(9) Air Pollution

 Air Pollution Causes, Effects And Solutions!

Air Pollution


What Can We Do about Global Warming?

CONCEPT 15-5A We can slow the rate of warming and climate change by increasing energy efficiency, relying more on renewable energy resources, greatly reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and slowing population growth.

CONCEPT 15-5B Governments can subsidize energy efficiency and renewable energy use, tax greenhouse gas emissions, and cooperate internationally, and individuals and institutions can sharply reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Dealing with Climate Change Is Difficult

What to do about climate change on the only planet we have should be one of the most urgent scientific, political, and ethical issues of this century. But the following characteristics of the problem make it difficult to deal with:

• The problem is global. Dealing with this threat will require unprecedented international cooperation.

• The effects will last a long time. Once climate change is set into motion, its effects will last hundreds to thousands of years.

• The problem is a long-term political issue. Voters and elected officials generally respond well to short-term problems, but have difficulty acknowledging and coping with long-term threats.

• The harmful and beneficial impacts of climate change are not spread evenly. There will be winners and losers from moderate climate change. Winning nations are less likely to bring about controversial changes or spend large sums of money to slow down something that will benefit them.

The catch:

We will not know who will benefit and who will suffer until it is too late to avoid harmful effects, and at some temperature threshhold, essentially everyone will be harmed.

• Many actions that might reduce the threat of climate change, such as phasing out fossil fuels, are controversial because they can disrupt economies and lifestyles.

Despite these problems, most climate experts argue that the world must face up to the urgent problem of global climate change. This will require reaching a political tipping point in which individuals and elected officials shift from ignorance and denial to awareness and urgent action to deal with this serious threat.

What Are Our Options?

There are two basic approaches to global warming. One is to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions to slow down the rate of temperature increase and to shift to noncarbon-based energy options in time to prevent runaway positive feedback processes that set into motion major climate changes. The other is to recognize that some warming is unavoidable and to devise strategies to reduce its harmful effects. Most analysts believe

we need a mix of both approaches. In 2005, national academies of sciences from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, France, Russia, Japan, Canada, Brazil, China, and India joined together in an unprecedented statement saying that the scientific evidence on global climate change is clear enough for government leaders to commit to prompt action now. Any delay, they said, “will increase environmental damage and likely incur a greater cost.”

In 2006, then U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said: “Let there be no more denial. Let no one say we cannot afford to act. It is increasingly clear that it will cost far less to cut greenhouse gas emissions now than to deal with the consequences later. And let there be no more talk of waiting until we know more. . . . The question is not whether climate change is happening or not, but whether, in the face of this emergency, we ourselves can change fast enough.”

We Can Reduce the Threat of Global Warming

The good news is that we know what to do to slow the rate and degree of global warming caused by our activities. These solutions come down to four major strategies: improve energy efficiency to reduce fossil fuel use; shift from nonrenewable carbon-based fossil fuels to carbon-free renewable energy resources; stop cutting down tropical forests; and capture and store as much CO2 as possible in soil, vegetation, underground, and in the deep ocean (Concept 15-5A). The effectiveness of these strategies would be enhanced by reducing population, which would decrease the number of fossil fuel consumers and CO2 emitters, and by reducing poverty, which would decrease the need of the poor to clear more land for crops and fuelwood. These strategies follow the four scientific principles of sustainability.


Global Warming

Prevention – Cleanup


Cut fossil fuel use (especially coal)

Shift from coal to natural gas

Improve energy efficiency

Shift to renewable energy resources

Transfer energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies to developing countries

Reduce deforestation

Use more sustainable agriculture and forestry

Limit urban sprawl

Reduce poverty

Slow population growth


Remove CO2 from smokestack and vehicle emissions

Store (sequester) CO2 by planting trees

Sequester CO2 deep underground

Sequester CO2 in soil by using no-till cultivation andtaking cropland out of production

Sequester CO2 in the deep ocean

Repair leaky natural gas pipelines and facilities

Use animal feeds that reduce CH4 emissions from cows (belching and flatulence)

Methods for slowing atmospheric warming during this century (Concept 15-5A). Question: Which five of these solutions do you think are the most important? Why

Let us look more closely at some of these possible solutions.

Solutions: methods for removing some of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or from smokestacks and storing it in plants, soil, deep underground reservoirs, and the deep ocean. Question: Which two of these solutions do you think are the most important? Why?

Is Capturing and Storing CO2 the Answer?

Have several techniques for removing some of the CO2 from the atmosphere and from smokestacks and storing (sequestering) it in other parts of the environment. One way is to plant trees to store it in biomass while controlling insects and diseases that kill trees. But this is a temporary approach, because trees release their stored CO2 back into the atmosphere when they die and decompose or if they burn.

Planting large numbers of carbon-storing trees in tropical areas and slowing tropical deforestation can help slow global warming by absorbing carbon dioxide and evaporating water into the atmosphere, which increases cloudiness and helps cool the atmosphere above them. But a 2006 study by a team of scientists from Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, Université Montpeller II, and the Carnegie Institution found that planting more trees in temperate regions such as the United States and Europe may enhance global warming.

Their models showed that the less dense canopies of these temperate forests reflect less sun light, absorb more heat, and evaporate much less cloudforming water vapor than tropical forests. Thus, they can warm the ground below and contribute to global warming.

A second approach is to plant large areas with fastgrowing plants such as switchgrass that can remove CO2 from the air and store it in the soil. But warmer temperatures can increase decomposition in soils and return some of this CO2 to the atmosphere.

A third strategy is to reduce the release of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide from soil. This can be done through no-till cultivation and by setting aside degraded crop fields as conservation reserves.

A fourth approach is to remove some of the CO2 from smokestacks and pump it deep underground into unmineable coal seams and abandoned oil fields or to liquefy it and inject it into thick sediments under the sea floor. Cleaner coal-fired power plants that could remove some of the CO2 from smokestack emissions could be built within 5–10 years. But they are much more expensive to build and operate than conventional coal-burning plants are and thus would raise the price of electricity for consumers.

Without strict government regulation of CO2 emissions and carbon taxes or carbon-trading schemes, utilities and industries have no incentive to build such plants. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the cur rent costs of carbon capture and storage systems have to be reduced by a factor of ten for these systems to be available and widely used.

Scientists say that no country should build any more traditional coal-burning power plants unless they are designed to be able to capture and store most of the CO2 they emit. China and India worry that making a shift to cleaner technologies will slow their economic growth by raising costs. But Rob Watson, an expert on China’s environmental problems, points out that leaders of China and India need to recognize that going green is an opportunity to save money by reducing pollution and resource waste and to make money by developing low-cost innovative solutions to environmental problems that can be sold in the global marketplace.

Governments Can Help Reduce the Threat of Climate Change

Governments can use four major methods to promote the solutions (Concept 15-5B). One is to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. Second, governments could phase in carbon taxes on each unit of CO2 emitted by fossil fuel use or energy taxes on each unit of fossil fuel that is burned. Decreasing taxes on income, labor, and profits to offset such taxes could help make such a strategy more politically acceptable. In other words, tax pollution, not payrolls. In 2006, voters in the U.S. city of Boulder, Colorado, approved a plan to charge residences and businesses a carbon tax based on how much electricity they use.

The tax revenues will fund energy audits for homes and businesses and visits by energy experts to provide information on ways to save energy. Residents choosing to use electricity produced by wind power will not have to pay the tax.

A related approach is to place a cap on total CO2 emissions in a country or region, to issue permits to release CO2, and then to let polluters trade their permits in the marketplace. This cap-and-trade strategy has a political advantage, but it would be difficult to manage because there are so many CO2 emitters including industries, power plants, motor vehicles, buildings, and homes. A third strategy is to level the economic playing field by greatly increasing government subsidies to businesses and individuals for using energy-efficiency technologies, carbon-free renewable-energy technologies, carbon capture and storage, and more sustainable agriculture.

This would also include phasing out or sharply reducing subsidies and tax breaks for using fossil fuels, nuclear power, and unsustainable agriculture. A fourth strategy would focus on technology transfer. Governments of developed countries could help fund the transfer of the latest green technologies to develop developing countries, which can then bypass older energywasting and polluting technologies. Increasing the current tax on each international currency transaction by a quarter of a penny could finance this technology transfer, which would then generate wealth for developing countries and help stimulate a more environmentally sustainable global economy.

Governments Can Enter into International Climate Negotiations: The Kyoto Protocol

In December 1997, more than 2,200 delegates from 161 nations met in Kyoto, Japan, to negotiate a treaty to help slow global warming. The first phase of the resulting Kyoto Protocol went into effect in January 2005 with 189 countries (not including the United States and Australia) and the U.S states of California and Maine participating in the agreement. It requires 38 participating developed countries to cut their emissions of CO2, CH4, and N2O to an average of at least 5.2% below their 1990 levels by 2012. Developing countries were excluded from having to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in this first phase because such reductions would curb their economic growth. In 2005, countries began negotiating a second phase that is supposed to go into effect after 2012.

The protocol also allows trading of greenhouse gas emissions among participating countries. For example, a country or business that reduces its CO2 emissions or plants trees receives a certain number of credits. It can use these credits to avoid having to reduce its emissions in other areas, or it can bank them for future use or sell them to other countries or businesses.

Some analysts praise the Kyoto agreement as a small but important step in attempting to slow projected global warming. They hope that rapidly developing nations such as China, Brazil, and India will agree to reduce their greenhouse gases in the second phase of the protocol. Others see the agreement as a weak and slow response to an urgent global problem.

In 2001, President George W. Bush withdrew U.S. participation from the Kyoto Protocol, arguing that participation would harm the U.S. economy. He also objected to the agreement because it does not require emissions reductions by developing countries such as China and India, which produce large and increasing emissions of greenhouse gases.

Most analysts believe that the United States, which has the second highest CO2 emissions and highest per capita emissions of any country, should use its influence to improve the treaty rather than to weaken and abandon it. A 2006 poll by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Civil Society Institute found that 83% of Americans want more leadership from the federal government in dealing with the threat of global warming.

In 2007, the European Union put climate change at the center of its foreign policy and began focusing on developing a new treaty with China that emphasizes sharp reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

We Can Move beyond the Kyoto Protocol

In 2004, environmental law experts Richard B. Stewart and Jonathan B. Wiener proposed that countries work together to develop a new strategy for slowing global warming. They concluded that the Kyoto Protocol will have little effect on future global warming without support and action by the United States, China, and India.

In 2005, China, India, and other developing countries accounted for 37% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050, the International Energy Agency projects that their share could be 55%. Stewart and Wiener urge the development of a new climate treaty among the United States, China, India, Russia, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the European Union, and other major greenhouse gas emitters. The treaty would also create an emissions trading program that includes developing countries omitted from the trading plan under the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol. In addition, it would set achievable 10-year goals for reducing emissions over the next 40 years and evaluate global and national strategies for adapting to the harmful ecological and economic effects of global warming.

Some Governments, Businesses, and Schools Are Leading the Way

Some governments, businesses, and schools are tackling climate change problems on their own (Concept 15-5B). In 2005, the European Commission proposed a plan to increase the European Union’s use of renewable energy to 12% by 2010 and cut energy use by 20% by 2020. Together these two achievements would cut EU carbon dioxide emissions by nearly one-third. Since 1990, local governments in more than 600 cities around the world (including 330 U.S. cities) have established programs to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The first major U.S. city to tackle global warming was Portland, Oregon. Between 1993 and 2005, the city cut its greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels, while national levels rose by 16%. The city promotes energy-efficient buildings and the use of electricity from wind and solar sources. It has also built bicycle trails and greatly expanded mass transit. Far from hurting its economy, Portland has experienced an economic boom, saving $2 million a year on city energy bills.

In 2006, California, with the world’s sixth largest economy, passed a law to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels (a 25% reduction) by 2020 and to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. The EPA sued California, arguing that EPA and thus the state had no legal right to regulate CO2 emissions. But California won this Supreme Court case, and at least ten other states plan to adopt its standards.

In 2007, the premier of British Columbia, Canada, stated that he would cut CO2 emissions by a third by building no more coal plants, embracing wind power, toughening car emission standards, reducing pollution by the powerful oil and gas industry, and leasing hybrid cars for government use. He proposed making British Columbia the continent’s greenest spot. He also proposed forming an alliance with California to create a Pacific Coast bloc of provinces and states to deal with climate change without waiting for their federal governments to act.

A growing number of major global companies, such as Alcoa, DuPont, IBM, Toyota, General Electric, and British Petroleum (BP), have established targets to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 10–65% from 1990 levels by 2010. Since 1990, the chemical company DuPont has slashed its energy usage and cut its greenhouse emissions by 72%. In the process, it has saved $3 billion while increasing its business by 30%.

General Electric, BP America, Duke Energy, Caterpillar, Pacific Gas and Electric, Wal-Mart, and some firms managing large pension funds are among several major companies that in 2007 urged the U.S. Congress to regulate CO2 as a pollutant and impose mandatory carbon-emission caps on all U.S. businesses.

The goal would be to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 60–90% from 1990 levels, mostly by using a cap-and-trade system. Such companies have established the Global Roundtable on Climate Change. Individuals can send a message to politicians and business leaders around the world by visiting the roundtable’s website at www.nextgenerationearth.org . These and many other major companies see an enormous profit opportunity by going green and developing energy-efficient and clean-energy technologies such as fuel-efficient cars, wind turbines, solar-cell panels, biofuels, and coal gasification and carbon removal and storage technologies. A 2006 study found that companies lagging behind in these efforts are putting their stockholders at risk of losses and lawsuits for failure to take advantage of the rapidly growing international marketplace for green technologies.

Some colleges and universities are also taking action. Students and faculty at Oberlin College in Ohio (USA) have asked their board of trustees to reduce the college’s CO2 emissions to zero by 2020 by buying or producing renewable energy. In the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, 25 colleges have joined to purchase wind power and other forms of carbon-free renewable energy. In 2005, the president of Yale University committed the school to cutting its considerable greenhouse gas emissions 44% by 2020. The student Task Force for Environmental Partnership handed out 2,000 compact fluorescent light bulbs in exchange for incandescent light bulbs. The program paid for itself in four months through the savings on electric bills.

You can go to sites like www.gocarbonzero.org  nature www.org/climatecalculator , www.carbonfootprint.com, and www.climatecrisis.net/takeaction/carboncalculator  to calculate your carbon footprint: the amount of carbon dioxide you generate. Most of these websites and others such as www.climatecare.org www.nativeenergy.com , www.myclimate.com , www.carbon-clear.com  and www.clean-air-coolplanet.org  suggest ways for you to offset some of your carbon dioxide emissions.

However, critics of such carbon-offset schemes say that most of them are primarily ways to ease consumer guilt while encouraging individuals to continue producing greenhouse gases instead of making carboncutting lifestyle changes.


We Can Prepare for Global Warming

According to the latest global climate models, the world needs to make a 60–80% cut in emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050 (some say by 2020) to stabilize their concentrations in the atmosphere. However, because of the difficulty of making such large reductions, many analysts believe that, at the same time, we should begin to prepare for the possible harmful effects of long-term atmospheric warming and climate change. However, critics fear that emphasizing this approach will decrease the more urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Reducing CO2 Emissions

Drive a fuel-efficient car, walk, bike, carpool, and use mass transit

Use energy-efficient windows

Use energy-efficient appliances and lights

Heavily insulate your house and seal all air leaks

Reduce garbage by recycling and reusing more items

Insulate your hot water heater

Use compact fluorescent light bulbs

Plant trees to shade your house during summer

Set your water heater no higher than 49°C (120°F)

Wash laundry in warm or cold water

Use a low-flow shower head

Buy products from, or invest in, companies that are trying to reduce their impact on climate

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