Harmful gases, liquids or solids may be present in the atmosphere causing air pollution. There are however different types of pollutants of air. This paper discusses atmospheric air pollution and the resultant ecological problem, factors that lead to or that are affected by air pollution, in this regard, living and non living factors, the subsequent human impacts, considering positive and negative impacts, the current approaches taken for sustainability purposes, how such strategies may be achieved or attained, and the role of the government, society and international bodies.
Air pollution is the availability of harmful substances in the atmosphere in gaseous, liquid, or solid form. Air pollution can be caused by various pollutants including:
Particulate matter: this consists of aerosols in liquids, solids or gases suspended in the atmosphere due to burning of coal in industrial processes. The presence of aerosols in the air hastens the corroding and erosion of metals and building materials respectively. Inhalation of air containing particulate matter can interfere with the respiratory system of humans. This can result in cancer, asthma, bronchitis or other diseases (EPA, 2008).
Sulphur oxides: these usually arise from the burning of coal and fumes from industrial processes. Due to the acid nature of the oxides, materials, human respiratory system and the vegetation end up being damaged (EPA, 2008).
Carbon monoxide: this is a colourless, tasteless and odourless gas that humans have no protection against. Blood that is infiltrated with carbon monoxide carries less oxygen to other body parts. This can cause many health complications (EPA, 2008).
Hydrocarbons: these are chemical compounds that contain carbon and hydrogen as the only elements. Just like carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons are also emitted by motor vehicles and emissions from industries. They result when there is partial burning of engine fuel. Under sunlight, hydrocarbons form ground level ozone which is manifested in smog. Besides that, ground level ozone can irritate the eyes, damage the lungs, and cause multiple respiratory problems (EPA, 2008).
Nitrogen oxides: this usually results from high temperature combustions in motor vehicles and power plants. These oxides contribute raise the acidity in the air raising precipitation and smog production. Nitrogen oxides are dangerous to humans because they cause serious illness and deaths even though the exposure to nitrogen oxides may be short (EPA, 2008).
Carbon dioxide: this is a gas that is described as natural in the atmosphere. It is produced by burning substances. It is vital for living organisms.
There are other air pollutants that include the following: radioactive pollutants, ammonia, chlorofluorocarbons, toxic metals (like lead, copper and cadmium) and radioactive elements. All these pose a danger to the human health (EPA, 2008).
The presence of any pollutants in the air causes air pollution. Thus, the presence of all contaminants and toxins in the atmosphere forms atmospheric pollution which is also an ecological problem. Living organisms and the entire ecosystem suffer from health and ecological problems caused by atmospheric pollution. An average person inhales 20,000 litres of air per day. By breathing, we risk taking in dangerous substances or chemicals found in the air. Air is found anywhere and everywhere. Therefore, air pollution can be found in both indoors and outdoors. Pollution of the air can cause many diseases that include; cancer, tuberculosis, emphysema, among many others. The depletion of the ozone layer causes global warming which in turn results into the melting of the icecaps in Polar Regions hence the rising of the sea levels. The air was fairly clean until the industrial revolution. With the industrial revolution, many substances stated being burnt increasing the number of pollutants in the air. The rate of air pollution has been on the increase since then to date resulting in the growth of the hole in ozone layer above the Antarctica. This explains why the world leaders from the G 20 are worried and calling for frequent meetings concerning the global warming (Kurylo, 2010).
With continued air pollution, the ozone layer will increase in depletion to an extent of allowing in more ultra violet ray s of the sun. The Ultra-violet rays of the sun are dangerous to the humans. They are responsible for causing cancer in countries like Australia. Dr Kurylo (2010) argues that the ozone layer has some weaknesses whose observation renews the concerns about the possible consequences and possible remedies. The Montreal Protocol of 1987 was expected to help reduce gaseous emissions like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide etc to the atmosphere (Kurylo, 2010).
Recently world leaders had gathered in Copenhagen Denmark to discuss the way forward on carbon reduction to ease global warming. The theme was global warming. Global warming has been described as a scenario in which there is increased world temperature. This usually results from increased carbon emission that inhibits earth's radiation from radiating back into the atmosphere which results in accumulated solar heat in the lower parts of the atmosphere. The major issue that is surrounding the global warming topic today is increased heat in the world that has affected man by far and wide in every aspect. Man is yet to discover better ways of using the much energy at his disposal that matches its rate of input. This article discusses the current modes of using solar energy (including solar cells), the new modes and the latest discoveries that include use of hydrogen as a form of energy. All these ways are aimed at reducing emission of carbon dioxide which is the core source of the problems. Not every part of the world gets equals amount of sunshine. Much of the sun is concentrated in the tropics with the Polar Regions experiencing little or no sunshine depending on the season (Unep, 2003).
Factors that contribute to global warming
Green house gases: Global warming is highly attributed to increased green house gases (mainly carbon dioxide and methane) in the atmosphere. These gases are emitted to the atmosphere through human activities like industrial activities, burning of fossil fuels, agricultural and deforestation activities. These gases reabsorb the thermal (auto radiation) heat emitted by the earth's surface and prevent it from leaving the lower parts of the earth's atmosphere hence the trap of excess heat. They retain the heat in the lower parts of the atmosphere. Increased man's activities have raised the green house gases especially carbon dioxide and methane over years (Solar-centre, 2010).
Solar variability and global warming: negligible increase in the solar irradiation has been observed. This results from the depletion of the zone layer. This contributes to minor increase in the global temperatures. The major contributor is the green house effect (Solar-centre, 2010).
Impacts of Global Warming
Global warming is depicted by changes in the weather patterns and precipitation throughout the world. Hurricanes and tropical storms may be experience often as a result of warmer oceanic waters. The high global temperatures results in melting of the ice in Polar Regions which end up raising the sea levels (Solar-centre, 2010).
Global warming may also affect species of living organisms that cannot survive in warmer conditions. They will die and become extinct (Solar-centre, 2010).
Due to global warming, there may be increased cases of diseases that may affect human health. Cases diseases like malaria and stroke may increase with the increase in flooding of cities and the poor quality of air.
Another problem caused by global warming is desertification. Droughts will be more frequent causing a rise in famine cases (Solar-centre, 2010).
Current Sustainability Strategies
Many sustainability programs are ongoing throughout the world. Basing on the causes of global warming which include mainly green gas effects which originate from combustion of fossil fuels, there are numerous researches being conducted to find better alternatives to fossil fuels. The world is full of energy in form of heat. Researchers are working on ways of utilizing the increased heat. One of the ways that they have discovered is the use of solar energy as an alternative to fossil fuel. When well put to use, solar energy can steer tomorrow's economic growth instead of fossil fuel (Solar-centre, 2010).
Solar energy can be taped through the use of solar panels which use photovoltaic cells. These photovoltaic cells in solar panels are able to transform the energy from the sun directly into electricity. The taped electricity can then be stored into batteries. The stored energy can be used in various ways like powering a generator or running heavy machines. If the modern houses can be constructed using special solar panels to tap solar power, then people can light their houses without depending on electricity supplied from the grid. Instead, when they collect more power, they supply the excess to the grid (Solar-centre, 2010).
Hydrogen: this is another alternative to fossil fuel. In the modern world, hydrogen is mainly used to manufacture ammonia, refine petroleum, and synthesize methanol. It is also used by NASA's pace shuttles, and in hydrogen fuel cells. Since research is underway, in future we could use hydrogen to fuel vehicles, fly planes as well as providing power for our homes and offices (California energy commission, 2006). According to California commission (2006), a machine that uses hydrogen as energy is eco-friendly since its pollution is negligible. And in fact some experts think that the future economies will be hydrogen driven unlike the current economies which are fossil fuel drive (California commission, 2006).
One of the major challenges that come with the consumption of fossil fuels is the emissions of carbons which pollutes the atmosphere as well as increase the green house effect. Cars are a big contributor to environmental pollution due to their carbon emission that is in form of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide and hydrocarbons. All these add to atmospheric pollution. According to MacKenzie (1994), hydrogen is one of the most abundant elements (is found in water, fossil fuels, atmosphere plants and animals), and it is therefore the best alternative for the non-renewable sources of energy like gasoline. It is a safely combustible fuel though safety precautions that accompany any fuel should also be applied. It is not such a dangerous fuel since its leaks evaporates faster than gasoline thus minimizing the hazard of explosion. Many manufacturers are now realizing a breakthrough with manufacture of hydrogen vehicles (Nadis & MacKenzie, 1986).
Plan for Sustainability
This has involved various meeting held by the world leaders concerning the increasing rate of global warming. These meeting have resulted in the various governments investing heavily on researches fro alternative sources of energy other than the fossil fuel. The out come is the innovation of a hydrogen car that uses hydrogen as fuel. Other researches are underway for solar powered vehicles and machines. Therefore, the break through of these researches could see the future economies driven by either hydrogen or solar energy (Unep, 2003).
Benefits and Challenges of the Sustainability Plan
The benefits of the sustainability plan are that the green house gases will dramatically reduce. The world will experience reduced temperatures with less global warming hence reduced melting of ice in Polar Regions. There will be no more rise in sea levels and unpredictable weather patterns translating into less drought cases (Solar-centre, 2010).
However, the sustainability plan is experiencing various problems like reduced funding for researches. Also, hydrogen and solar appliances are still very expensive for an average man to purchase. This means that economies will still be powered by fossil fuel will until when everybody will be able to purchase the appliances that global warming effects will be done away with gradually (Solar-centre, 2010).
Required Government, Societal and Global Support
The responsibility of the government is to provide funds for research in the better sources of energy other than the fossil fuels. It is also to ensure that when the research is done and complete, the appliances are readily available to the market at a pocket friendly price to the average man. The government should also be engaged in passing restriction acts that prohibit the further environmental pollution. Most of these restrictions affect industrial companies and businesses. It should ensure that the acts are enacted and law breakers are dealt with accordingly (ILO, 2008).
On the other hand, the average man is to ensure that he uses the most eco-friendly fuels and appliances available in the market. Skilled workers in the field of research should also avail themselves to assist the government in research rather than hiring foreign experts.
Despite the many efforts to reduce air pollution, air pollution and global warming are still a challenge. Green house gases like methane and carbon are still being emitted from the combustion of fossil fuels. The resultant global warming is causing increasing sea levels as the ice in Polar Regions is melting. The main cause of this is the use of non- renewable fossil fuel. However researches are underway on the use of renewable energy like the solar power and hydrogen. If successful, the research could make the future economies to be driven by renewable sources of energy like solar and hydrogen. Governments and the society have a responsibility. The government is to formulate environment conservation policies while the society at large is to conserve the environment by using eco-friendly renewable energy in their appliances.
California energy commission. (2006). “Hydrogen and future energy sources.” Retrieved on February 19, 2010 from: http://www.energyquest.ca.gov/story/chapter20.html
EPA, (2008). “Air Pollution - Basic Information.” Retrieved Feb 19, 2010, from: http://www.epa.gov/ebtpages/airairpollution.html
ILO. (2008). “Global challenges for sustainable development: strategies for green jobs.” Retrieved on February 19, 2010 from: http://www.ilo.org/public/english/bureau/dgo/speeches/somavia/2008/g8paper.pdf
MacKenzie, & James, J. (1994). “The Keys to the Car.” Baltimore, MD: World Resources,
Kurylo, M. (2010). “Atmospheric Composition.” Retrieved on February 19, 2010 from: http://nasascience.nasa.gov/about-us/organization-and-leadership/atmospheric-composition-program-scientist/?searchterm=None
Nadis, S. & MacKenzie, J. (1993). “Car Trouble.” Boston, MA: Beacon. Retrieved on February 19, 2010 from: http://www.commutercars.com/h2/
Solar-centre. (2010). “Global warming.” Retrieved on February 19, 2010 from: http://solar-center.stanford.edu/sun-on-earth/glob-warm.html
Unep, (2003). “How will global warming affect my world?” Retrieved on February 19, 2010 from: http://www.unep.org/dec/docs/ipcc_wgii_guide-E.pdf