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Global Environmental Catastrophe Part 2: Air

Updated on December 1, 2016

Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.

— Jacques-Yves Cousteau


The air around us is a mixture of gases, mainly nitrogen and oxygen, but containing much smaller amounts of water vapor, argon, and carbon dioxide, and very small amounts of other gases. Air also contains suspended dust, spores, and bacteria.

Clean air is very important for decent survival. Historical events have helped us to recognize the value of clean air. In 1952 in the British capital of London a smog covered the city for 5 days. The smog was so thick that it could be seen indoors and was accurately called the Big Smoke. Approximately 4000 people died and 100,000 more became very sick with infected respiratory tracts and other effects. This resulted primarily from burning coal intensively in response to colder than usual weather. What we learned from this event is that there is a very definite connection between air quality and health.

One hundred and fifty years ago, the monster began, this country had become a place of industry. Factories grew on the landscape like weeds. Trees fell, fields were up-ended, rivers blackened. The sky choked on smoke and ash, and the people did, too, spending their days coughing and itching, their eyes turned forever toward the ground. Villages grew into town, towns into cities. And people began to live on the earth rather than within it.

— Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

L.A. California

Los Angeles Air Quality
Los Angeles Air Quality

China Air

Air Quality In Major Cities

Los Angeles, California violates federal air quality standards for ozone an average of 122 days a year. The rates of asthma in children have never been higher in Los Angeles. In Los Angeles county Black children have the highest rates of asthma (25%) compared to Hispanic children (8%), non-Hispanic White children (7%), and Asian/Pacific Islander children (4%). Air pollution is directly related to asthma.

In China air pollution has become very excessive. A 2015 report from the University of California at Berkeley estimated that 1.6 million people in China die each year from heart, lung and stroke problems because of polluted air. So on average 4000 people die everyday from poor air quality.

The World Health Oganization found that 80% of people living in urban areas which monitor air quality are exposed to air below the organizations health standards. That's a staggering fact when you stop and think about it. That means that billions of people are living in areas with air detrimental to their health. In fact, now take a breath because this figure is terrifying, 92% of the worlds population lives in areas with highly polluted low quality air. Ninety-two percent of people are living without being able to walk outside and just take a nice breath of air. Imagine that for a moment. You get out of a stressful meeting and want to just get some air, you go outside and its more stuffy than inside. You're playing sports and you're huffing and puffing carcinogenic gases. It's really awful.

In cities in India air quality is regularly a health hazard. People all around the world are dying from heart disease, lung cancer, and stomach cancer from the horrible air quality.

Destruction is a man's will,

Nevertheless Prevention is also a man's will,

Its a man's choice to choose between Destruction and Prevention.

— Babu Rajan

Power Plants

Sources of Pollution

Here's a world map showing air pollution from ground sensors. Here's NASA's data from space.

The combustion of gasoline and other hydrocarbon fuels in automobiles, trucks, and jet airplanes produces several primary pollutants: nitrogen oxides, gaseous hydrocarbons, and carbon monoxide, as well as large quantities of particulates, chiefly lead. Where you find the highest density of traffic is where you'll find some of the worst air quality.

Stationary sources of pollution include power plants, waste incinerators, and factories. In poorer countries major stationary sources are mainly comprised of biomass burning, such as dung, wood, or crop waste.

Controlled fires and forest fires are a major source of air pollution.

Fumes from various household and commercial products such as aerosols, glue, paint, nail polish, varnish, etc. contribute to air pollution.

Methane gas can cause suffocation or asphyxia by dispersing oxygen. Methane gas is produced by landfills and cattle. Which each deserve their own part in this series.

You polluted my air. I will pollute your. Just Wait... Revenge is not the solution

— Talees Rizvi


Delhi Smog
Delhi Smog

Health Effects

Although I've demonstrated throughout this article that poor air quality is not good for people's health or ability to survive, I'd like to go into more detail. I don't want to undershoot the seriousness of this global environmental catastrophe.

First of all, some people are more susceptible to the negative effects of air pollution, namely the oldest and weakest among us. People with heart or lung disease, pregnant women, and children under 14 years old whose lungs are still developing. But even the strongest people are also likely to be effected quite badly; athletes and outdoor workers will suffer some of the worst effects because of their prolonged exposure and higher requirement for oxygen.

High air pollution can cause immediate problems even for visitors who aren't exposed for a long time. The effects of short term exposure to high levels of air pollution include stress to the heart and lungs, and significant damage to the cellular lining of the lungs.

Permanent or long term exposure to high levels of air pollution cause accelerated aging of lungs, loss of lung capacity, development of cancer, bronchitis, asthma, and emphysema, and a notably shortened life span.

Keep in mind that 96% of the worlds population live in areas with poor air quality.

As a black person in America, I am twice as likely as a white person to live in an area where air pollution poses the greatest risk to my health. I am five times more likely to live within walking distance of a power plant or chemical facility - which I do.

— Majora Carter

Air Pollution And Health: Infographic

Health Effects
Health Effects


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