When we think about air quality, we tend to focus on our own needs. The fact of the matter is, regulations to improve air quality have been in place for decades, and now, we are beginning to see some of the hidden benefits.
This includes a study by scientists at the University of Oregon and Cornell. It was published in the National Academy Of Sciences of the United States Of America last fall and it shows how someone 1.5 million birds in the U.S. have been saved over the past four decades as a result of reducing ozone pollution.
Most of us have heard of ozone but you may not realize that it is a gas that occurs naturally in the upper atmosphere. When it is in place, the earth is protected from ultraviolet rays. Ozone is not only naturally occurring, it can also be produced by power plants, vehicles, and other sources. Having too much ozone at ground level is harmful to humans and the environment.
Countries around the world have been working for the past four decades on phasing out chemicals that are known to destroy the upper atmosphere ozone and to protect our global health.
According to the co-lead author of the study, Ivan Rudik, “Our research shows that the benefits of environmental regulation have likely been underestimated. Reducing pollution has positive impacts in unexpected places and provides an additional policy lever for conservation efforts.”
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For the past 15 years, researchers were tracking air quality and birds. As a result of their research, it was found that the bird’s respiratory systems are susceptible to ozone pollution, as is their food sources. Migratory birds that are smaller make up the majority of birds in North America and they are more likely to be harmed as a result.
Amanda Rodewald, a co-author of the study, spoke to the Cornell Chronicle, saying: “The good news here is that environmental policies intended to protect human health return important benefits for birds too.”
In Science, a 2019 study showed that the global bird population has lost some 2.9 billion birds over the past 48 years. Most of that is due to habitat changes, but if it weren’t for trying to keep the environmental problems in check, things could’ve been worse.
We can all play a part in the improvement of air quality. Making changes in our lives, such as driving less and avoiding other activities that could cause pollution can make a difference.
Catherine Kling is a Tisch University Professor at the Dyson School and co-author of the study who said: “This work contributes to our ever-increasing understanding of the connectedness of environmental health and human health.”
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