On the Multiple Threats Posed by Air Pollution

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Dr. Ummer Rashid Zargar

Environmental Pollution (EP) is one of the major challenges faced by the world in the 21st century. EP is rightly considered as an incurable disease by an eminent environmentalist, Barry Commoner, which can be only prevented through judicious measures. Among various forms of environmental pollutions, air and water pollution are considered to have major impacts on various aspects of human life. The ill impacts of air pollution have been studied in past 40 years and, there is general consensus among scientists that accelerated air pollution compromises the lives of millions of people on earth which could trigger significant alterations in the biological systems ranging from changes at molecular level to the changes at the ecosystem level. The health effects of air pollution are well documented and there has been great progress in understanding various facets of air pollution. In a major finding published recently, researchers have found that air pollution could alter and reduce the level of intelligence in the human population. This study has great significance as majority of developed and developing countries that are facing the detrimental effects of this scourge.
The major study on the relationship between the human cognitive power and the level of air pollution was carried out mainly on the Chinese population over a period of four years and the findings were published in one of the eminent scientific journal, known as Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) of the United States of America. As per the study, the continuous exposure of enhanced air pollution can have more impact on old age people and less educated population. The study further explains that excess exposure of air pollution could reduce level of education by one year.
The impact of foul air on the education, as per experts, will have future consequences on the development of quality human resource. The study predicts that contaminated air could trigger damage on the ageing brain that will lead to immense impacts on the cognitive process of brain and will indirectly affect the decision making of human beings. Another important revelation from this study is that the majority of human population (91%) is living under hostile conditions of air pollution that exceeds the WHO’s guideline limits. Whilst most of the outcomes of this study have been appreciated by researchers, but some question the validity of these results on the global population as the study is specific to China. Furthermore, different populations can respond to air pollution as per their adaptation and genetic behavior. However, this study is maiden investigation on the direct impact of pollution on the human intelligence.
Air pollution is already considered to be the cause of premature deaths of more than seven million people across the globe. It has been estimated that toxic air is related to high mortality rate in the people who are having any mental disability and even populations living near highways and busy roads are more prone to dementia than the populations who are living away from busy roads. Apart from the above major finding, previous reports have confirmed that pollution can affect cognitive and other brain functions in a population which are exposed to extreme air pollution.
There is urgent need to think and ponder about the rise of pollution, especially air pollution across the globe. The reality is that there is need of a deep debate whether we need economic development or safety of the environment. It is naïve expectation to ask for halt in the developmental activities and to take world to the pre-industrial era. The real conflict is between development and environment, and here a positive answer is given by ‘technological optimists’ who believe that the environmental problem is real, but technological innovations are key to the solution. The environmental friendly technology and eco-centric way of thinking can help us to restore the pristine air in the long run.
So where are we now? At this moment, we are at a crossroads where we have to think in both ways: one to protect our environment from the present crisis situation and second to proceed with economic development. Proper decisions by the so called saviors (governments) can bring certain changes which can somehow bring us out from this critical situation. Although, global environmental crisis cannot be solved in one day or by one individual, nevertheless, it will need joint efforts’ at different levels. If we do not start it today, then we may reach to another stone age where our own existence will be under danger.

—The author is a SERB-DST Fast Track Fellow at the Department of Zoology, Central University Kashmir, Sonwar Campus. He can be reached at: uzssummer2@gmail.com