Air Pollution and Climate Change: The All Year Pandemic… Time to Act Now!

Today’s world faces some serious challenges: a warming climate, unprecedented levels of pollution, and racial, economic, and gender inequity to name a few…Human activity is changing the climate in unprecedented and sometimes irreversible ways.

On August 9th, 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report-IPCC was released, raising a lot of concern about climate change and global warming. The report is the first since 1990, intended to assess the state of climate change and efforts to alleviate it. In this article, I will shed the light on some of the concerning points reported by IPCC and how the dramatic changes in planet climate state could affectingly impact not only the downstream planet health but also the human health as a whole.

2020 was the end of the hottest decade on record, and according to the UN’s recently released IPCC report, we must act now to cut carbon pollution in half in the next ten years and eliminate it altogether by 2050 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The landmark report warns of increasingly extreme heatwaves, droughts, and flooding, and a key temperature limit being broken in just over a decade.

 The IPCC report key points

  • Global surface temperature was 1.09C higher in the decade between 2011-2020 than between 1850-1900.
  • The past five years have been the hottest on record since 1850
  • The recent rate of sea level rise has nearly tripled compared with 1901-1971
  • Human influence is “very likely” (90%) the main driver of the global retreat of glaciers since the 1990s and the decrease in Arctic sea-ice
  • It is “virtually certain” that hot extremes including heatwaves have become more frequent and more intense since the 1950s, while cold events have become less frequent and less severe.

According to the Paris Climate agreement, the world must limit global warming to only a 1.5 C increase by 2050. Based on the IPCC report, nations would have to slash their CO2 emissions to zero by 2020, to meet that target. Staying below 2 C of warming would really require substantial cuts, while under current governmental and environmental policies, emissions are still rising.

Climate Change and Air Pollution:

It’s established that climate change increases exposure to environmental health risk factors, including air pollution, extreme temperatures, and aeroallergens. Air pollution exposures increase with climate change through various pathways, including:

  • increased frequency of stagnation events that prohibit atmospheric venting.
  • enhanced photochemical production of secondary pollutants (e.g., tropospheric ozone and some components of fine particulate matter, PM2.5).
  • increasing “natural” gaseous and particulate emissions influenced by warmer and drier conditions (e.g., wildfire smoke, airborne soil dust, and ozone and PM2.5 formation from biogenic volatile organic compounds).
  • Climate change is also expected to affect the start, duration, and intensity of the pollen season.

Other causes of environmental air pollution, include

  • burning fossil fuels.
  • lack of green spaces.
  • increase in the number of cars and motorcycles, air conditioners, and generators.
  • increase in the number of factories, oil refineries, and plastic waste.
  • installation and spread of mobile phone and Internet towers.

In an especially destructive feedback loop, air pollution not only contributes to climate change but is also exacerbated by it. Air pollution in the form of carbon dioxide and methane raises the earth’s temperature. Another type of air pollution, smog, is then worsened by that increased heat, forming when the weather is warmer and there’s more ultraviolet radiation.

Air Pollution and Health:

Air Pollution is the lifetime, all seasons, whole year pandemic. It has risen as a pervasive environmental hazard and a leading cause of non-communicable disease globally that substantially contributes to major human diseases including cancer and cardiovascular ones, the leading causes of death in the world. The effects of air pollution on the human body vary depending on the type of pollutant and the length and level of exposure as well as other factors, including a person’s individual health risks and the cumulative impacts of multiple pollutants or stressors. Multiple scientific investigations have shown that air pollution has induced excess deaths as high as excess deaths caused by Smoking, HIV, and War altogether.

Air pollution is now the world’s fourth-largest risk factor for early death. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), each year air pollution is responsible for nearly seven million deaths around the globe. Nine out of ten human beings currently breathe air that exceeds the WHO’s guideline limits for pollutants, with those living in low- and middle-income countries suffering the most. Based on the most recent State of Global Air report which summarizes the latest scientific understanding of air pollution around the world, 4.5 million deaths were linked to outdoor air pollution exposures in 2019, and another 2.2 million deaths were caused by indoor air pollution. Despite improvements in reducing global average mortality rates from air pollution, the world’s most populous countries, India, and China continue to bear the highest burdens of disease.

Last Word…Climate change and environmental issues are people-made problems, and they can be people-solved!

We’re in a climate crisis. We must make changes in the way we live, from where we get our energy to how we get from place to place. Are you ready to make a positive impact in your environment?

3 thoughts on “Air Pollution and Climate Change: The All Year Pandemic… Time to Act Now!”

  1. Interesting! Thanks for sharing, and for the painfully and accurately phrased last words. These problems are indeed people-made.

  2. Very interesting…thank you for pointing it out. We need more science and data around climate change and effects of environmental pollution on CVD.
    Greta job

  3. Excellent and timely article in regards to the nascent concepts and proposed mechanisms surrounding pollution , particulate matter and disease. As an increasing number of medical bodies begin to recognize various social determinants as bonafide risk factors for cardiovascular disease and outcomes , the acceptance of environmental pollution should not be far behind. In this regards the author of this article, supported by scholarly work, has been a prominent voice coming out of Harvard Medical School advocating for more action in the curtailing of carbon emissions and the inclusion of pollution as an important risk factor for disease. This is an important and new frontier in the fight against cardiovascular disease.

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