The damage that human beings cause to the environment is enormous, and it continues to deplete the environment each and every day. There are various kinds of pollution that have adversely affected the environment. They are water, air, and land pollution. This essay will focus n air pollution, its causes, policies put forward to curd this pollution. It will also look at the various benefits and costs that these policies offer and the best economic measurements that can be used to measure the success of these policies.
Air pollution occurs when there is an introduction of foreign materials that may cause harm to human beings, animals and organism into the atmosphere. These materials may be chemical materials such as carbon dioxide, particulate matters or even living things. The atmosphere is a large gaseous mass found on earth. The atmosphere is essential as it aids in supporting life of earth. The pollution of the atmosphere has had alarming effect especially the depletion of the ozone layer which is harmful to human beings. This is because it may cause exposure to ultra violent rays that may cause cancer.
What then are the factors that cause air pollution? First, air pollution is of two kinds, first urban air pollution and second indoor air pollution (Socha, 2007). The most common air pollution though is that of urban areas. In urban areas, the top causes or contributors of pollution are motor vehicles and industries. On the other hand, the most common pollutants of air are carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxide, particulate matters and lastly sulfur dioxide. The essay will focus on the pollutants, their effects and where these gases originate from, but first we will look at indoor pollution.
It is not often that people believe that they have air pollution right under their roofs. Most of us indeed only believe that air pollution belongs to the outside air. The fact is that indoor air pollution is harmful as outdoor air pollution and may cause cancer and death. The environmental protection agency (EPA) reported that indoor air pollution is three times most likely to cause cancer in American homes (Socha, 2007). This pollution is real to an extent that buildings that contain this air pollution risk are ‘sick buildings’.
The greatest contributory factor to indoor air pollution is the lack of proper ventilation in homes. This causes the gases emitted houses to remain in them because they lack a proper escape route to the outside. The second source of indoor air pollution was the presence of electrical appliances in houses. These include the basic copying machine, air conditioning machines that harbor microbes, and electric cables. Cigarettes smoke, paint along with carpets can also contribute to indoor air pollution.
Additionally, radon is a harmful emission in many houses. Radon is the second cause of lung cancer after smoking. This gas has the following characteristic; it is colorless, therefore, making it difficult to notice it; it also lacks an odor and taste. Radon finds its way into homes through cracks and pores in the houses. This occurs when the air pressure of the room is less as compared to that of the soil.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the main problems that are contributing to air pollution. Carbon dioxide production occurs during combustion. This is the burning process that uses up oxygen and emits carbon dioxide. Major combustion occurs in motor vehicles and industries. The concentration of this gas was 290 parts per million. These were the levels before the effects of carbon dioxide began to be felt. At this time, there was no industrialization, and it was during the mid nineteenth century. The levels have now immensely increased with about 35%.
The key parts that account for the emission of carbon oxide are the industrialized countries. The united states being one of them along with Russia account for approximately 50%. The emerging markets, on the other hand, account for a lesser percentage of about 35% (Socha, 2007). The irony of this matter is that these emerging markets usually have the most population and suffer because of what other countries have caused.
In the 1970s, an approximate of 18 million tons of CO2 was in the atmosphere, this number has since increased. Oceanic and other body masses usually help in minimizing the level of carbon dioxide in the air, but with en increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide every day the levels absorbed are less. This then leaves more carbon dioxide hanging in the atmosphere.
The effects of carbon dioxide are extremely harmful. First CO2 is responsible for the green house effect and global warming. This occurs because carbon dioxide is an excellent transmitter of sunlight and disallows the infrared radiation going into the air. The result of this is the warming effect felt on earth. Carbon dioxide is a significant contributor of global warming trend occurring in the world today.
Nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide
Nitrogen is a significant component of the atmosphere. In fact, it is the largest component of air. Nitrogen dioxide, on the other hand, is as a result of combustion of biomass. The concentrations of these gases in the atmosphere occur naturally at approximately 15 million tons per year. Human beings though have contributed to the increase of this concentration with an approximate of 40 million tons.
The harm that nitrogen dioxide cause is that it plays a role in depleting the ozone layer. It also increases the nitrogen in the atmosphere, therefore, causing nitrogen loading. These gases also have problems reducing in the atmosphere. They stay in the atmosphere for a while. It can take days before these gases clear off the atmosphere.
Sulfur dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
The production and emission of sulfur dioxide is due to combustion of items that contain sulfur. Examples of these items include coal, which industries in the twentieth century used. The second item is the combustion of fuels. Fuels are the key driver to many activities in today’s world. If fuel lacked for a day, the effect would be so enormous and negative.
The harm that sulfur dioxide can cause is that it can injure all living things on earth including plants. High concentrations of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere can even damage the respiratory system (Socha, 2007). The main contributors of these gases into the air are the factories, which account for approximately 90% to 95%. Sulfur dioxide also contributes to acidic rain on the earth.
Aerosols used to manufacture cans emit CFCs. They can also be emitted by refrigerators and air conditioning machines. CFCs is mostly responsible for the depletion of the ozone layer they also cause global warming. The emission of CFCs though in countries including the United States reduced due to the banning the use of aerosols to reduce their concentration in the atmosphere.
The burning of coal and oil causes smog. Its contents are fog and particles of sulfur dioxide. Smog is usually common during winter in Europe. This effect is immense that it forces planes to reschedule their flights. The effects of smog are it may cause the creation of ozone gas. The ozone gas created causes irritation to the eyes; it also damages lungs and plants.
Air pollution effects
The effects that air pollution has on the human population are adverse. This has even caused governments and corporations to act on reducing the emission of these harmful gases. The health effects are so a naked reality. According to the world health organization (WHO) an approximate of 2.4 million people is dying as a result of health complications caused by air pollution. An additional of approximately 1.5 millions die as a result of indoor air pollution.
World wide, deaths attributable to air pollution is more than those caused by accidents with vehicles. This results from such diseases as lung cancer, asthma and allergies that are directly or indirectly by air pollution. The deaths attributed to the formation of smog are many. This happened especially in the London smog of 1952, which caused many deaths. Children get affected at remarkably early age.
Reduction measures and policies
Countries and governments all over the world is all in agreement that something has to be done to curd the extent of air pollution in the world. The obvious solution to these problems is to reduce the emission into the atmosphere of pollutants such as carbon dioxide. This means that effective implementation of alternatives must be found. The major threats that we have to address are to reduce the emission by factories and motor vehicles.
There are policies set to reduce air pollution. One such policy is the air quality strategy policy in the United Kingdom. The policy aims at reducing the contribution of road traffics to air pollution. As per the statistics in the UK, emission from vehicles and fuel combustion has largely contributed to air pollution. Since the introduction, of this policy, reductions in the emission of nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide have significantly reduced as compared to if they had not introduced the policy.
Additionally, there have been other policies; the most common of them is the Kyoto protocol. This policy was an agreement between several countries around the world on the need to begin protecting the environment. The United States has also introduced policies such as the policy that stopped the use of aerosols, and the Bloomberg policy introduced during the bush administration.
Annual collection f data on air pollution can be immensely helpful in determining the trends of air pollution and if it’s for the worst of the better. This requires continuous monitoring and evaluation of the atmospheric composition. This is getting accomplished by following levels of the major pollutants in the atmosphere.
Recent trends collected have shown that there have been increases in the emission of PM10 (particulate matter). These have even increased to levels higher than what most researchers had anticipated. Nitrogen dioxide has also immensely increased, especially due to the continuous use of motor vehicles driven by fuel. Levels of carbon monoxide and ozone have reduced but not significantly. Sulfur oxide emissions have also significantly reduced especially from the shift of using coal for energy.
Future trends have also been predicted. According to Tagaris (2007), between the years 2001-2050, ozone levels in the United States will reduce. This will reduce with an approximate of 11% to 28%. Particulate matter will decrease at an average of 23%. Tagaris predictions are in contrast to other scholars, whose prediction is of an increase in pollution. This prediction by Tagaris has also been backed up by current trends in the last years by EPA.
Trends in Air Pollutant Emissions in US
Measurement of benefits from policies of curbing air pollution
There are various benefits that arise from the prevention and reduction of air pollution. These benefits can effectively be measured by identifying the benefits. Second, the benefits should be quantified, and the change noted. Benefits of air pollution are mainly health benefits. These benefits accrue to both adults and even children.
The measurement of benefits from air pollution prevention has to be done with the use of the baseline or benchmarking method. This method presents the statistics or numbers of a certain time line in the past. This is usually before any policies get introduced. It is from the baseline or benchmark that we will establish the extent of benefits by comparing results from data with the presence of benefits and data without the presence of benefits.
This process will involve the simulation of two scenarios in the United States. Scenario one; there is a lack of air pollution measures. Scenario two: there is the presence of the measures. As for the first scenario, we will obtain data from a base year of 1970 and compare it with present data and trends. This data is of both of a historical nature and projected nature (Yang et al, 2004). The data will focus on emission levels of particulate matter and ozone without air pollution regulation. The results show that there is a continuous increase in particulate matter in the air. The second scenarios results were an increase in benefits.
Benefits analysis graph
Additionally one can also measure the benefits by concentrating on the value of the benefits. An example of benefit of air pollution reduction is it reduces the occurrence of illness. As an economist, one should focus on the value this benefit brings. These values include; value of time lost of a patient who should be working, value of medical costs reduced and value of prevention.
Measuring of costs of air pollution policies
The substantial costs involved with air pollution prevention are social costs. These costs mostly regard to those costs available to the society. In curbing air pollution, these saves costs, in this aspect the cost means the value or importance of a resource. This value usually occurs if that cost can be used in an alternative way. The United States government is incurring lots of costs in the treatment and the loss of people due to air pollution.
In measuring these costs, we will use the cost of illness (COI) aspect to quantify the costs regarding the prevention or reduction of air pollution. Although we are using the cost of illness, it is not a highly effective method (Yang et al, 2004). The coat of illness though enables economists to be able to value the burden or load the society faces due to a certain factor like air pollution.
The process of measuring the costs occurs as follows. First, an economist has to identify the resources, and then quantify these resources. Third, one has to calculate the opportunity cost. An additional factor that has to be considered is that costs can be direct, indirect and even intangible. Examples of costs that can be measured in the COI are the costs incurred due to the loss or reduction of productivity due to death in employees. These employees’ death having been caused by air pollution related diseases.
Costs and benefits of air pollution prevention
In the United States, the introduction of the clean air act brought adverse changes in the reduction of pollutants in the atmosphere. It was after the introduction of the act that we see the reduction in emissions of sulfur dioxide along with nitrogen oxide. These reductions then brought about benefits and opportunity costs savings.
The most prominent of the benefits was the immense reduction in the morbidity rates and numbers attributed to air pollution. There was also the reduction in the risk that air pollution posed to the society. Indirect benefits included more productivity as a result of lower morbidity and risks of diseases. There was also recreational benefit that accrued to the residents. A 10% reduction in particulate matter results to benefits of about 100 million us dollars.
As for the costs, there have been savings. This costs include social costs incurred had the act not been introduced. The aspects of opportunity costs are present where the reduction in morbidity rates saves on costs that would be incurred. There are also the aspects of the costs put forward to help reduce air pollution. With these costs, their trend is that they increase alongside the benefits. This is because, for example, companies have to incur costs in reducing their effect or emission into the atmosphere.
The role of market based instrument to reduce air pollution
Market based policies are regulation to prevent or promote certain behavior by use of market signals. Examples of instrument used in these policies are the giving of trade permits and enactment of charges on those companies that do not follow the rules. These policies work better that the usual acts that the government had been issuing earlier (Stavins, 2003). The reason is that first it is the company that benefits in their following of regulations. Second it is cost effective because the company saves more money. Market based policies became prominent in the united states around the 1980s.
It is said that proper implementation of market based policies to reduce air pollution will work effectively. The result will also be uniform, as all firms will incur the costs they can adhere to the role. The costs incurred in the market-based policies by firms are an aid to be lower as compared to control or act policies. Market based policies effectively shares the burden of air pollution to the sources of pollutants.
Determining an appropriate discount rate
Discounting determines the benefits or the cost that will accrue in the future. This is because, in all projects, people are always interested in knowing if the project will fail or succeed. So as, to determine benefits or costs that will occur in the future, present values are discounted at a certain rate to determine the future gains or losses. This is by the use of the following formulae:
Bt (1+ r) t
Where Bt- is the benefit of the current year
t- is the discounting rate
t- Number of future years
The determining of the discount rate poses difficulty when it comes to matters of natural resources. This discount rate is the social discount rates, which brings disputes as what rate is the most appropriate. If one chooses a larger discount rate, one is implying that the present has more air pollution that the future (Moore et al, 2004). On the other hand, on choosing lower discount rates, it means that air pollution will be more adverse in the future. The difficulty arises especially because of uncertainty in the matter in the future. The most appropriate discount rate for most environmental issues is a rate slightly lower that the market rate.
Air pollution is an environmental issue that is adverse to today’s society. There are various factors that contribute to air pollution, such as motor vehicles and factories. There are also main pollutants such as sulfur oxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide. There are policies introduced to curb air pollution. The benefits and costs of these policies can be measured by use of valuation and cost of illness respectively. Market based policies are effective in curbing air pollution and being less costly. A problem also arises in determining the most appropriate discounting rate to be used in calculating future benefits and costs related to air pollution.