Is an at-the-source or in-the-air emissions-control program better?

People all across the world are dying prematurely from air pollution’s harsh and devastating effects. The lives of an estimated 7 million people are claimed annually – nearly the entire population of New York City.

The good news in this regard is that this deficit situation can be erased. If effort, energy and time are devoted in the right amounts and right ways in the places affected, the problem, not can, but will, go away.

On that note, what can and should be done to turn this unfortunate and unnecessary situation around?

Before elaborating further, it first should be pointed out that there is much being done already to address the problem.

In that context as it has to do with pollution emanating from the source and that which is in the air, there are but two approaches or responses: reduce or eliminate outright the health-compromising scourge that air pollution is.

That’s the obvious, more straightforward part. There are different schools of thought, however, on where remediation efforts should be directed: The control of polluted air at the source or on that already in the air. That is the question.

Before attempting to provide an answer, it’s helpful right here to introduce some important perspective on the subject of what pollution in the air means for different people affected.

In a worst-case scenario, depending on what type of pollution is in the air along with how concentrated that pollution in the air is at the time, lives could be put in jeopardy. Under other circumstances, non-life-threatening pollution levels could mean for some folks they must make a choice between going and staying outside or remaining indoors or, with regards to commutes, such factors could influence whether one drives, walks, bikes, takes the bus or rides a train – emissions-free or otherwise.

Okay, so in getting back to the topic at hand, it’s time to consider emissions control both up-in-the-air and at the source itself and which is the better of the two and why.

Keeping the source-emitted crud at bay

Stopping pollution dead in its tracks before it ever has the opportunity to enter the air or atmosphere is the ideal. Second to that is cutting the source-supplied air pollutant back.

Why? Removing or reducing air pollution at the source means there are no or fewer pollutants to deal with later. It also means that any emission that could have been released but was stopped beforehand can never adversely affect the air or health: human, animal or crop.

Furthermore and using carbon as a case in point, while carbon can be captured from air, the process to do so may be more involved and costly than if such were to be removed at its point of origin. Of course, if said carbon is completely out of sight and mind from the get-go, as would be the case with renewable-energy generation or via pollution-free transportation, then that option would be the best of all possible worlds.

And, there is the matter of what is more appealing or easier. Apart from this there are practicability and ethics issues to potentially wrestle with.

As for the second, if zip, zilch, zero is done on the ground – specifically air pollution removal or reuse – to inhibit said emission from ever entering the atmosphere and that aspect is left to extraction of such from the air, who’s to say whether procedures to remediate or mitigate the source supply will also be maintained? It could be a situation whereby as long as one knows that a given pollutant is going to be removed from the air well after the fact, there then may be little or no reason or inclination to do the same at the source. In other words, no incentive would exist to curb pollution at the origination point.

Some might argue, meanwhile, that once pollution enters the atmosphere and the resultant damage to the air is already done, by that time, in their way of thinking, it is already too late.

That all said, stopping or reducing pollution at the source seems the best solution all around. Should this option at any point ever lose real, substantive traction, the damage control in-the-air approach is all that would remain in the toolbox as a way to keep air pollution in check. What seems prudent would be to employ and utilize both methods.

– Alan Kandel

All material copyright 2021.

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