Air pollution has been on America’s mind for decades, and while air quality has seen massive improvements, it still presents a problem for millions of Americans on a day-to-day basis. Certain metropolitan areas are especially bad, and the natural environment around these areas is also impacted.
The State of Air Pollution Today
Imaging technology from NASA’s Aura Satellite has shown significant improvement in the United States’ air quality over the past ten years. Research has shown that the presence of nitrogen dioxide – one of the worst pollutants – has decreased drastically.
With massive improvements in technology in vehicle engines and power plants, as well as more appropriate regulations surrounding emissions, the issue has gotten better. Unfortunately, we’re not quite there yet, and air pollution continues to show negative effects every day.
How Air Pollution Affects Plants and Animals
Perhaps the most significant effect of air pollution on the environment is the formation of acid rain. When sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide are present in the atmosphere, they form compounds that fall back onto the ground during rainfall.
Acid rain has an effect wherever it lands. When it falls on freshwater ecosystems like rivers and lakes, the water becomes acidic, harming the fish and plant life. Certain animal populations have declined due to acid rain, including mayflies, aquatic birds, salmon, mollusks, and brown trout – among others.
When plants are made toxic by acid rain, animals that feed on them suffer from health problems. But the plants themselves can also suffer ill effects. Air pollution can cause physical injuries, like large bleached areas or lesions on leaves and tree trunks. Many plants – especially lichens – died off entirely in some areas during the height of air pollution in the atmosphere, and these have only recently started to come back.
Air Pollution and Human Health
The air you breathe affects every part of your body. Immediately, breathing toxic air can cause shortness of breath and irritation in your nose and throat. People who suffer from allergies and asthma are especially affected by these problems. Pollution can also aggravate already existing health problems for chronically ill and elderly individuals. Some toxic chemicals can be even more severe. Long-term exposure can cause cancer, birth defects, nerve damage, lung injury, and more.
Air Quality Matters Indoors
In addition to outdoor air pollution, poor indoor air quality is a problem worldwide. Approximately 3 billion people – almost half of the world’s population – heat their homes and cook using biomass fuel and coal. This causes premature deaths and chronic health problems, especially in poorer countries around the world. This is a systemic problem that many nonprofits and community organizers have tasked themselves with addressing.
In developed nations, poor indoor air quality affects those who work in manufacturing plants and other industrial settings. When workers breathe bad air, they suffer from health problems – and companies, in turn, have to deal with significant turnover in their employees, hindering progress and productivity.
Solving the Air Pollution Problem
Fortunately, the solution for poor indoor industrial air quality is actually quite straightforward. By measuring air quality and properly filtering out harmful particulates, companies can purify the air for their employees – improving their health, quality of life, and ability to work effectively.
The problem of outdoor air pollution is complex, but everyone can contribute to the solution in small ways. Consider carpooling, buying energy-efficient products, or switching to solar power – among other solutions. Ultimately, it’s up to all of us to make the air we breathe healthy for everyone.
Build, Buy, Or Retrofit? 3 Green Housing Considerations
Green housing is in high demand, but it’s not yet widely available, posing a serious problem: if you want to live an eco-friendly lifestyle, do you invest in building something new and optimize it for sustainability, or do you retrofit a preexisting building?
The big problem when it comes to choosing between these two options is that building a new home creates more waste than retrofitting specific features of an existing home, but it may be more efficient in the long-run. For those concerned with waste and their environmental footprint, the short term and long term impacts of housing are in close competition with each other.
New Construction Options
One reason that new construction is so desired among green living enthusiasts is that it can be built to reflect our highest priorities. Worried about the environmental costs of heating your home? New construction can be built using passive solar design, a strategy that uses natural light and shade to heat or cool the home. Builders can add optimal insulation, build with all sustainable materials, and build exactly to the scale you need.
In fact, scale is a serious concern for new home buyers and builders alike. Individuals interested in green housing will actively avoid building more home than they need – scaling to the square foot matter because that’s more space you need to heat or cool – and this is harder to do when buying. You’re stuck with someone else’s design. In this vein, Missouri S&T’s Nest Home design, which uses recycled shipping containers, combines the tiny home trend with reuse and sustainability.
The Simple Retrofit
From an environmental perspective, there’s an obvious problem with building a new home: it’s an activity of mass consumption. There are already 120 million single-family homes and duplexes in the United States; do we really need more?
Extensive development alone is a good enough reason to intelligently retrofit an existing home rather than building new green structures, but the key is to do so with as little waste as possible. One option for retrofitting older homes is to install new smart home technology that can automate home regulation to reduce energy use.
Real estate agent Roxanne DeBerry sees clients struggle with issues of efficiency on a regular basis. That’s why she recommends tools like the Nest Thermostat, which develops a responsive heating and cooling schedule for the home and can be remotely adjusted via smartphone. Other smart tools for home efficiency include choosing Energy Star appliances and installing water-saving faucets and low-pressure toilets. These small changes add up.
Ultimately, the most effective approach to green housing is likely to be aggressive retrofitting of everything from period homes to more recent construction. This will reduce material use where possible and prevent further aggressive land use. And finally, designers, activists, and engineers are coming together to develop such structures.
In the UK, for example, designers are interested in finding ways to adapt period houses for greater sustainability without compromising their aesthetics. Many have added solar panels, increased their insulation levels, and recently they even developed imitation sash triple glazed windows. As some have pointed out, the high cost of heating these homes without such changes will push these homes out of relevance without these changes. This is a way of saving existing structures.
Harvard is also working on retrofitting homes for sustainability. Their HouseZero project is designed for near-zero energy use and zero carbon emissions using geothermal heating and temperature radiant surfaces. The buildings bridge the gap between starting over and putting up with unmanageable heating and cooling bills.
It will take a long time to transition the majority of individuals to energy efficient, green housing but we’re headed in the right direction. What will your next home be like? As long as the answer is sustainable, you’re part of the solution to our chronic overuse – of land, energy, water, and more.
How the Auto Industry is Lowering Emissions
Currently, the automotive industry is undergoing an enormous change in a bid to lower carbon emissions. This has been pushed by the Government and their clean air plans, where they have outlined a plan to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040.
Public Health Crisis
It is said that the levels of air pollution lead to 40,000 early deaths in the UK, with London being somewhere that is particularly bad. This has led to the new T-Charge, where heavy polluting cars will pay a new charge on top of the existing congestion charge. Other cities have taken action too, with Oxford recently announcing that they will be banning petrol and diesel cars from the city centre by 2020.
It is clear that the Government is taking action, but what about the auto industry? With the sale of petrol and diesel plummeting and a sharp rise in alternatively fuelled vehicles, it is clear that the industry is taking note and switching focus to green cars. There are now all kinds of fantastic eco-friendly cars available and a type to suit every motorist whether it is a small city car or an SUV.
Of course, it is the cars that are currently on the road that are causing the problem. The used car market is enormous and filled with polluting automobiles, but there are steps that you can take to avoid dangerous automobiles. It is now more important than ever to get vehicle checks carried out through HPI, as these can reveal important information about the automobile’s past and they find that 1 in 3 cars has a hidden secret of some kind. Additionally, they can now perform recall checks to see if the manufacturer has recalled that particular automobile. This allows people to shop confidently and find vehicles that are not doing as much damage to the environment as others.
With the rise in sales of alternatively fuelled vehicles, it is now becoming increasingly more common to see them on UK roads. Public perception has changed drastically in the last few years and this is because of the air pollution crisis, as well as the fact that there are now so many different reasons to switch to electric cars, such as Government grants and no road tax. A similar change in public opinion has happened in the United States, with electric car sales up by 47% in 2017.
The US is leading the way for lowering emissions as they have declined by 758 million metric tons since 2005, which is the largest amount by far with the UK in second with a decline of 170 million metric tons. Whilst it is clear that these two nations are doing a good job, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in order to improve the air quality and stop so many premature deaths as a result of pollution.
With the Government’s plans, incentives to make the change and a change in public perception, it seems that the electric car revolution is fully underway.