We all breathe. In fact, we don’t actively think when we breathe. The medulla, an area in the brain that is autonomic, controls breathing, cardiac functions, and digestion. If we had to actively think to breathe, we’d be in big trouble. Nevertheless, we are encountering a pandemic: air pollution. Air pollution causes seven million deaths a year. From diesel engines to factory smoke, air pollution is a problem that must be confronted to prevent the deaths of millions more.

We’ve all seen the huge smokestacks, clouds of smoke that just can’t be good. But, there are other major sources of pollution that are discussed less often. The National Park Service outlines the various types of pollutants and isolates four different types: stationary, natural, mobile, and agricultural. Although smokestacks are main contributors to pollution, lesser-known sources, such as dry cleaning services, also pitch in to the problem.

Pollution is a global epidemic and it affects us more than we think. Recently, a Huffington Post article discussed the increased levels of mercury in ocean fish. We use coal plants to meet our ridiculously high-energy demands. Mercury is a byproduct of this dependence because it is an impurity in coal. It is unsustainable to depend so heavily on coal when we can so plainly see the aftermath of our energy problem. In addition, some researchers have theorized that the recent dramatic increase in autism may be associated with the increasing levels of air pollution. Air pollution may cause an increased rate of birth defects due to toxins entering cells.

A growing population may make sustainability difficult, but not out-of-reach. A Malthusian argument, as population grows the number of people the world must account for can only go up. However, the world’s resources can only go down due to nonrenewable sources of energy.  Alternatives exist that may make it easier for us to lower our carbon footprint. Still, the manufacturing costs and resource drains of producing new sources of energy must decrease before it becomes sustainable to switch. Thankfully, scientists are aware of the problem of pollution and are dedicating time to making less industry intensive forms of energy.

Our population will probably never decrease to a level where we can stop using coal and other pollutants. We probably will never decrease our pollution levels to zero. We may experience even greater increases in mercury poisoning and cases of autism. We might just let pollution go on escalating, but when we have the ability and option to reduce our carbon footprint, reduce our energy consumption levels, or simply use more environmentally friendly methods of cleaning our clothes, we have to do something. I don’t think anyone wants to keep on wheezing, awaiting that one last breath.

[Image Attribute: Pixabay]