Reducing GHGs is not = reducing air pollution

With everyone jumping on the climate change ban-wagon, there seems to be a misconception out there with regards to efforts to reduce GHG (with contribute to climate change) and air pollution (which are different gases emitted or formed in the atmosphere).  There is a big difference between the two. 

Climate change green house gases (GHG) are primarily composed of carbon dioxide (CO2) and mathane. Sources of these gases come from the burning of fossil fuels.  They accelerate the warming of the earth and therefore causes climate change.  The effects are long term (CO2 stays in the atmosphere for decades) and far reaching (affects the earth as a whole instead of just one region).

Air pollution on the other hand is a soup of many gases that can either be emitted or that react together and form within the atmosphere.  The main culprits are nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphure dioxide (SO2), volatile organic compounds (VOC) and particulate matter (PM).  There are other contaminants but these four are the primary precursors (recipe ingredients) that form smog, acid rain and ground-level ozone.   Not to be confused with stratopheric ozone (the good ozone that forms as a protective sheild from the sun’s rays), atmostpheric ozone is ground-level and is dangerous for humans to breath and for their environment.  They are released and stay in the atmosphere for shorter periods (a few weeks instead of a few decades).  Air pollution however is what causes health effects on human health and the environment.

The table below outlines the differences between climate change and air pollution.

The primary difference is that GHGs do not affect the health of humans but have a long-term global effect.  Whereas air pollution has a short-term immediate accute local effect.  Air pollution causes asthema, bronchitis and heart disease – not GHGs.  But everyone is so worried about reducing their carbon footprint – it is easy to forget that right now there are other contaminents that affects their health.

Most people would be tempted to ask “if we reduce GHG emissions won’t that also reduce air pollution?”   The answer is plainly NO.  In fact some GHG control technologies that exists today that are added to industrial smoke stacks in fact increase the amount of air pollution they emit in the air.    A complex issue with very few technical solutions … for the moment.

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Posted in climate change, pollution, Uncategorized
One comment on “Reducing GHGs is not = reducing air pollution
  1. jeremy says:

    Nice post Julie. Perversely, some air pollution actually assists in combatting climate change. See http://jeremybwilliams.wordpress.com/2006/07/18/global-dimming/

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