We know that carbon dioxide is a natural occurrence in the world. By itself, carbon dioxide is not “terrible” for us. In fact, CO2 is an essential element in nature. Photosynthesis - how plants make food and energy - is entirely dependent on the existence of carbon dioxide. If we were to somehow eliminate carbon dioxide from the world, the results would actually be devastating. So when you think to yourself, “what effect does CO2 have on the environment”, it’s important to distinguish that it does have both positive and negative implications.
But of course, the problem isn’t carbon dioxide itself, it’s the sheer levels of CO2 that we produce in today’s world. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, CO2 levels in the atmosphere have been increasing drastically. Deforestation and the burning of fossil fuel have contributed to extraordinarily high levels of CO2 emissions. But how do CO2 emissions affect air quality? And how do carbon dioxide emissions affect the environment overall?
It’s not as though the atmosphere is overloaded with carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide only accounts for less than 1% of atmospheric gases. But the world has a delicate carbon balance, and we are throwing off that balance every day.
So what happens next? What is happening to our planet and the quality of its air? And how does carbon dioxide affect air pollution?
Let’s look at a few ways the air is affected by rising CO2 levels.
Understanding the greenhouse effect.
Carbon dioxide’s role in the greenhouse effect is a major contributor to air pollution. Radiation and heat emanating from the earth’s surface need to be released out into the atmosphere. But because carbon dioxide levels are so high, there is an ozone effect on the ground level. This means that the heat is trapped against the earth’s surface and the earth cannot cool at night. This also means that oceans cannot cool off, and the water is warmer.
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How does that affect air pollution? Well, the oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This is a huge step in the carbon cycle. As the temperature of the waters increase, the oceans cannot absorb carbon dioxide as well. So the problem compounds: more carbon dioxide means the ocean can’t clean it out as efficiently, and this means there is more carbon dioxide stuck in the air. The cycle repeats.
As we all have heard, the increase in carbon dioxide is a major contributor to climate change. The earth’s surface temperature has continued to rise over the last century. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has conducted studies confirming this, and they pinpoint excess carbon dioxide as the primary contributing factor. This increase in temperature has compounded the problems we’ve already discussed.
One little-discussed issue with air pollution is acid rain. As the emissions from fossil fuel burning combine with moisture in the air, precipitation forms that has a high acid content. This is a very serious form of air pollution that damages trees and other plant life. It also pollutes water and soil. And because emissions can travel far, the acid rain can impact environments worldwide - which makes it a very serious form of air pollution.
Maybe you don’t have to deal with acid rain, and maybe you aren’t that concerned about climate change. But what about your personal health? Increased carbon dioxide displaces oxygen in the atmosphere. So as carbon dioxide levels rise, breathing becomes more difficult. If you are in a closed location and this occurs, you start experiencing greater health problems, like recurring headaches. It also can increase harmful air pollutants that contribute to indoor air pollution.
Carbon dioxide levels need to be taken seriously.
Whether you examine short-term problems, long-term effects, or personal health problems, carbon dioxide levels in this world need to be reduced. Understanding how this affects the world and you is very important when you learn to deal with it.