“Fog and smog should not be confused and are easily separated by color.”
Chuck Jones, Director
Smog: Causes, Effects & Solutions
Smog (sometimes also referred to as photochemical smog) can be defined as a type of visible air pollution that is usually composed of ozone, smoke, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxides. Smog can be caused either by man-made behavior or also due to natural reasons.
Especially since the industrial revolution period, the smog issue has vastly increased since much more material products are produced which in turn is a big contributor for smog.
In this article, the causes, effects and solutions regarding the formation of smog are examined.
How is Smog formed?
Smog is formed when certain chemicals in our atmosphere interact with the sunlight, which in turn leads to visible air pollution which we call smog.
Thus, especially cities that are considered to be blessed with good weather are usually suffering most from smog pollution. Ground-level ozone plays an important role in the formation of smog.
It is mainly produced through the emission of nitrogen oxides by vehicles but also through the emission of volatile organic compounds through the use of solvents or paints.
Causes for Smog
- Fossil fuels
- Private cars
- Long transportation distances
- Industrial processes
- Excessive consumption
- Excessive waste production
- Burning of agricultural material
- Construction activities
A big reason for the smog problem is overpopulation. Our world population has been significantly growing over the past decades. This also implies a huge increase in consumption and also in emissions.
Due to an increasing number of cars on our streets and also to increased production output, the smog problem has also increased.
The use of fossil fuels like coal for energy production and other processes is another big contributor to smog formation. In the combustion process of fossil fuels, harmful substances are emitted into the air, which can lead to significant smog pollution.
This is especially true in countries where the filter systems of power plants are still not sophisticated enough to filter out harmful substances and thus these substances will be able to enter the air in high concentrations.
The use of cars is another big cause of the formation of smog. Especially big cities are often subject to high levels of smog due to excessive commuting behavior.
Many people have to commute to or from work, which in turn translates into significant air pollution and also in the formation of smog.
Moreover, people often even use their cars for quite short distances instead of using a bicycle or walking. This further exacerbates the smog production issue.
Long transportation distances
Our material goods, including our food, are often transported over quite long distances either by trucks, trains, ships or by plane. However, since all these transportation methods involve the emission of significant levels of harmful gases resulting from the use of fossil fuels, long transportation distances also imply the formation of significant smog.
A significant amount of smog is also emitted through industrial processes. For the production of our material goods, large amounts of fossil fuels and resources have to be extracted and used.
However, in the production process, through the combustion and manufacturing of those resources, harmful gases are emitted into our atmosphere which in turn may lead to the production of smog under certain circumstances.
We can’t only blame industries for the smog problem, but we should rather blame our consumption behavior. Industries only try to meet our demands. Therefore, it is actually our consumption behavior that is responsible for excessive smog in our atmosphere.
Our consumption levels have vastly increased since the industrial revolution period since unit prices for material goods dropped significantly due to the production with the help of machines.
Therefore, people are able to afford plenty of material things. However, this also implies the emission of enormous amounts of harmful gases into our atmosphere, since all these goods have to be produced in industrial processes. Therefore, our consumption behavior plays a big role in the formation of smog.
Excessive waste production
Another related issue to our excessive consumption is the implied amount of waste that is produced due to that. In order to get rid of this waste, a significant fraction of it is burned, which leads to the emission of harmful gases into our atmosphere and can in turn translate into the formation of smog.
Although the occasions for the use of fireworks are rather rare, a single night of fireworks can lead to enormous particle and air pollution which in turn may lead to significant smog.
This is especially true in New Year’s Eve, when large amounts of fireworks are used and many big cities are covered with a dense layer of smog.
Burning of agricultural material
In some countries, the burning of material related to agriculture can also contribute to the smog problem. For instance, if farmers want to get rid of waste material from their farming practices, they often burn it since it is a convenient way to do so.
However, the combustion of materials usually also implies the emission of harmful gases into our atmosphere, which might turn into smog in later stages.
Smog can also be caused by construction activities. Especially in areas with a high construction density, large amounts of particles may enter the air. This in turn can lead to the formation of smog and to related adverse effects.
Apart from man-made causes for smog, there are also natural sources that contribute to the formation of smog. For instance, volcanic eruptions may lead to the emission of large amounts of harmful gases into our atmosphere, which in turn may contribute to the smog issue.
If these eruptions are quite strong, the smog that is formed may even lead to flight stops since the visibility may be vastly limited.
Effects of Smog
- Pulmonary health issues
- Lung damage
- Lung cancer
- Long-term health issues
- Lower life expectancy
- Irritation of eyes
- Breathing issues
- Lower quality of life
- Birth defects
- Accidents due to bad visibility
- Effect on flora and fauna
Pulmonary health issues
Since smog is composed of many particles and elements that are quite harmful to our health, it can lead to many different pulmonary diseases.
Among others, this may include health issues like COPD or bronchitis. The higher the concentration of harmful substances in the air, the higher the risk for pulmonary health problems.
Our lungs can also be damaged due to smog. For instance, if we breathe air that is highly contaminated with particles and other harmful substances, these substances may stay in our lungs for quite a long time. During this period of time, these substances can cause several physical issues in our lungs.
Lung cancer is another main issue when it comes to the effects of smog. Especially in countries where high concentrations of harmful gases and particles can enter the air due to insufficient regulations, lung cancer is a big issue since people have no choice other than to breathe the contaminated air. Many of these people do not even wear masks or other protection, which further exacerbates the problem.
Long-term health issues
Smog can also lead to a variety of chronic diseases related to damages to our lungs. Our lung is usually quite sensitive when it comes to contaminations with harmful substances. Thus, once our lung is contaminated with particles related to smog, the chances for long-term issues increase dramatically.
Although it is hard to prove, many scientists also concluded that a significant level of air pollution and smog may also increase the probability for allergies. Especially in regions with high concentrations of smog, researchers found that allergies where more present in these areas.
This is quite logical since our body usually is quite sensitive to changes in natural living conditions. Since we evolved for millions of years in an environment with quite clean air, people will suffer from many adverse allergic reactions due to smog pollution since our bodies are simply not made for high levels of air contamination.
The presence of high concentrations of smog can also exacerbate the adverse effects of Asthma. People who are already suffering from asthma will have an even harder time in regions with high levels of air pollution and smog since their respiratory system will have it harder to fight the adverse effects of smog compared to people who are not suffering from Asthma.
Lower life expectancy
Due to the adverse health effects related to smog, people who are living in areas with high smog concentrations will have lower life expectancy compared to people living in regions with good air quality. Depending on the level of pollution, life expectancy may be decreased by more than a decade due to smog.
Irritation of eyes
Especially for people who react quite sensitive to environmental conditions, these people may also suffer from irritations regarding their eyes since smog contains small particles that could irritate the mucosae of our body.
Therefore, people living in cities with big smog issues may suffer quite a lot and may be forced to wear masks or other protection in order to mitigate the problem.
Especially for older people or people who are already suffering from lung diseases, smog can also lead to severe breathing issues. These people may have to stay inside their homes instead of going for a walk outside since their bodies may not be able to deal with the high concentration of harmful particles in the atmosphere.
Lower quality of life
Due to the health effects and other adverse issues, smog also substantially decreases the quality of life for people living in the affected areas. These people may be forced to wear several kinds of protection against smog in order to avoid negative effects.
However, if you are not able to go for a walk without wearing protection, this may lower your life quality and may also lead to mental issues.
Studies have also shown that high levels of smog can also increase the likelihood for birth defects. This is especially true in countries where people do not wear protective masks against smog and where air cleaning systems are not sophisticated enough to filter out harmful particles. Therefore, unborn children may suffer or even die due to smog and the related adverse issues.
Accidents due to bad visibility
There are also many accidents that happen due to bad visibility caused by smog. If you drive in your car and are not able to see what happens right in front of you anymore due to high levels of air pollution, chances are that you get involved in an accident sooner or later since you will likely not be able to react in time.
Effect on flora and fauna
Apart from the adverse issues on humans due to smog, also our flora and fauna suffer from high levels of particle and air pollution. Animals may suffer since their respiratory systems may be contaminated by smog which in turn may lead to several kinds of diseases and even death.
Moreover, plants may suffer since they are usually quite sensitive to their natural conditions and their growth behavior and also crop yields may be influenced in an adverse manner due to smog.
Solutions for Smog
- Avoid the use of cars
- Home office
- Buy from organic food stores
- Buy local food
- Buy energy-efficient devices
- Support green energies
- Reduce waste production
- Reduce consumption levels
- Reuse and recycle
- Protect yourself against smog
Avoid the use of cars
You can mitigate the smog formation issue by simply avoiding the use of your car. Especially in big cities, commuting by car to work is a main cause for smog. Instead, you can use public transport or even use the bicycle for short distances. By doing so, you can contribute to less particle and air pollution and ensure better air quality.
Many companies also offer home office as an opportunity to have more time for your family. Home office and teleworking can also be useful when it comes to the avoidance of smog since if you stay at home instead of commuting to work, you can reduce the emissions from the use of your car. Therefore, home office can also be a measure to mitigate smog and the implied adverse effects to a certain extent.
Buy from organic food stores
Buying from organic food stores instead of conventional stores is another measure you can take in order to mitigate smog.
Since organic food stores often offer the option to buy unpackaged food and therefore to avoid plastic packaging, it is a great and easy way to reduce smog since the production and also the disposal of packaging leads to significant air pollution and smog.
Therefore, by avoiding packaging material, you can make a contribution to better air quality.
Buy local food
You should also try to buy local food instead of food that is shipped over quite long distances since the transportation of goods implies the use of fossil fuels which in turn can exacerbate the smog problem.
Hence, you should try to buy seasonal food. You can also try to buy your food from local farmers instead of conventional stores in order to further improve your ecological footprint.
Buy energy-efficient devices
Buying energy-efficient devices is a great way to indirectly reduce the production of smog. Since our energy is mainly produced with fossil fuels like coal, the production of energy also implies the emission of large amounts of gases into our atmosphere, which in turn can lead to significant smog issues.
Therefore, buy buying energy-efficient devices instead of energy-intensive ones, you can lower your energy demand and thus also reduce the smog problem.
Support green energies
In the political discussion, there are many people who lobby against the transition from conventional to renewable energies. This is due to the fact that the transition process will significantly harm certain industries that rely on fossil fuels.
However, in the context of saving our climate and also to improve air quality, it is crucial that we accomplish the transition to renewable energies fast.
You can contribute your part by voting for parties that support this transition process and also by speaking up in public when it comes to the discussion of this topic.
Reduce waste production
In order to get rid of our waste, significant fractions of it are burned. However, in the combustion process, many harmful particles and substances are released into the air, which can cause significant levels of smog. Everyone of us can contribute to better air quality by avoiding waste whenever possible.
This could mean that you refrain from ordering from food delivery services and cook instead. It could also mean refraining from buying things that are excessively covered into wrapping. By doing so, you can contribute your part for a reduction in smog.
Reduce consumption levels
Since for the production of our material things, significant amounts of resources and fossil fuels are used, we should also try to reduce our consumption behavior.
You will recognize that a reduction in consumption will not affect you too much since you will see that many items that you formerly used are actually not contributing to your level of happiness.
Therefore, a reduction in consumption will lead to less air and smog pollution and will also show you a different perspective on life apart from material consumption.
Reuse and recycle
Another measure in order to avoid consumption and therefore to avoid smog is to reuse and recycle things more efficiently.
Thus, make sure that you not just dispose of your old but working stuff into the garbage but rather try to give it away to family and friends.
In case no one wants to use your old things, at least make sure that you separate your waste properly to make it available for recycling.
Protect yourself against smog
Another way to deal with high levels of smog is to wear proper protection. This can mean wearing masks when you go outside or using other devices that save you from the contamination with harmful particles. By doing so, you can not fight the causes, but rather the effects of smog.
Smog is a significant environmental problem, especially in big cities with high levels of commuting and a high presence of power plants. Smog can lead to several health conditions, including lung cancer and other serious diseases. Smog is not only quite harmful to humans, but has also many adverse effects on the local flora and fauna.
Therefore, it is necessary to take measures for the reduction of smog in our daily life. Only then will it be possible to increase air quality and also the health level of many people around the globe.
About the author
My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.
As I went to university and got my Master’s degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.
After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.
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