AIR POLLUTION – A Growing Problem

I remember my grandmother narrating to me, bedtime stories while I was a kid. Her plots would always have people running around trees, the protagonist playing with river water nearby and all the characters living in peace amongst themselves and with nature. The beautiful scenery and the plentiful green trees always played a major role in her stories. I grew up accepting that man lives in mutual harmony with nature, but as I grew older, there was a fact driven home to me that though nature’s and man’s relationship should be of mutual trust, love and harmony, man has completely dominated nature for his own selfish motives; has subjugated it for his own materialistic desires taking leaps and bounds every minute but only to realize that nature will revolt and to such an extent that man may not be able to correct the wrong done.

Air pollution is an environmental issue that will have serious ramifications over the entire globe. The number of factories and industries are multiplying, the filthy material that gets added to the air intensifying air pollution. Power plants using coal add to air contamination in huge amounts. The growing number of private vehicles is becoming one of the prime sources of air pollution. These vehicles produce increasing levels of pollutants like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and smoke.

These days it is common to witness a thick fog like layer in the atmosphere. This is smog (smoke+ fog). The latter is a result of air pollutants like carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide. The widespread emission of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) which is used in refrigerators, air conditioners and aerosol sprays are damaging the atmosphere by causing depletion of the ozone layer that protects us from harmful ultraviolet rays.

The repercussions from harmful additions to the atmosphere are grave and if continued can have disastrous consequences for living and non living things. Tiny particles that remain suspended in the atmosphere reduce visibility and, if inhaled, can cause serious diseases like permanent damage to lungs, impairment of various parts of the body and diseases like hypertension, headache, etc. Excessive carbon monoxide in the air is poisonous as the latter reduces the oxygen carrying capacity of blood.

Even India’s most famous tourist attraction, the Taj Mahal, has become a matter of concern. The industries located in and around Agra like rubber processing, the automobile industry, chemical plants and especially the Mathura Oil Refinery, have been responsible for producing pollutants like sulpher dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. These gases react with water vapor present in the atmosphere, forming sulphuric acid and nitric acid. The acid mingles with rain water, coming down as acid rain which is responsible for corroding the marble of the monument (“marble cancer”). Thus suspended particulate matter has contributed to the yellowing of the marble.

Reduction in greenery levels along with pollution is also leading to global warming which is another potent environmental issue that the world is facing. Melting glaciers, rising sea levels, the extinction of many species, are some of the devastating ramifications of global warming.

Now the question arises: are we doing anything in this regard? Delhi, which was one of the most polluted cities of the world, decided a few years back to switch to fuels like CNG and unleaded petrol for cleaner air. Awareness is being created at various levels to improve the quality of air. Youth have also started showing concern towards this grave issue. “No Crackers Campaign” in schools, youngsters coming out to stress the importance of public transport and the starting of various NGO’s with environmental concerns have hade a difference at their own level.

The planting of trees to make our surroundings clean and green is being understood by the masses. There are also various World Summits (G-20, G-8, Copenhagen Summit) that are being organized the world over to find ways of reducing air pollution and global warming . Various treaties have been signed between nations not to exceed a particular carbon level emission; carbon trading has resulted in carbon caps on countries.

But work needs to be done on switching over to alternative fuels (like solar, wind and hydropower) instead of using fossil fuels for our energy requirement. Though NGOs and the government understand the gravity of the issue, till awareness is created at the grassroots level, success cannot be achieved. Everyone should be made aware of pollution and global warming, “each one plant one” should gain impetus and environmental education should become a part of every class’ curriculum. Each student should volunteer for such environmental issues either in school or with some NGOs. Also, the various world meetings should focus on not only discussing these issues but also on reaching some consensus regarding these problems.

We should remember the old saying “what you sow, so shall you reap”. Gandhiji has rightly remarked “nature has enough to satisfy everyone’s need but not everyone’s greed”. The present depleted state of our environment poses a challenge that we will have to address in the years ahead. We will have to give an account to our ecosystem for the ecological losses incurred by our mismanagement. Luckily we are not out of time yet. There’s never a wrong time to do the right thing….

Juhi Gupta