The smog in Los Angeles tends to produce beautiful sunsets as opposed to the grey, apocalyptic photos that routinely come from China. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less bad for you. The nitrogen oxide emissions that are largely produced by manufacturing is broken down by sunlight into ozone. Among the many problems associated with ground level ozone, respiratory problems can be aggravated, the cells that line our lungs can be damaged and crops can be harmed. As far as air pollution in general goes, it’s been found to leave toxic magnetic waste in human brains and causes 5.5 million premature deaths each year.
According to a new paper published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, the United States has cut nitrogen oxide emissions by 50 percent. But those same emissions have tripled in Asian countries since 1990 and those gases circulate to the western United States.
The study looked at levels of ground-level ozone (the key component in smog) from 1980 to 2014. To determine U.S. trends, pollution levels in cities, rural areas and national parks were collated. Scientist Meiyun Lin of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration led the work, along with others from her agency and the Environmental Protection Agency.
They concluded that the spike in man-made emissions in Asia “is the major driver” of the rise in ozone levels in the western U.S. for both spring and summer in recent decades. The researchers cited data that ranges from Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California to observations in Denver, Colo., and the eastern U.S.
Globalization and rising economies are cited as the problem. China and India, where manufacturing is king are considered the biggest culprits. So, before you start feeling like the U.S. is doing its part, consider where the device you’re reading this article on actually came from.
The good news is that China appears to understand the gravity of the issue. It has recently announced initiatives to increase the prevalence of electric cars and it’s cutting steel and coal production. Just this week, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged to accelerate reductions in pollution as unrest among the population grows. And China’s leadership has insisted it will stick to its agreement in the Paris Climate Accords, while the world nervously waits for the Trump administration to make a decision on the United States continued participation in the agreement.
“A global perspective is necessary when designing a strategy to meet US O3 air quality objectives,” the authors of the study wrote. Indeed, if the United States hopes to protect our environment and curb climate change, it will have to accept that this will take a global effort. Even amidst political chaos and stagnation, the new administration has managed to tear through regulations at a brisk pace. And we’re just getting started.