Pollution's Effects on Us

An inversion layer hangs over the residents of Boulder, Colorado.
Click on image for full size (147 Kb)
Source: T. Eastburn

The atmosphere is one of the few resources shared among all Earthís inhabitants. As a consequence, the pollution that spews from a factory in Asia, a fire in Australia, a dust storm in Africa, or car emissions in North America can have a detrimental impact on people and the environment locally or an ocean away.

Scientists have researched and documented many of the local hazards from ozone to atmospheric chemicals that cause acid rain. They have also studied impacts from airborne particles of dust, soot, and other particulate pollutants. From actual events and scientific research, we now know that air pollution can impact human health; that atmospheric haze or smog reduces visibility; and that the acid rain from sulfur dioxide emissions damages property, pollutes water resources, and can harm forests, wildlife, and entire ecosystems.

But what are the regional and global impacts of air pollution? Through large scientific field campaigns such as MILAGRO scientists are focusing on the entire life cycle of air pollution. Their goal is to track its transport from large cities into regional and global environments to better understand the full scope of the problem. In doing so, they will be able to determine pollutionís impact on large natural systems such as Earthís climate.

Is air pollution an example of the "Tragedy of the Commons" ĖĖ a concept that states that any resource open to everyone will eventually be destroyed? While the evidence of human-produced air pollution lends truth to the statement, it is also true that air becomes a Tragedy of the Commons only if people choose not to preserve the atmosphere for themselves and future generations. Much has been done to improve air quality in recent decades, but we still have a long way to go.


Air Pollutionís Effect on Health

Air Pollutionís Effect on Visibility

Air Pollutionís Effect on Property

Air Pollutionís Effect on Forests and Wildlife

Air Pollutionís Effect on Water Resources

Air Pollution's Effect on Climate

The Tragedy of the Commons

Pollution's Effects on Us

An inversion layer hangs over the residents of Boulder, Colorado.
Click on image for full size (147 Kb)
Source: T. Eastburn

The air is shared among all living things. When it is polluted by a factory in Asia, a fire in Australia, a dust storm in Africa, or car emissions in North America, the sharing continues despite the fact that these chemicals and particles have detrimental effects.

Scientists have determined many of the harmful local effects of air pollution. We know, for instance, that air pollution can negatively impact human health and cause coughs, burning eyes, breathing problems, and even death. We know that atmospheric haze or smog reduces visibility and that acid rain from chemical emissions damages property, pollutes water resources, and can harm forests, wildlife, and agriculture.

But what are the regional and global impacts of air pollution? Through large scientific field campaigns such as MILAGRO, scientists are beginning to track its movement from cities into regional and global environments. Their goal is to determine air pollutionís movement and impact on climate and atmospheric composition locally, regionally, and globally.

Is human-produced air pollution and its effects an example of the "Tragedy of the Commons" ĖĖ a concept that states that any resource open to everyone will eventually be destroyed? Despite the fact that people are creating much of todayís air pollution, the answer will ultimately depend on how humankind responds to the problem. A lot has been done to improve air quality in recent decades, but we still have a long way to go.


Air Pollutionís Effect on Health

Air Pollutionís Effect on Visibility

Air Pollutionís Effect on Property

Air Pollutionís Effect on Forests and Wildlife

Air Pollutionís Effect on Water Resources

Air Pollution's Effect on Climate

The Tragedy of the Commons

Pollution's Effects on Us

An inversion layer hangs over the residents of Boulder, Colorado.
Click on image for full size (147 Kb)
Source: T. Eastburn

The air is shared by everyone and everything on Earth. Living things breathe it and depend upon on it for life. When pollution is added to it, we canít stop breathing or escape from it. After all, air is everywhere on Earth.

Unfortunately, breathing polluted air can harm oneís health. It can cause coughs, burning eyes, breathing problems, and even death in the most severe cases. Some pollution you can see. Have you ever seen a dirty sky? If so, you know it turns an ugly brownish or grayish shade and reduces visibility. It can even make city buildings or nearby mountains hard to see.

It is important to know that air pollution does not just harm humans. Just like people, wildlife and forests can become sick from air pollution. Our water and property made of stone or metal can be damaged by acid rain. This happens when pollution mixes with raindrops and makes them acidic as they fall to Earth.

Some people think that because we all share the air, no one will take care of it. This idea is called the "Tragedy of the Commons." A lot has been done to improve air quality in recent years, but we still have much to learn and do if we want to have cleaner and safer air.


Air Pollutionís Effect on Health

Air Pollutionís Effect on Visibility

Air Pollutionís Effect on Property

Air Pollutionís Effect on Forests and Wildlife

Air Pollutionís Effect on Water Resources

Air Pollution's Effect on Climate

The Tragedy of the Commons


Page created February 17, 2006 by Teri Eastburn.
The source of this material is Windows to the Universe, at http://www.windows.ucar.edu/ at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). © The Regents of the University of Michigan. All Rights Reserved. Site policies and disclaimer