World Air Pollution Issue

The Consequences

Although not immediately apparent, there are consequences for the luxuries enjoyed by many of the world’s population.  In fact, human activities have been linked to the global warming, rising sea levels, worsening air quality, and numerous other issues around the globe.  These issues primarily stem from the rising greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) emitted through human activities.

Figure 1: Smog in Beijing [3]

Figure 1: Smog in Beijing [3]

The Sources

What human activities are producing greenhouse gases? Figure 2 illustrates the sources of global greenhouse gas emission. The figure is based on emission estimates from 2004. The energy supply sector produces 26% of global emissions by burning of coal, natural gas, and oil for the generation of electricity and heat. The transportation sector, responsible for 13% of global emissions, produces emissions by burning of fossil fuels for road, rail, air, and marine transportation. The residential and buildings sector, 8% share of global emissions, produces emissions by burning of fossil fuels on-site for heating and cooking. The industry sector produces 19% of the global emissions by burning of fossil fuels on-site for energy and heat. The agriculture sector, responsible for 14% of global emissions, mainly produces emissions through the management of soils, livestock, and biomass burning. The forestry share refers to the share of emissions generated through deforestation and land clearing for agriculture. Forestry is responsible for 17% of global emissions. Waste and wastewater, 3% global emissions share, refers to the emissions generated by the human waste primarily in the form of methane.

Figure 2: Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Source [1]

Figure 2: Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Source [1]

The Trends

According to the EPA, the global greenhouse gas emission shares of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are 77%, 14%, and 8%, respectively [1]. The remaining 1% of global emissions consists of Fluorinated gases, present in industrial processes, refrigeration, and some consumer products. Figure 3 illustrates the global carbon emissions from fossil fuels only between 1990 and 2008. It is apparent that global emissions have increased in an exponential pattern since 1900. The global carbon emissions increased by 50% between 1990 and 2008 alone.

Figure 3: Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Fossil Fuels 1990-2008 [1]

Figure 3: Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Fossil Fuels 1990-2008 [1]

Below are images of the Emissions Globe, created by interactive media designer Robbie Tilton, that allow one to see the plumes of carbon around the globe. Figure 4 depicts the emissions from the U.S. in 2000, while Figure 5 depicts the emissions from the U.S. in 2010. Although Americans enjoy great standards of living, the quality of air in the U.S. due to emission is among the world’s worst.

Figure 4: 3D U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions in 2000 [2]

Figure 4: 3D U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions in 2000 [2]

Figure 5: 3D U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions in 2010 [2]

Figure 5: 3D U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions in 2010 [2]

What We Should Do

Although the majority of us would like to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we do not want to let go of the luxuries we have been accustomed to. There are, however, many opportunities the global community can reduce greenhouse gas emissions without completely changing the way we behave.

The first opportunity is to, as a consumer, purchase higher energy efficient products; recent improvements in building insulations, vehicle fuel-efficiency, and appliance operational efficiency can greatly reduce emissions if adopted on a national and global scale. Visit the Advanced Research Projects Ageny-Energy website to see potential, high impact energy technologies that finding ways to improve the ways energy is generated, stored, and used.

The second opportunity as global citizens is to conserve energy by identifying how we consume energy and where our energy consumption can be reduced. How can we achieve this? In the UK hundred of homes will be outfitted with sensors that monitor temperature, humidity, light levels, gas and electricity use. The readings will be reported every minute. Through machine learning techniques the data will be analyzed to infer what residents are doing. Through natural language synthesis automatic text messages will be generated to provide residents with feedback about their energy use. Nigel Goddard, professor of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics and leader of the multi-year IDEAL project team, states that ”’in the best groups I would estimate 20%’” in energy reduction [3].

The third opportunity is to burn cleaner fuels to generate the power use around the globe. Progress in this sector is expected regardless of policy changes because of the relatively cheap cost of natural gas. Natural gas, emits 60% less carbon dioxide that coal, will account for 30% of global electricity generation by 2040 compare to just 20% in 2011 [4]. On the other hand, renewable energy generating technologies will need the aid of government policies in order to be competitive in most regions.

The fourth opportunity is implement carbon capture and sequestration technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions form new and existing coal and gas fired power plants and other stationary emissions sources. Examples of this technology include the “’Solar Sponge,’” whose organic framework can capture carbon dioxide that is then wrung out by simply exposing it to UV light in a process coined dynamic photoswitching [5]. Another option is the Coal-Direct Chemical Looping that prevents 99% of the carbon dioxide from being release into the atmosphere through the used of tiny iron-oxide beads that carry oxygen to the fuel. As the mixture is heated to high temperatures the carbon dioxide rises into a chamber where it is captured [6].

Take Away

As the population grows from 7 to 9 billion by 2040 and the world industrializes, the need to reduce global greenhouse gases to control air quality will increase [4]. Governments should champion clean energy, energy efficient and smart control technologies by creating appropriate incentives for industry and citizens to adopt said technologies. Such incentives can stem for an appropriate carbon dioxide price and renewable energy incentives.

Works Cited


United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2012, June) U.S. EPA. [Online].


Ariel Schwartz. (2013, February) A 3-D Visualization Of The World’s Carbon Emissions As Plumes Of Smoke. [Online].


Andrew Price. (2013, February) Co.Exist. [Online].


ExxonMobil. (2012, December) The Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040.


CSIRO. (2013, February) CSIRO ‘solar sponge’ soaks up CO₂ emissions. [Online].


Lidija Grozdanic. (2013, February) Ohio Researchers Unveil Emissions-Free Method of Extracting Energy from Coal Read more: Ohio Researchers Unveil Emissions-Free Method of Extracting Energy from Coal | Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building. [Online].


John Metcalfe. (2013, January) NASA Satellite Image Shows Beijing Drowning in a Lake of Smog. [Online].



1 Comment

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One response to “World Air Pollution Issue

  1. trevorud

    This blog post presents various potential solutions for Earth’s inhabitants to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and, therefore, to present future generations with the opportunity for a bright and healthy future. All of these potential solutions have merit, as they address this threat from several angles. However, all of the above potential solutions have been “on the table” for years, if not decades, as world leaders and world citizens alike have recognized the threat that increased gas emissions pose to quality of life, and ultimately, to life itself. This begs the question, “if we have been aware of the problem for this long, why have we done so little to address it?”

    Few would disagree that the international community has been working to flex its diplomatic muscle on climate change over the last couple of decades, producing perhaps the most pointed treaty in Kyoto [1] well over a decade ago. Yet, as stated by David Victor [2], a climate expert and recent speaker at the UT Energy Forum, if anything, the situation today is only worse than it was when the majority of developed nations (excluding the United States) and many developing countries ratified the treaty. Victor argues that the structure of international climate negotiations is fundamentally flawed, aimed at a comprehensive, all-inclusive, international effort to curb emissions across the board, an approach that has proven to bar any real reduction activity from taking hold.

    In place of a Kyoto model, one that set high reduction standards across the board, yet provided little to no real enforcement and was ambiguous in origin, the big polluters and economic movers such as China and the United States could work on bilateral agreements that neither benefit nor harm (economically) one nation more than the other. This leadership would provide precedence for other leaders who face staunch opposition to emissions reduction at home, while simultaneously working to reduce the emissions of the world’s two biggest emitters.

    American politicians regularly speak of “American Exceptionalism” and argue that we have an obligation to the world to provide security and stability, thus rationalizing our large military presence abroad. Yet, if this country does in fact have a leadership role to play, do we not first have an obligation to lead by example? Working on bilateral and multilateral agreements that provide clearly stated reduction targets and proving to the world that we take them seriously would be a true example in leadership. Explicitly stated goals driven by strong policy are needed in America today, and without them the technologies of tomorrow only hold so much promise.


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