Air pollution occurs when an
unwanted gas or particle (or too much of a wanted gas or particle) pollutes the
gaseous mixture we all know as air. This has been happening throughout the
history of the planet. However, with the advent of the industrial revolution and
the associated exponential growth in population, air pollution has skyrocketed.
The causes of air pollution are
many. However, it mainly boils down to a few, major, underlying causes. These
make up the bulk of the causes of air pollution. Also, if humanity is to solve
the issues surrounding air pollution, it must prioritize the largest causes and
tackle the biggest causes of air pollution first. Let's go over those now.
The largest causes of air
pollution are transportation, power generation, and industry.
Transportation contributes to
air pollution because of exhaust, which is the end product of whatever
process–usually combustion–creating the power necessary to transport weight
over distances. Ships, planes, cars, and trucks all use a huge amount of fuel
and give off a huge amount of exhaust. Carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides,
particulate matter, hydrocarbons, and carbon monoxide are released in exhaust
and contribute to air pollution.
Transportation related air
pollution can be partially solved with catalytic converters, which scrub the
exhaust of most of the harmful particles. However, carbon dioxide is still
released in vast quantities. This contributes to climate change. Therefore, the
best way to stop transportation related emissions is to cut down on polluting
forms of transportation. This means driving less and flying less. Instead,
consider biking, carpooling, and using shared public transit to travel.
Another way to solve the
problem of transportation based air pollution is to support political programs
that limit the amount of pollutants that are legally allowed. For instance,
catalytic converters were made mandatory in the 1990s by the EPA; without a
large, grassroots movement and an able environmental lobby, we might still have
cars and trucks without catalytic converters. This would equal huge amounts of
additional pollutants like nitrogen oxides. This is just one example of how
political pressure can change society into something more environmentally
Power generation can also emit
huge amounts of pollutants. For instance, coal-fired power plants emit many
pollutants through their enormous smokestacks. This was what led to the terribly
dirty towns that were characteristic of the early Industrial Revolution. These
emissions can be reduced by using clean-coal technology, which partially cleans
the air and sequesters the toxic and unwanted byproducts.
However, the best way to get
rid of power plant related emissions is for societies to transition to power
plants that don't use fossil fuels. Wind, solar, and hydro-electric power plants
don't have negative emissions yet still produce plenty of electricity. Clean
coal technologies only partly solve the problem of air pollution, whereas power
plants that don't use fossil fuels completely solve it.
Another of the leading
causes of air pollution is industrial production, which has many byproducts.
It depends on what is being produced and how it is being made, but emissions are
usually directly or indirectly a result of the industrial process. Smokestacks
on factories are emitting some form of air pollution into the atmosphere; there
are many such industrial smokestacks.
How can industry production
pollute less? The answer is almost always through better efficiency in the
production process. By cutting out unnecessary steps, energy and materials can
be saved, which might mean fewer byproducts and less
Also, carefully crafted
political regulations can ensure the industry isn't polluting too much. However,
industries can simply move their factories and centers of production to
countries with less environmental regulations. For this reason, global
environmental regulations are fast becoming a necessity. If we are to tackle the
problem of climate change, which is a global problem, then there must be global
solutions, global initiatives, and global regulations. Only then can regulations
ensure that industrial production is not causing too much air pollution.
About the author
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