Air pollution’s effects on the environment
We often focus on air pollution’s effects on human health (and rightfully so, seeing as the effects are vast). However, the dangers of air pollution reach far beyond us. Air pollution affects all forms of life on earth, including plants and animals. Read more below to learn about how our polluted air impacts our environment and the steps we can take to protect all living things.
How does air pollution affect the environment?
Destruction of crops and plants
Entire ecosystems can suffer at the hands of air pollution. Polluted air does not always remain airborne; the contaminants eventually fall back to the Earth. These chemical components pollute both water quality and the soil, heavily impacting crops. One example of this occurred in the United States from 1980-2011. Due to ozone pollution, nine billion dollars-worth of soybeans and corn throughout this time period were destroyed across the country as a whole due to ozone pollution1. Plants are particularly sensitive to ozone pollution because it damages their stomata (tiny pores) found underneath a plant’s leaves that allow it to breathe. There are certain plants that are able to protect themselves from ozone pollution by closing their stomata, but other plants are more sensitive, leading to their inability to grow and survive. Crops are not the only types of plants impacted: trees and grasslands may suffer the same fate as crops as a result of air pollution.
Acid rain is another concerning result of air pollution. By burning fossil fuels, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide are emitted into the air. When mixed with water droplets in the atmosphere, sulphuric acid and nitric acid are then produced. The wind carries these acids for thousands of miles until they ultimately fall to the surface of the Earth as acid rain. Acid rain can cause horrible damage to the environment by acidifying soils and bodies of water and harming the leaves of plants. It also damages human structures such as buildings by dissolving mortar between bricks and destabilising stone foundations. Furthermore, it damages ancient structures, especially those carved from limestone and marble, destroying thousands of years of historical sites. It causes an estimated £4 billion in property damage every year1.
Effects on animals
As mentioned above, due to the effects of air pollution on water systems and soil, animals suffer directly from habitat loss due to air pollution. These contaminants make their way into their territories, making their once liveable environments inhospitable. Air pollution can cause bodies of water to become too acidic, making it impossible for aquatic animals to survive or to function normally. Regarding animals’ health, they suffer from the same health effects that people do as a result of air pollution. Like humans, the most significant effects are on the respiratory system (particularly the lungs) and cardiovascular systems. The way that animals breathe may determine how vulnerable they are to the effects of air pollution; for example, certain animals breathe through lungs, others through gills, and some use passive diffusion across the skin’s surface2.
Global warming and climate change
The greenhouse gas emissions produced by burning fossil fuels is a direct cause of climate change. Climate change impacts every living being on the face of the Earth. Greenhouse gases trap heat energy in the Earth’s atmosphere, leading to rising air and water temperature around the globe. Rising temperatures means that ice sheets are melting, the oceans are warming, and extreme weather is becoming more commonplace. We have even depleted our ozone layer by emitting fluorinated gases such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) into the air, though by banning CFCs, the hole in the ozone layer is the smallest it has been since its discovery4.
Studies have found that we are on the brink of the Earth’s sixth mass extinction. A mass extinction is defined by the quick loss of three-quarters of all species, one of which wiped out all of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Conservationists have determined that 1-2% of all species are extinct already, and 20-50% are threatened, meaning that the current rate of extinction is between three to 80 times too high. Conservationists thus estimate that we could lose three-quarters of all species on earth within the next 334 years if drastic measures are not taken to curtail climate change. What differentiates this mass extinction from the previous five is that this one is human-caused3.
What can be done?
Governments around the world have taken steps by adopting laws to reduce air pollution and regulate emissions. New WHO air quality guidelines (AQG) were published in 2021, 15 years after the previous guidelines were put in place in 2005, and they remain stricter than any laws put in place by individual governments. The goal is to reduce air pollution at a global scale, decreasing the massive health burden caused by exposure to air pollutants5.
There are steps that we as individuals can take to reduce our contribution to air pollution. Some simple things we can do are:
- Instead of driving, take public transport or, even better, walk or bike to your destination
- Stop smoking cigarettes (learn more about the impact of cigarette smoking on air pollution here)
- Use less energy by reducing heating and cooling and switching to energy-efficient appliances
- Reduce your meat consumption: vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, and seeds all use much less energy, land, and water
- Avoid flying whenever possible – try taking a train instead!
- Reduce your food waste which produces methane when left to rot in a landfill
- Buy fewer new clothes by shopping second-hand and repairing what you already have – one kilogram of textiles produces 17 kilograms of CO2
- Use your voice to express your desire for bold environmental change to your local and world leaders!
To read more about steps you can take to reduce your impact on the Earth, refer to the United Nation’s list of actions: https://www.un.org/en/actnow/ten-actions.
Protect your health with an air purifier
Unfortunately, air quality is often out of our hands. 99% of the world’s population breathes air that exceeds the WHO’s ACQ, and our health continues to suffer as a result. Protect your health with an Eoleaf air purifier. Our air purifiers rely on an innovative multi-layer filtration system to capture particles down to a size of 0.01 μm, including allergens (pollen, pet dander), smoke (cigarette, cooking), germs (viruses, bacteria), and fine particles caused by air pollution. Start breathing cleaner air today.
Furthermore, to read more about Eoleaf’s joining of the 1% for the Planet program and other steps we are taking to reduce our emissions, refer to our article here.
1 Center for Science Education. (2023). Center for Science Education. Effects of Air Pollution. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from https://scied.ucar.edu/learning-zone/air-quality/effects-air-pollution
2 Government of Canada / Gouvernement du Canada. (2012, May 29). Air pollution: effects on wild animals. Canada.ca. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/air-pollution/quality-environment-economy/ecosystem/wild-animals.html
3 Gibbons, A. (2011, March 2). Are we in the middle of a sixth mass extinction? Science. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from https://www.science.org/content/article/are-we-middle-sixth-mass-extinction
4 Air Pollution. National Geographic Society. (n.d.). Retrieved January 25, 2023, from https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/air-pollution/
5 World Health Organization. (2021, September 22). Who Global Air Quality Guidelines: Particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide. World Health Organization. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240034228