B.C. Air Quality

Air Quality and Climate Change: Weighing the Options

There are numerous linkages between the issues of air quality and climate change. For example, activities such as fossil fuel burning that cause air pollution also emit greenhouse gases.

Fortunately, the vast majority of actions that society, individuals, or companies can take to improve air quality also help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Likewise, actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions generally help to improve air quality.

For example, most actions that reduce energy use or consumption of manufactured goods will improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gases. Here are some ways you can decrease emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases:

  • Take transit, carpool, ride a bike or walk instead of driving.
  • Upgrade your house to be more energy efficient. If your house is heated with natural gas or oil, the upgrades will mean that less fossil fuel is burned.
  • Use less plastic packaging. Plastic packaging is made from fossil fuels, and fossil fuel energy is used in producing plastics.
  • Buy a smaller car. Approximately one third of the energy used by a car over its lifetime is the energy used to produce the car. A smaller car requires less fossil fuel energy both to drive and to manufacture.

There are a few cases where reducing greenhouse gas emissions may cause increases in air pollution. One example is burning wood or wood waste to displace the use of a fossil fuel to generate heat or power for industry.

Burning the wood waste doesn’t release additional greenhouse gases as is the case with fossil fuels, since the carbon dioxide emissions from burning wood are theoretically offset by continued forest growth. However, if poorly combusted,  it may have higher emissions of air pollutants than burning the same amount of fossil fuel. Generally this increase in pollution can be minimized by appropriate wood burning practices and technology, and by situating the burner appropriately.

The 2009 British Columbia Air Quality and Health Benefits Report (contracted by the Ministries of Environment, and Healthy Living and Sport) showed that implementing the B.C. Climate Action Plan will contribute to better air quality and reduced health impacts.

See also How We Contribute to Air Pollution and Climate Change.

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