The term air pollution, in its most simple sense, signifies dirty air. That dirty air can come from a vast number of natural and man-made sources.
Most of us are familiar with some of the biggest air pollution offenders – car exhausts, factory emissions, the burning of fossil fuels. These sources of dirty air can seem a little beyond the control of the average person.
Fortunately, most industrialized nations around the globe have adopted air pollution control measures that have resulted in better air quality standards.
Other sources of air pollution are entirely beyond our ability to prevent. Dust storms, volcanic eruptions, radon gas from the soil, and smoke and toxic fumes from naturally occurring wildfires are pollution sources we can do our best to avoid but we cannot prevent them personally.
When comparing our individual daily activities to sources of pollution that are as big as a volcano or an oil refinery that sprawls for miles, it seems we are pretty innocent of contribution. That the little things we do to dirty the air don’t really add up to a problem.
When we think one person really can’t do much harm, we need to remember just how many of us are out there. There are almost seven billion of us around the world, doing just a little bit every day to contribute to the problem of air pollution.
It’s likely that the daily activities of any one of us isn’t going to do too much damage. It’s when the entire population does just a little bit each day, each person, that the collective activities generate an overwhelming amount of air pollution.
What are some of the things we do that, collectively, contributes dramatically to the air pollution problem?
Most of us would rather drive our own car to work instead of carpooling, taking public transportation where it’s available, or walking or riding a bicycle.
We burn wood and fossil fuels to heat our indoor environments. Heat from the sun, wind, and water don’t pollute the air. We could incorporate more of these energy sources into our everyday lives.
In many places, especially the US, we rely on a staggering number of toxic chemicals to “clean” our indoor environments. We use detergents for our dishes, clothing, and our homes. Then we perfume the air so it will smell fresh and natural.
We use similar chemicals to clean and groom our bodies – soaps, deodorants, aerosol sprays of all kinds. Their use and their manufacture all add up to air pollution.
We don’t buy locally or seasonally too much either. That winter-harvested apple from New Zealand on the summertime dessert plate in New Hampshire traveled a tremendous distance, generating air pollution every single nautical mile of the way.
With a little patience, a New Hampshire apple could be eaten in just a few short months, with only a fraction of the air pollution contribution.
Air pollution is a big problem and it often seems one person can’t do enough to make a difference. This may be true, but when we work collectively to maintain clean, breathable, air, we all benefit.