In working with this blog, I’ve become more aware of how complicated air pollution is and how hard it is to fight against it. There are so many factors that cause it, and so many ways that particulates interact with the human body, and possibilities for lowering the pollution, it’ll make your head spin. Don’t even get me started on the various political, economic, and cultural factors that are involved.
This comes up because of an interesting headline I ran across: Dust on Desert Winds Reduces Air Pollution. Huh? Isn’t dust part of the problem? At this point, human lungs have established a pretty poor record when it comes to continually breathing small particles of anything in the air. So how is desert dust in the air a good thing?
Basically, it keeps human-sourced air pollution levels down. It has been observed in China, which continues to maintain it’s well-deserved reputation for dirty air. The air is bad due to the usual suspects: coal-powered facilities, exhaust fumes from vehicles, etc. But all of these levels are affected by the weather. Specifically, the less wind, the longer dangerous pollutant levels stay in a particular area.
Scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory used simulated data from 150 years of weather in China to determine that the less wind, the less desert dust in the air, which means more solar radiation reaches the ground. That affects the weather even more, resulting in less wind, causing certain areas of China to experience a build-up of pollution.
This isn’t a matter of just economic or scientific concern. People are dying right now from air pollution. A lot of those people are in China; as the article points out, 1.6 million deaths every year are from air problems in the country. Many others around the world have died from air quality issues, including the country I happen to live in.
The study of east China’s weather is yet another example illustrating how difficult it will be to improve human-sourced air pollution. It’s a sobering thought. As the study makes clear, the weather, which we cannot hope to control or accurately predict, has a large effect on pollution levels. When I think about that, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the size and difficulty of the pollution problem, and that leads me to throw up my hands and let “other people” worry about how to fix all of this. But it hasn’t been fixed. Despite well-meaning people in their ranks, a mixture of government, science, and industry have been unable to solve the air pollution problem.
What then, to do? Little ol’ me can’t control the weather, the local coal-fired power station, or how many cars keep pumping pollution in the air. All I can do is take the little steps that can win the war against pollution. That’s all I have to work with. And unless you’re the owner of a industrial facility or a government regulator, you can’t do more, either. Let’s be determined to take the small steps (biking, carpooling, using less energy, etc.) that lead to cleaner air. If we can multiply these small wins by a couple of billion people, even a couple of million people, we’d finally see some big changes!
Clean Air Clicks
- Ever wanted a high-tech pollution mask that connects with your smart phone? Looks like someone’s selling what you’re looking for. As a bonus, it makes you look like you came out of a horror movie.
- More technology: App for Air Pollution Could Make City Living a Lot Safer.
- Apparently, heat waves aren’t good for air pollution. Just ask California. Or the UK.