This post is about the environmental impacts of air pollution and is part of a three-post series discussing the different effects of pollution on society.
Health, the economy, and the environment are extremely connected and therefore cannot be looked at on their own. Particulate matter (PM), NOx, and ozone, along with other pollutants, all play a large role in ecosystems and the environment. This post will focus on three major sectors of the environment that air pollution affects: plants and agriculture, biodiversity and ecosystems, and climate change.
Plants and agriculture
Particulate matter has serious ramifications for plants because it blocks the sunlight. This is disastrous on plant life because they rely on the sun for energy. PM coats the exterior of the plants blocking more sunlight and other nutrients the plants need, making them less efficient and likely to survive. PM also causes draught so the plants receive less water, also necessary for their survival.
Drought is caused by PM because when water molecules condense in clouds, they do so onto existing particles in the air. However, when there is so much particulate matter in the air, not enough water condenses on each particle so the droplets are not heavy enough to fall. This has disastrous effects on plant life because they need water to survive. These factors affect all life on earth because without healthy flora, many animals cannot eat, which throws of the balance of the ecosystem. This of course affects humans as well because agriculture does not produce as much.
Agriculture is largely impacted from air pollution as well contributes to it. Fertilisers used in crops play the biggest roles because they produce ammonia emissions that react to produce NOx, SO2, and PM. As climate change continues, extreme weather will make crops even more difficult to manage. This will require more fertiliser, resulting in various forms of pollutants. These pollutants then block the sunlight, which the crops need to produce energy, and the pollutants stick to the plants blocking sunlight and nutrients. While it is very detrimental to humans to have smaller crop yields, this phenomenon also occurs in all plants, on and off farms.
This means that plants in the wild are not as healthy as they should be.
Biodiversity and ecosystems
Dangerous air quality also results in a loss of biodiversity because it harms the ability to for plants and animals to function and grow. Biodiversity is the variety of plant and animal species in the world. Acid rain from SO2 as well as ozone, NOx, and PM have numerous effect as discussed above. Ecosystems are so complex that human tinkering can create many unanticipated problems. By wiping out entire species and limiting diversity, the ecosystem may be damaged.
Biodiversity is extremely important in and of itself, meaning that it is significant just because it exists and it has taken a massive amount of years to become what it is. Along with this, biodiversity can be very valuable to humans because it provides potential sources of food, medicine, ecosystem services, and economic possibilities. Ecosystems services are resources that humans benefit from and need to survive, such as clean air and nutrient cycles for crops. These resources would be nearly impossible and way too expensive for humans to create on their own, and therefore rely on nature to do it for them. By tinkering with ecosystems and biodiversity, humans are limiting their own quality of life.
Greenhouse gases (GHG) have shown to largely affect the Earth’s climate by trapping heat in the atmosphere, otherwise known as the greenhouse effect. These GHGs include CO2, water vapor, N2O, and ozone, among others. Studies have found that ground ozone pollution increases as temperatures do, meaning that the effects of ozone pollution will only increase as climate change continues. Similarly, extreme weather has shown to lead to higher amounts of PM found in the air. Therefore, as climate change continues, so do the negative impacts of air pollution on all sectors of society.
Climate change also largely changes lives in cities. Due to warming of the atmosphere, sea levels continue to rise, potentially to dangerous heights. Many cities are in danger of flooding in the next few decades if serious mitigation efforts do not occur. Extreme heat resulting from climate change might also make certain difficult to live in. Reducing air pollution in cities can help mitigate these problems and create a positive impact on health, the economy, and the environment. This can be done through Airlabs technology as well as by getting involved in initiatives to mitigate these issues.
blog post by Anna Moros