeded, thus exacerbating the problem of global warming. The scientific community has been aware of this consequence for some time, but CICERO’s investigation is the first which has attempted to quantify the risk.

The study found that extracting all of these tiny particles of aerosol pollution from the air could reduce the risk of respiratory disease significantly, but that it would also lead to a global temperature hike of between 0.5 and 1.1°C at surface level. It would also involve an increase in precipitation by between 2% and 4.6% all over the world.

Curbing carbon now

The team behind the study were quick to stress that they do not advocate leaving the particles where they are, but instead wanted to highlight that air pollution and global warming are related but not synonymous. Therefore, a more nuanced – and perhaps more urgent – approach is needed.

“If we’re serious about mitigating climate change, we need to also reduce greenhouse gas emissions very rapidly,” explained Bjørn Samset, lead author on the paper. “A very well-known point by now, of course, but here’s yet another reason to put force behind it.”

The best way to achieve this goal is by transitioning to clean, renewable sources of energy as soon as possible, exploring sustainability in mining and other related industries and doing our utmost to reduce our carbon footprint to zero. If we don’t, we’ll surely either be suffocated by the toxic air or drowned by the rising tides.

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