Climate change and air pollution
Air pollution should be at the top of the list of the world’s concerns: it is a massive public health burden responsible for 7 million premature deaths per year, costing $8.1 trillion (£6.5 trillion or 7.4 trillion €), or the equivalent of 6.1% of the global GDP, in health damages alone1. It is also one of the most significant drivers towards climate change and global warming, endangering the earth’s global ecosystems and climate. Read more about the relationship between air pollution and climate change.
What is climate change?
For at least the past fifty years, this is a topic that has merited front-page news and one that has been on many of our minds. But what, exactly, is climate change?
Climate change refers to pattern changes in temperature and weather in the long-term. These changes have been observed in every region of the globe, and many of these changes are irreversible (such as rise in sea level)2. While certain climatic events can cause changes in climate including volcanic eruptions and the sun’s activity, and changes to Earth’s climate occur naturally over long periods of time, it has been established that the current state of the changing climate is caused by human activity according to climate experts and scientists around the world.
The impact of climate change has already started to and will continue to impact all of us on Earth. A rise of 1.5°C of global temperatures will result in increasing heatwaves and changes in warm and cold seasons. A rise of 2°C of global temperatures will result in disastrous outcomes for agriculture and health. Temperatures are now 1.1°C higher than they were in the late 1800s with the latest decade being the warmest ever recorded, and current policy anticipates us to reach a 2.8°C temperature rise by the end of the century2. However, climate change threatens our planet in a variety of other ways, some of which include:
- Intensification of the water cycle, leading to heavier rainfall and flooding
- Increased precipitation in high altitudes and decreased rainfall in the subtropics
- Severe coastal flooding in coastal areas and more extreme sea level events
- Loss of seasonal snow cover and melting of glaciers and ice sheets in the Arctic
- Ocean warming and marine heatwaves, causing ocean acidification and reduced oxygen levels
- Increased heat in urban areas
- Declining biodiversity3
These changes will touch nearly every aspect of our lives: food production, housing, safety, work, and so on. The number of climate refugees is expected to rise dramatically2.
Human activity drives climate change. When greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane, in addition to air pollutants, are released into the air through the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, it creates a blanket-like barrier around our planet that trap the sun’s heat and rising temperatures. The main sectors responsible for climate change include energy extraction and consumption (oil and gas), transport, agriculture, and deforestation2.
Legislation on a global scale has been put in place, like the Paris Agreement, the goal of which is to limit warming to 1.5°C by reducing carbon dioxide emissions. However, scientists claim that this is not enough: it is also crucial to reduce air pollutants if we want to avert the planet from heading towards further catastrophe.
Air quality’s impact on climate change
Air pollutants, also referred to as ‘climate forcers’, are those that can cause changes to our climate when released into the atmosphere. Ozone, for example, causes climate warming, whereas particulate matter (PM) can either warm (i.e. black carbon) or cool (i.e. particulate sulphites) the climate5.
Some air pollutants like methane and black carbon are characterised as short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs). These pollutants, when emitted, last for a shorter period of time in our atmosphere, but they often have much greater warming potential than CO2. Black carbon, for example, is a component found in fine particulate matter and absorbs sunlight, accelerating the melting of ice and snow. Black carbon also, alongside ozone, can alter weather systems and impact agricultural yields. Methane, a precursor to ozone, a major air pollutant, is also classified as a SLCP and is 84 times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas6.
The release of greenhouse gases and air pollutants is often sourced from the same industries. Ultimately, by focusing our efforts on reducing emissions from these industries, we can curtail the contributions and impact our human activities have on our climate.
How to reduce air pollution and protect your health
The less fossil fuels we consume, the better it will be for our health and the planet. There are steps we can take to achieve this:
- Make the best possible transportation choices: bike, walk, or take public transportation
- Drive a car with better gas mileage or go electric
- Investigate your power provider options and request that your energy be supplied from green sources like solar or wind
- Buy your food locally to reduce the fossil fuels burned by transporting your food by truck or plane
- Support climate-minded leaders and demand change
Protect your health
- Limit your time outdoors during periods of peak pollution
- When exercising outside, avoid highly-polluted areas like next to heavily trafficked roads
- Use air pollution tracking tools like https://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/ in the UK to check your local levels of pollution in real-time; remember that air pollution isn’t always visible!
- Purchase an air purifier
Read our article for a full list of steps you can take to reduce your contributions to air pollution and protect your health here.
Keep air pollution and allergens out of your home with Eoleaf
Despite your best efforts to reduce your contributions to climate change and air pollution, you may feel like the state of your air quality is simply out of your hands. Considering that 99% of the world’s population breathes air that exceeds the WHO’s guidelines and the fact that we take roughly 25,000 breaths per day, individuals need to take matters into their own hands. Take charge by protecting your health at home and at the workplace by investing in and installing an Eoleaf air purifier. Eoleaf’s air purifiers all come equipped with 8 different filtration technologies focusing on the removal of fine particles, allergens, germs, cigarette smoke, and even bad odours.
1 World Bank. (2022, January 31). The global health cost of PM2.5 Air Pollution. Open Knowledge Repository. Retrieved April 20, 2023, from https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/entities/publication/c96ee144-4a4b-5164-ad79-74c051179eee
2 United Nations. (2023). What is climate change? Climate Action. Retrieved April 20, 2023, from https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/what-is-climate-change
3 Leitzell, K. (2021, August 9). Climate change widespread, rapid, and intensifying. IPCC. Retrieved April 20, 2023, from https://www.ipcc.ch/2021/08/09/ar6-wg1-20210809-pr/
4 Helmholtz Centre Potsdam. (n.d.). Air pollution and climate change. Research Institute for Sustainability. Retrieved April 20, 2023, from https://www.rifs-potsdam.de/en/output/dossiers/air-pollution-and-climate-change
5 Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Air Quality and Climate Change Research. EPA. Retrieved April 20, 2023, from https://www.epa.gov/air-research/air-quality-and-climate-change-research
6 World Health Organization. (2023). Climate impacts of Air Pollution. World Health Organization. Retrieved April 20, 2023, from https://www.who.int/teams/environment-climate-change-and-health/air-quality-and-health/health-impacts/climate-impacts-of-air-pollution