Climate Change, Weather and Air Quality – and Uneasy Balance

The climate crisis is a crisis of which almost everyone in the UK is acutely aware. Its impacts have been widespread and devastating, as more and more evidence points to near-irreversible damage on a global scale. Climate change is a nebulous term, though, and one that covers a wide spread of topics – including the lesser-highlighted topic of air quality, and its impacts on human life.

Air Pollution and Climate Change

The connection between air pollution and global climate change is, at this point, well-researched and well-understood. The vast majority of man-made climate effects experienced around the world are the result of the ‘greenhouse effect’, which describes the trapping of heat energy in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The greenhouse effect is exacerbated by the presence of certain gases, categorised as ‘greenhouse gases’, which are released into the atmosphere via a variety of means. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and the most prevalent one; it is a by-product of many human and human-influenced processes, from the combustion of fossil fuels to air pollution in industrial manufacturing processes and power generation, and large-scale emissions from livestock in the agricultural industry.

Extreme Change, Extreme Climates

The accumulation of pollutants in the atmosphere reduces the planet’s ability to regulate the temperature in accordance with the favoured conditions of life that evolved to live on it. As such, greenhouse gases pose an existential threat to life on Earth – both in the long term through global heating, and in the short term through impacts on the stability of weather patterns.
Indeed, climate change has been connected to the increasingly unnatural weather experienced across continents in recent years, including the European heatwave that smashed temperature records in the summer of 2022, and the coincident flooding of Pakistan that displaced over a million lives.

Extreme Weather and Air Quality

The worsening of global weather patterns is not only directly dangerous to human life and the stability of fragile ecosystems but also causes significant knock-on effects in relation to the air pollution existing in the atmosphere.
One major impact lies in the results of increased incidences of heatwaves interacting with heightened levels of pollutants in the air. Heat causes certain pollutants to chemically react with the atmosphere, increasing ozone levels. Another can be found in dry heatwaves increasing particulate levels due to drought, and yet another in high carbon dioxide levels contributing to an increased presence of pollen in the air.

What is Being Done?

The cumulative impact of climate change is overwhelmingly negative for the global population, but also presents shorter-term reduction in quality of life due to the worsening of air quality through a number of mechanisms. The overall fight against climate change promises to have an eventual impact, but targeted measures are also being taken; for example, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition have made key propositions relating to the reduction in production of short-lived climate pollutants.