Blue question mark

How can we save the Earth from air pollution?
— Liam T., Grade 6

Biologist Erin Vintinner answers this question:

Dear Liam,

This is a great question. Air pollution is damaging not only to human health, but to other species and ecosystems as well. 

Our atmosphere is a protective layer of gases surrounding Earth . It can be polluted by natural sources, like when a volcano  erupts and spews gases into the air. But human activity also pollutes the atmosphere. Often, pollutants are released as byproducts of our daily activities, like using motor vehicles and producing energy  in power plants. 

Here are some types of air pollution caused by human activity. 

Chemicals: This includes sulfur dioxide gas released from coal and oil refineries. Some of these chemicals take part in reactions in the atmosphere, and can result in acid rain. 

Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide : These gases are found naturally in our atmosphere. But human activity is also releasing them in large quantities. This contributes to global climate change .

Urban smog: These harmful gases and tiny particles can irritate our eyes, nose, and throat in the short-term. In the long-term, they can worsen heart and lung problems.

smog filled city skyline

Urban smog can be a very serious hazard in densely populated areas.

Here are a few ways that we can protect ourselves and other species from the harmful effects of air pollution.

Use our vehicles less.
We can take public transportation, ride a bike, or walk whenever possible. This will reduce the amount of pollutants emitted into the air.

Use cleaner fuels and more fuel-efficient products.
Encourage your parents and other grown-ups to use cleaner fuels in their car. A good choice is E10, a blend of clean-burning ethanol and gasoline. Or, they can switch to a more fuel-efficient car that gets better gas mileage. On a smaller scale, they can replace gas-powered lawn mowers with alternatives such as electric or manual mowers. 

Factories can use control devices.
For example, factories can use "scrubbers" on smoke stacks to trap particles and protect against acid rain. These control devices remove pollution at its source. 

In the future, you can vote and support good governmental policies and regulations that promote healthy air and reduce the amount of air pollution in our atmosphere.

From a local to a global scale, we can all pitch in to reduce air pollution!

Explore More: 

Erin Vintinner

Erin Vintinner

Job Title:
Biodiversity Specialist, Center for Biodiversity & Conservation

Known For:
Erin is a biologist. At the Museum, she helps with a global project that improves the conservation of biodiversity  by training educators.

Cool Fact:
Erin spent a summer in a remote area outside of Sitka, Alaska. She was studying Pacific salmon that are returning to their birthplace. These amazing fish are born in freshwater. They then spend years maturing in the ocean before heading home to create the next generation of salmon.

Image Credits:

urban smog, courtesy of USGS; Erin Vintinner, courtesy of Erin Vintinner.