Air: The state it’s in, where it’s been and how to make it good again

According to United Nations Environment Programme data nine in 10 people in the world are affected by harmful air. A sobering thought if ever there was one.

If there is a bright side here it is this: That number could be higher; thankfully it’s not! But, that doesn’t mean the extent of harmful air couldn’t get worse.

Authorities say that with increased reliance on fossil fuels along with combustion thereof, that that damaged-air situation will get worse. Along with forest clearcutting, certain non-environmentally friendly agricultural practices (which can put dust and other pollutants in the air) and any other process that air-pollutes, this will keep us on an air-ruining course. And, what’s going on with planet warming will serve to not only make worse these, but other Earth-upending matters also – like increased ocean acidification from rising levels of carbon dioxide.

The hopeful reality is things need not be this way. The sad reality is: they are.

So, how do we walk this all back?

We can start by having an understanding how we got here in the first place, to see what it was that put us in the state we’re in.

It’s not all our fault, our doing

Over time, since time immemorial, the earth and its atmosphere has undergone change. It’s repeatedly toggled between hothouse and iceball states. The transitions, alternating between one state and the other, likely have taken place over hundreds of thousands if not millions of years. Along the time-continuum timeline, also known as geologic timeline, there, at different intervals, have been these transitions. To make an analogy, in the world of electronics, it’s like it’s a two-position switch – one for the iceball state, the other for the hothouse state.

Then at about the end of the last ice age which occurred around 10,000 years ago, give or take, it was as if a wrench had been thrown into the mix. For 10,000 years or so, it was as if the electronic switch had, itself, been switched, it being replaced with a 3-position electronic switch; one position for hothouse, one for iceball and the position in the middle for the neutral or steady state. Temperatures and climate over that 10-millennia-long stretch has more or less stabilized. Guess which switch position that represents.

Then, oh about 270 years ago in 1750 a new era was born, an era now known as the Industrial Age. This is also the period when humankind became heavily dependent on the burning of fossil fuels and other combustibles like wood, for example, to supply us the means to provide the energy we needed.

Experts say that this period we are living in currently should ordinarily be one which is cooling off. But that’s not what’s happening. This is being counteracted by warming – what we refer to as global warming. The amount of warming the planet has experienced on the surface, is an average 1.2 degrees Celsius or 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit – these are the numbers you’ve been hearing a lot lately – basically in that 270-year span of time, the greatest degree of increase being over the latest 50 years or so.

So something’s going on, but what?

There is something else here that’s in play. This largely steady state aspect didn’t, couldn’t have just happened on its own. The debate is over what that is and that’s where we are today.

Whether you agree or not that humans are responsible for what appears to be a temperature, weather or climate anomaly, or all of the above, whether in whole or in part, the reality, geologic-timescale-evolution-wise, is that it appears for the last 10,000 or so years, the earth is on a different trajectory or so it would seem. What’s behind this change needs to be uncovered.

Air repair

So, in getting back to this idea of walking back out of the corner, the one we appear to have walked into, replicating that action, where reducing, cancelling out emissions are concerned, we could simply reverse course, basically undoing what damage has already been done. What I’m talking about here is damage to the air.

We know we’ve put a ridiculously large number of tons of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. We know how these GHGs have gotten there. It’s no different regatding other types of pollutant emissions as well. We would be wise – and do well – to just cut those back.

And, of course, this can be accomplished through any number of means. One way this is happening in the workplace is through automation (robots) and through the recent advent of remote work or teleworking. As to the robotization, as long as this is being done sustainably, and without causing environmental harm, then this remedy is one that’ll suffice.

Building on this idea of automation or robotization is autonomous transportation – the ability for transport modes to be self-operating. That’s aways down the road still but it does have potential.

Another prospect is to eliminate non-biodegradable waste. Packaging materials like plastics are becoming more earth friendly, having the ability to break down in the environment.

Back to transportation, meanwhile, it’s the single-largest contributor of GHG emissions. Where highways call for expansion, these could actually be substituted with railways powered by clean electricity. People fly long distances, so fast, dependable, safe, convenient railway travel can be both a competitive and suitable alternative. And, it’s worth noting that cars, motorcycles and trucks can be hybridized or fully electrified. As long as the supporting infrastructure is in place, that’s all it takes.

The reality is any sector can be made to be earth-friendly. And, if there’s a will there’s a way, that’s half the battle won right there.

– Alan Kandel

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