Human activity, some good some bad, has been steadily shaping the future of our planet. And while humankind has an enormous capacity for good, this is sadly often overshadowed by the bad. Directly or indirectly, we are the makers of many of today’s existential threats, such as the climate crisis and accompanying air pollution effects.
With our resource-intensive lifestyles, we’re producing and consuming more than ever before. As a result, we’re generating more greenhouse gases and air pollutants in the form of chemicals and fine particulate matter (PM), including ‘black carbon’ produced by burning fossil fuels. Even common human activities like driving a car, clothing consumption and binge watching our favourite series on Netflix can produce CO2.
Climate change and air pollution are pretty much two sides of the same coin, so if we reduce air pollution, we protect the climate at the same time. And the only way to reduce it is to recognise and isolate these damaging activities or habits. The three most common of these activities include:
Fossil fuels such as coal, crude oil, and natural gas have powered global modernization and continue to generate more than 80 % of the world’s energy needs today. However, burning fossil fuels for energy has taken an enormous toll on humanity and the environment. These fuels were formed from the biomass of plants and animals which lived millions of years ago and are therefore high in carbon. This carbon forms carbon dioxide when burned in air, which is one of the major gasses contributing to climate change. Despite this, some 3 billion people continue to use biomass-based fuels and open fires for cooking, heating and lighting – a major risk to their health as well as the environment. Little wonder that it’s a major source of household and workplace air pollution. Proven technologies that require the use of cleaner fuels can, therefore, significantly reduce the risk of illness and fatalities.
Already accounting for almost 25 % of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the global transport sector – which includes cars, flights, freight and shipping – has the dubious honour of being the fastest-growing contributor to climate emissions compared to any other end-use sector. Other major contributors are electricity generation and industrial processes. According to the World Environmental Day website, air pollution emissions from transport are linked to nearly 400,000 premature deaths per year, almost half of which were caused by diesel emissions. People living close to major traffic arteries are also at higher risk (almost 12 %) of developing dementia.
Trees absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, so global deforestation poses a serious threat. When trees are felled, they stop absorbing carbon dioxide and if they are burned then they release all of the carbon they have collected back into the environment. Deforestation adds more carbon into the atmosphere than all of the worlds cars and trucks combined, by some estimates. Tropical rainforests are particularly at risk, with large sections of the Amazon being cleared by burning to make space for farmland.
Agriculture is often overlooked as a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, but in addition to being one of the main drivers of deforestation, agriculture is also responsible for more than half of global methane emissions. Methane persists in the atmosphere for a far shorter time than carbon dioxide, but is around 20 times more effective at contributing to climate change. Livestock alone make up around a quarter of global methane emissions, and the global demand for meat, poultry and dairy products is projected to rise by around 60 % by the year 2030.
Globally, an estimated 40 % of agricultural and municipal waste is burnt openly, a practice most prevalent in urbanising regions and developing countries. Alongside organic waste in landfills, it releases harmful toxins such as methane and particulate matter (such as black carbon) into the atmosphere.
Black carbon is the second highest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide, and waste – together with diesel transport and household biomass cookstoves – is one of the world’s major sources of black carbon.
Climate pollutants, whether they are short-lived or long-lived, are harmful in all senses. Air pollution is a global crisis and is something that we should all be concerned with. The only way to solve it is through collective effort. The consequences of not doing this are dire for society as a whole and for each individual. This problem affects everyone, so here’s what your business can do to help:
Businesses need to consider where the energy they use comes from. Is it produced renewably, from sources such as wind or solar? If not, is that an option? Businesses which aren’t using clean power are contributing to climate change simply by turning on the lights, and switching is one of the best steps a company can take.
It’s also important to work toward using less power. This can be achieved through more conscientious usage, such as turning off machinery and lights when not in use and making use of carpools and electric cars. In addition to this, business should use more efficient technology. Simply switching to the latest power-saving tech can cut a company’s carbon footprint by up to a quarter, without requiring any major changes to the way they do.
Companies need to consider the waste that they produce, too. Much of this waste is ultimately burned or placed in landfill sites, both of which are harmful to the environment. This is inexcusable when proper handling of waste products is so straightforward. Organic waste can be composted, and paper, glass, and many types of plastic can be recycled. It’s also important to reuse where possible, and completely eliminate unnecessary waste such as single use plastics.
We are all fully aware of the health effects of outdoor air pollution. But what people often don’t realise is that it can be just as bad, if not worse, indoors. That’s why employers need to pay close attention to the air quality of their workplaces.
Luckily there’s a solution to reduce air pollution in the workplace, immediately and economically. Zehnder Clean Air Solutions captures harmful particles from the source, ensuring that you and your employees don’t get a chance to breathe them in or let them settle on skin. In addition, the Zehnder solution eradicates dust deposits on machinery and equipment, ensuring that your machines run more efficiently.
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