The Fruits of Civilization (68) Air


If you can’t breathe, nothing else matters. ~ American Lung Association motto

Clean air is essential to both animals and plants. Polluting the air with particulates or chemicals adversely affects all life.

Beyond carbon-based greenhouse gases are 2 noteworthy polluting byproducts of fossil fuel combustion: nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2).

Nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are the nitrogen oxides. Though they last only days in the atmosphere, nitrogen oxides contribute to the formation of smog and acid rain.

Sulfur dioxide is produced chiefly by power plants and factories burning high-sulfur coal and fuel oils. SO2 is highly toxic and corrosive. Sulfur dioxide combines with nitric oxide to produce the secondary pollutants of acid rain: sulfuric acid, nitrate, and sulfur salts.

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Air pollution is the 4th-highest risk factor for death globally, and by far the leading environmental risk factor for disease. ~ Canadian environmental scientist Michael Brauer

Air pollution irritates all the tissues that it touches. Stress to the respiratory system is the most noticeable. But air pollution deteriorates health holistically, also damaging the nervous, immune, and reproductive systems. The toxic nanoparticles in air pollution make their way into the brain, where they wreak damage, causing mental illness and accelerating Alzheimer’s and dementia. Air pollution stupefies people.

The entire body is degraded by dirty air. As with other pollutants, the young and elderly are most severely impacted. Child intelligence plummets from air pollution.

Air pollution has ethical costs. Cities with more air pollution have higher crime levels.

Air pollution increases criminal and unethical behavior by increasing anxiety. Analyses of US cities found that air pollution predicted 6 major categories of crime. ~ American social psychologist Adam Galinsky et al

People are not the only ones to notice foul air. Birds fly around noxious air pockets if they can. If not, they fly faster through polluted skies, so as get out of the muck as quickly as possible.

Coal-fueled power generation is the single-largest source of air pollution. China burns half of the world’s coal, having overtaken the US as the greatest generator of greenhouse gases in 2007, and the biggest energy consumer in 2010.

Men lack the technology to burn coal without emitting significant pollution. Attempts to do so have failed.

The economic boom in China and other Asian countries that got into full swing in the mid-1990s brought with it an upsurge in air pollution which has intensified cyclones in the northwest Pacific. Particulate pollution changed how moisture develops in clouds and how heat is distributed in storm systems. As a result, the cyclones that sweep across China, Korea, and Japan during the winter pack stronger winds and more rain.

92% of the world’s population breathes unsafe air. Nearly 15% of children worldwide, some 300 million, breathe highly toxic air. 73% of them live in south Asia.

Children are uniquely vulnerable because their lungs are still developing. Early exposure to toxic air has lifelong consequences for them. ~ English political economist Nicholas Rees

Pollutants don’t only harm children’s developing lungs. They can actually cross the blood-brain barrier and permanently damage their developing brains, and, thus, their futures. ~ English diplomat Anthony Lake

Early-life exposure to pollution can have lasting impacts on cognitive abilities. ~ American public health maven Matthew Neidell

Cities are huge polluters. 70% of the world’s carbon emissions emanate from there. Over 80% of the people living in urban areas worldwide breath dirty air. Populations in low-income cities are the worst off.

Race is a potent predictor of exposure to air pollution. ~ American environmentalist and sociologist Robert Bullard

In 2012, 6.5 million people died from air pollution: 11.6% of all fatalities worldwide. Half of those deaths were in China and India. The toll continues to rise.

Beijing’s air is barely breathable, but it is nowhere near the most polluted city on the planet. London in midwinter is worse, thanks to stagnant air and diesel vehicles. And then there is India.