Air pollution in 2002: looking back over climate change, particulates and co.

There was something in the air in 2002, and in some countries it was largely pollution. In the US, half the country's population breathed in polluted air, whilst brown haze over Asia was in danger of causing dramatic climactic changes. Good news included China's success at cutting methane emissions, and the fact that carbon dioxide could be stored underground for millions of years.


The year started with news in January that companies in the Australian state of New South Wales would be fined for failing to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. However, in the US, the Government fixed the country’s vehicle fuel efficiency levels for a further two years, despite being at a 20-year low .

Global warming could threaten the future of the Winter Olympics, it was revealed in February, a scenario that could have been brought forward by US President George W Bush’s new plan to tackle climate change that involved reducing only greenhouse gas ‘intensity’. The good news from the US, however, was that polluters had paid over US$4 billion for control and cleanup in 2001, and the country’s air quality had improved dramatically over the last 30 years.

The following month, in March, air pollution’s effect on health was hitting the headlines. Healthy blood vessels were constricting, particulates were increasing the risk of lung cancer, as had weapons testing in the 1950s. The new danger, however, was climate change, threatening to increase respiratory illnesses . The good news was that greenhouse gas markets across the globe were opening up.

In April, lakes were found to emit carbon dioxide, and tropical rainforests might not be the carbon sponges they have been presumed to be. The following month a group of researchers from Wisconsin, US, agreed, saying that the Amazon could actually be a carbon source. The Chinese decided to promote electric vehicles, and a US utility decided to relocate an entire town, rather than clean up its own air pollution.

In May, New Zealand proposed an unpopular carbon tax, and Hong Kong vowed to clean up its air pollution. In the US, it was revealed that half of the country’s populace breaths unhealthy air.

Further prosperity would be postponed only two years under the Kyoto regime, it emerged in June, whilst ozone recovery could be hampered by the effects of climate change, according to NASA . The Japanese launched equipment that they claimed could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 90% , and in order to make up for their own greenhouse gas emissions, New York trucking companies planted trees.

Bicycles were big news in July, as they appeared to be emerging as the transport vehicle of the future, more popular than the car. Meanwhile, the Australian prime minister noted that although he was concerned about climate change, he would not ratify the Kyoto Protocol as it would not be good for Australian jobs. In the US, however, voters were found to be critical of their own premier’s similar stance, revealing that they believed a lack of action on global warming to be irresponsible and short-sighted . Californians were more proactive, bringing in a bill to cut exhaust emissions from cars and trucks.

August saw two US government banks being sued by environmentalists for their lending impact on climate change, whilst it was revealed that marine habitats were at risk from the associated increasing temperatures, rising sea levels and changes in circulation patterns. Asian brown haze made its annual appearance raising the fear that it could cause a climate crisis.

Sixty-four of the world’s poorest nations benefited from a US$100 million donation from the Kyoto fund to finance clean energy in September. It was revealed that Carbon dioxide could be stored underground for millions of years, which was fortunate in the light of the news that carbon dioxide emissions could rise 70%, rather than fall by 5.2% by 2012 hoped for under the Kyoto Protocol. In California, meanwhile, it was revealed that the state’s children exceed their lifetime pollution limits after only 12 days.

In October, there was good news that six developing nations had made considerable progress on cutting their greenhouse gas emissions, although it was also revealed that diesel engines may have a greater effect on climate change than those powered by, due to the effect of particulates . A US study called for methane emissions to be tackled globally because of the gas’ effect on the climate.

Australians – if they wished to – could cut their greenhouse has emissions by 60%, it emerged in November, although a group of London-based economists claimed that the Kyoto Protocol would fail to prevent climate change. Meanwhile in the US, it emerged that states were taking on climate change mitigation despite their presidents aversion to such action, and an air pollution trading scheme intended to reduce emissions of sulphur dioxide appeared to be working. The bad news was that the microchip has a disproportionately large effect on the environment. A two-gram chip requires 3.7 pounds of fossil fuel energy and chemical inputs, said researchers from the UN University in Tokyo.

In December, evidence emerged that the dreadful accident in Bhopal, India, 18 years ago that killed at least 8,000 people and injured 150,000, could have been the result of corner-cutting by Union Carbide . The suing by environmental groups of US government organisations over their impact on climate change continued, with the EPA becoming the latest victim, but in China it was revealed that rice farmers had cut their methane emissions by 40% in 20 years , and New Zealand and Canada ratified the Kyoto Protocol . Finally, US researchers found that if you want to know the levels of pollutants in the air, analyse lichens .

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