Air pollution 101

We breathe up to 9,000 litres of air every day. But, along with all the life-giving oxygen we need, the air we breathe contains a load of nasties that are seriously dangerous - and on the rise around the world.

What causes air pollution?

People cause air pollution with all sorts of stuff we like to do - burning fossil fuels, driving, farming, factories and industry.

Those different activities produce different kinds of air pollution - from tiny particles that get lodged in our lungs to toxic gases that make it hard to breathe. Dirty air causes thousands of premature deaths every year, and it’s really bad for wildlife and the whole global climate too.

Getting around

Today, one of the biggest culprits is transport. Cars produce loads of nasty gases and particles. Diesel cars are currently in the spotlight for spewing out high levels of dangerous gas called nitrogen dioxide.

With more cars on the road than ever before, air quality is getting worse and worse - especially in towns and cities. London has some of the most polluted air in Europe, and many UK towns and cities have unsafe dirty air.

Fossil fuels

Lots of the energy we generate comes from burning fossil fuels. But that spews out masses of pollution. There’s all the smoke you might have seen coming out of power stations, there’s smelly dirty sulfur and of course loads of carbon dioxide. So not only does burning fossil fuels make our air dirty, it cause climate change too.

Coal is one of the dirtiest fuels. The more power stations and heavy industry powered by coal, the worse the air quality - and the worse the climate change. For example, China has loads of coal power stations and that’s part of the reason for Beijing’s famous yellow smog.

Take action

  1. Cut down on the car. In the UK, 69% of all car journeys are short ones. So try swapping some regular car journeys for walking or cycling. Could you take the bus or train instead? Or try sharing your car - you could carpool to work (if you can stand your colleagues for that long!)

  2. Be smart about energy use. The less energy you use at home, the less the big power stations have to generate. Switch things off when you’re not using them, bust draughts at home, and get hold of energy efficient gadgets like LED light bulbs.

  3. Nag the people in power. Write to your MP or mayor telling them you’re concerned about air pollution asking them what they’re doing to clean up our air on a bigger scale.