We have been working on understanding and simplifying air pollution for the past few months. Whenever I work on a new topic, I converse about it with practically everyone I meet. Such conversations help me understand the gaps in my knowledge and in that of the audience. I discovered that one of the more widespread confusing aspects in people’s minds seems to be that air pollution and climate change is the same thing. The reality? Air pollution is linked to climate change but not always in the way we would think.
What is climate change?
A more precise question would be what is anthropogenic climate change or how are humans changing the climate? This is a large and complex topic but a very short answer is that in the last two centuries, humans have burnt a lot of fossil fuel (Coal and Oil mainly). This burning of fuel has increased the concentration of Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that does not allow the heat reflected by Earth to escape the atmosphere. This increases the temperature of the atmosphere and could have catastrophic consequences.
Greenhouse gases like Carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for a long time and hence climate change is a long-term problem with potentially catastrophic consequences for the entire planet.
There are many other greenhouse gases in addition to carbon dioxide.
What is Air Pollution?
When we burn stuff, we release a lot of gases and particles into the atmosphere in addition to carbon dioxide. Additionally, dust kicked up in the air and chemicals released in the air also make it dirty. These gases and particles pollute the air and are bad for our health.
Of course, some of the gases that pollute the air may also be greenhouse gases and may cause warming. Equally important – some of the particles released in the air may reflect heat entering the atmosphere and have a cooling affect instead.
Most air pollutants do not stay in the atmosphere for a long time but have consequences for human health.
TL; DR: Air Pollution and Climate Change are related but separate issues!
(Yogesh Upadhyaya is one of the founders of AskHow India. Blogs are personal views.)