On May 13 of this year something happened for the first time after the evolution of Homo Sapiens. The carbon dioxide concentrations at Hawaii's Mauna Loa Observatory was recorded at 415 ppm. Mauna Loa at Hawaii is kind of a standard for measurement of CO2 concentration. It's a unique feat after 8,00,000 years.
Last time when this much concentration of CO2 was there on earth, the planet was very different. There were trees on south pole. Species of Human as we see today were absent altogether.
The concentration of CO2 was at 300 PPM in 1910. And within just a century, which is just a fraction of time in geological timescale of our planet, we increased so much carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.
It's not that nature has no system to bring in equilibrium but bringing that in such a short term seems not possible. The consequences are obvious. It will heat up the planet and with that will change planetary winds, oceanic conveyor belts and so on. To support this much of literature is available, including the study of Tree rings data which shows how change in greenhouse gases in atmosphere has impact on soil moisture.
After Industrial revolution anthropogenic effects have changed the composition of atmosphere which will have negative impacts in coming days. The undesirable substances are creating air pollution at unprecedented level.
Now the results of air pollution on human health is quite clear. A university of Chicago study concludes that air pollution is now reducing global average life expectancy by 1.8 years per person. This is average and we know it will be at higher side if the regions are more polluted, which we are finding in developing countries like India. In cities like Delhi there are studies which are even revealing a 10-year reduction in life expectancy. Which simply means air pollution is killing us, slowly but certainly. This study looks into the role of particulate matters in the health of an individual. The problems of PM pollution is specially important for expanding cities where the infrastructure is coming up at an accelerated rate.
According to IUCN 9 out of 10 people worldwide are today breathing polluted air. This air is not only reducing the lifespan of humans but also impacting other species as well. Air pollution has direct relation with premature deaths, crop loss and climate change.
According to World health Organisation air pollution is now killing 7 million people a year.
What can we do? As a member of IUCN's Commission on Education and Communication I received a guide which list out some steps for making a change. I am putting them here.
How can governments get involved?
• Announce new requirements on industry to reduce harmful air pollutants.
• Make a pledge to phase out petrol and diesel-based cars.
• Use 5 June to pledge more investments in renewable energy sources.
• Use World Environment Day to make a commitment to put in place national air quality action plans.
• Make a commitment to monitor air quality, assess pollution sources and tackle them to protect citizens from harmful toxins. Only 1 in 10 cities have air quality measures that meet World Health Organization standards.
How can cities celebrate?
Offer free transport in urban areas to encourage drivers to leave their cars at home.
• Do a tree-planting day on 5 June.
• Consider hosting an electric vehicle expo on World Environment Day to educate citizens on the benefits.
• Commit to making more pedestrian and cycle-friendly zones with separated lanes for walking and riding. Pledge to phase out diesel buses and trucks, as cities such as Madrid, Paris, Athens and Mexico City have done.
• Look at landfill gas recovery as an energy option that harnesses landfill emissions rather than allowing them to enter the atmosphere or our lungs.
How can civil society take part?
Commit to using more public transportation, cycle or walk, and share car rides where possible.
• Make a commitment not to burn trash.
• Organize a tree planting activity with your community on World Environment Day, which is a cost-effective way to tackle urban air pollution.
• Organize a trash clean-up event with community and colleagues.
• Use World Environment Day as an opportunity to ask your local authorities to provide timely, regular air quality data and petition for legislation to control the worst polluters.
What can be more dangerous than the idea that the very air we are breathing is killing us silently.
We all must do something to improve this situation. Always try to make environment friendly decisions. Always. Try.
Parveen Kaswan is an IFS officer
(Views are personal)