The Gas Catalyst of Human Health


Human illness and disease can be attributed to two variables; genetics and environment. This paper will explore the possible environmental effects that air pollution has on the pulmonary functions of the human body. As your lungs are an essential organ to keep a person alive, we should minimize any causes that can harm them. The current population lives in one of the most technologically advanced eras in terms of health care. However, the naivety of some people leaves their knowledge of carbon monoxide and other toxic air pollutants absent.

Keywords: Pulmonary disease, air pollution, carbon monoxide, genetics vs. environment.

The Gas Catalyst of Human Health

Since the mid-19th century industrial boom, air quality has been waxing and waning due to air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and ground-level ozone. Each of these pollutants increased during the time period due to industrial emissions, fossil fuel burnings, transportation, and waste production. Unknowingly, this increase not only led to high levels of air pollution, a prominent factor of climate change, but also may have been attributed to several pulmonary issues among humans.

Out of the typical emissions, as stated above, there is a single emission that sticks out the most concerning the others. This emission is carbon monoxide. According to an emission survey that was first conducted in 1970, carbon monoxide has been the leading emission for the past 50 years, which is indicated in figure 1 of Appendix A (Tiseo, 2021). Although it is evident that carbon monoxide emissions are decreasing at a significant rate, the remainder of emissions has remained at a constant rate. According to the Nature Conservancy organization:

The average carbon footprint for a person in the United States is 16 tons, one of the highest rates in the world. Globally, the average carbon footprint is closer to 4 tons. To have the best chance of avoiding a 2℃ rise in global temperatures, the average global carbon footprint per year needs to drop to under 2 tons by 2050.

In order to bring rates down, the world must work together to lower the carbon footprint, a measurement of how much a single person creates carbon compounds.

The majority of carbon monoxide emissions are accredited to gas-powered vehicles. The percentage of emissions has been going down, almost 95% of emissions have been reduced, but a single car with high emissions rates can still be harmful to the environment (Greiner, 1998). With the creation of the sustainable electric vehicles from Tesla, they have created a new era of vehicles that emit no emissions. As more money gets poured into learning how to make them even more affordable, electric cars will soon be the go-to. This will eventually make the carbon monoxide emissions from vehicles minimal to none.

As humans, we want to do the best for our bodies in order to keep them healthy. However, there are some instances where we can’t control what goes into our bodies. Humans require several components and variables to function throughout the day. One of these necessities is the air we breathe. The basic makeup of the air we breathe is composed of nitrogen, oxygen, and small percentages of other gasses. Yet, what would happen if the standard composition of the atmosphere was disrupted? Fortunately, the Air Quality Index (AQI) was created. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the AQI was created with the intent to “tell how clean or unhealthy the air is, and what associated health effects might be a concern” (EPA, 2014). The AQI allows us to determine the best course of action and what to look for if the air quality is poor on a particular day.

The importance of air quality strongly relates to our pulmonary and cardiac functions. The primary diseases that are caused by poor air quality include: stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, heart disease, and acute respiratory infections. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are an estimated 7 million people that die from complications due to air pollution (WHO, 2022). With pulmonary disease being the number three leading cause of death globally, funding and creating a sustainable way to produce clean air is vital for future generations.

Similar to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, air pollution is merely a catalyst when it comes to fatality rates in people with underlying pulmonary diseases. There are several other variables that can account for pulmonary diseases, such as smoking tobacco products. However, a constant flow of poor quality air paired with other underlying factors can prove lethal in the long run. As shown in appendix B, figure 2, pulmonary disease has been on an upward climb for the past 80 years (Crapo, 2019). One of the primary forms of pulmonary disease, COPD, accounts for 20% of 7 million deaths (WHO, 2021).

Air pollution is emitted everywhere but in different densities. The highest densities of air pollution are produced mainly in southern and eastern parts of Asia; Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Iraq (Moya, 2022). Several of the countries listed are also categorized as some of the most impoverished nations. According to University of Washington researcher Anjum Hajat, Ph.D., and her research into the correlation between air pollution and poverty “showed that air pollution is higher in poorer communities” (Failey, 2016). From Hajat’s research, it makes sense that several of these countries that are categorized as impoverished make up a majority of the world’s air pollution.

There are several options both governments and the general population can do to help fight air pollution. The most pronounced government-funded agreement that aims to help alleviate and minimize climate change as a whole is the Paris Agreement. This agreement acts as a way to hold high polluting countries accountable and hold them to create commitments to cut climate pollution (Denchak, 2021). Unfortunately, like many issues in the world, effective change to aid the efforts of fighting climate change comes down to funding. Looking at the American budget, President Joe Biden has pledged $44.9 billion, less than 2% of the total budget, to help the climate crisis (Vahlsing, 2022). Although this may seem like a lot of money, in reality, this is only a penny in the ocean. According to Dr. David Archer, an estimate of “closer to $100,000 per ton of carbon” will be needed to effectively change climate change for good, roughly $185 trillion (Lerner, 2020). With the aid of the United Nations and other countries, this crisis could be solved if put at a higher priority.

As the fight against climate change is a group effort, the world’s population can not only rely on the government to fix it. The role of the people is just as important. Some fundamental changes to daily life that are recommended by the EPA are to always look for ways to conserve energy (EPA, 2022). This can be done by turning off electronics when not in use, carpooling when able, use of non-electric transportation (bicycles), and avoiding gas-powered tools. Making these easy changes in life can be very effective in mass practice.

Air pollution is not only a significant cause of climate change; it is also a cause of the deterioration of respiratory health in humans. The yearly decrease in air quality and increase in carbon dioxide emissions contributes to the millions of mortalities per year due to respiratory diseases and illness. As of now, the government-created acts to fight climate change are not enough as funding is one of the most significant issues. The global population as a whole needs to work together in order to battle this ongoing war against air pollution and climate change.


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Failey, T. (2016, April). Poor communities exposed to elevated air pollution levels. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Retrieved April 30, 2022, from

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Ian Tiseo. (2021, March 29). U.S Air Pollutant Emissions by Type 1970-2020. Statista. Retrieved April 30, 2022, from

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Appendix A




Fig. 1 Annual emissions of common pollutants dating from 1970 to 2020.

Appendix B




Fig. 2 Annual data collected of diagnosed pulmonary disease since 1940.

A Natural Wonder in Peril: The Downward Spiral of the Great Barrier Reef and What Must Be Done to Protect It

By Emily Cade


This research essay details information about the Great Barrier Reef and the ways in which it is under threat due to climate change. The research includes general information and facts about the Great Barrier Reef, such as its location, functions, and the wildlife that lives within it. The research also includes coral bleaching; the biggest issue currently plaguing the Great Barrier Reef. It concludes by touching on the decision to keep the Great Barrier Reef off of the endangered sites list, and why scientists believe the reef should be recognized as an endangered site. The research was conducted by looking at multiple credible sources regarding the Great Barrier Reef and climate change.

Keywords: The Great Barrier Reef, coral, coral bleaching, climate change, endangered

A Natural Wonder in Peril

The Great Barrier Reef, widely considered one of the world’s seven natural wonders, is famous for its exquisite beauty and rich, diverse wildlife. Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to visit the Reef and see the wonder personally, but as a consequence of climate change, we have forever lost the privilege of seeing it in its prime. With each passing day, the Reef continues to dwindle away, and while some conservation efforts are being made, it may be too little too late. The World Heritage Committee’s continuous refusal to list the GBR as an endangered site is a significant blow to the hope of keeping the Reef alive. If the Great Barrier Reef is to receive the support it desperately needs, it is imperative that the World Heritage Committee officially recognize it as an endangered site.

Located off the coast of Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef is the crown jewel of Australia. Over 3,000 individual corals coexist and dwell in the Coral Sea in an almost unfathomable array of shapes and colors. The GBR is so massive that it is visible even from space. Beyond being a vast, breathtaking sight, the Reef is a natural ecosystem that serves many vital roles, both for its inhabitants and the world. According to the Great Barrier Marine Park Authority, nearly 6,000 living creatures call the Reef home, including sharks, rays, whales, dolphins, jellyfish, worms, mollusks, turtles, and of course corals. Many of these organisms rely on the Reef for food, shelter, and breeding grounds. The Reef is also home to a huge amount of algae, which produce over half of Earth’s oxygen. The BBC (2020) reports that since 1995, half of the corals residing in the GBR have died. As the Reef suffers, so does everything in it.

One of the biggest threats the Great barrier Reef faces is a phenomenon called “coral bleaching.” According to the National Ocean Service, coral bleaching occurs when intense stress from changes such as temperature causes coral to release algae called zooxanthellae, turning the organisms completely white and “bleaching” them. Zooxanthellae have a symbiotic relationship with corals, providing them with both a source of food and their striking colors. When the algae leave the coral, the coral loses key nutrients and in some cases, dies. One of the main causes of coral bleaching is rising water temperatures, largely thanks to global warming. Obviously, a widescale coral bleaching outbreak would result in disaster for the Great Barrier Reef. Sadly, that very misfortune has occurred as recently as 2020.

In the last five years, the Great Barrier Reef has suffered not one, not two, but three mass bleaching events. The most recent outbreak occurred in April of 2020 and left 25% of the reef bleached. This number indicates that 60% of coral living in the reef has now suffered bleaching (Readfearn, 2020.) With over half of the GBR experiencing the effects of coral bleaching, it is clear that action must be taken to turn the situation around. However, the chief scientist at the Great barrier Reef Marine Park, David Wachenfeld, fears these rather depressing statistics may actually lead to inaction. Wachenfeld (2020) says “My greatest fear is that people will lose hope for the reef. Without hope, there’s no action.” It is important to know that the Great Barrier Reef, while at great risk, is not dead. While it will require swift and meaningful action to keep this marvel alive, it is not an impossible task.

The biggest threat to the Great Barrier Reef is coral bleaching, which is caused by global warming. Unfortunately, many scientists are of the belief that we are past the point of no return when it comes to the global warming crisis. Our best option now is mitigation and adaptation; to postpone destruction for as long as possible and make changes along with our world. Seeing as we likely aren’t bringing global warming to a stop anytime soon, what else can be done to slow the spread of coral bleaching? An interesting project could serve as a possible solution. “Coral gardening” is a coral restoration process that is conducted by The Reef Restoration Foundation. According to Lara Esposito (2020) of the Climate Institute “…small pieces of coral are taken from Fitzroy Island and suspended from a tree-like structure to promote quick growth.” Within the first seven months of the project, there were already approximately 400 corals in the Foundation’s coral garden. Creative solutions like these could serve to preserve at least some parts of the GBR. Although tragically, it is very unlikely that the Great Barrier Reef will ever be returned to its former glory, there is still hope that it can adapt and live on.

Of course, creative solutions and community action are wonderful things, but the Great barrier Reef also desperately needs government support. There are several conservation measures that have been put in place by the Australian government, but the Reef is still in serious trouble and many scientists believe these efforts fall short. What these scientists are calling for is an official recognition of the Great Barrier Reef as an endangered site, which is a title the Reef has been denied. In 2017, the United Nations World Heritage Committee voted against recognizing the GBR as endangered. While the World Heritage Committee acknowledged that the Reef was at risk, they seemed to believe that Australia’s conservation efforts were sufficient. The decision likely was made to protect the Australian government from political and tourism struggles (Galluci, 2017.) According to the Australia Pacific campaigner for Greenpeace, Alix Foster Vander Elst, “An endangerment listing, as tragic as that would be, would be a more realistic representation of the state of the reef and would at least force the federal government to act on climate change.” An endangerment listing would make it clear that the reef is in real trouble, and the Australian government would have to be more proactive about its conservation.

As reported by Al Jazeera (2021), in 2021, the World Heritage Committee once again voted against endangered status, enraging scientists and environmental activists. David Ritter, the CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific spoke out his frustration with the decision, stating “This is not an achievement- it is a day of infamy for the Australian Government.” Year after year, the Reef continues to suffer and continues to be denied all of the support it could potentially be receiving- the support it desperately needs.  The true reality of the Great Barrier Reef appears to be far grimmer than the reality both the Australian and International governments are seeing, and their denial of the endangered status of the Reef shows that.

To deny that the Great Barrier Reef is in serious waters would be turning a blind eye to a beautiful and vital part of our planet. The Reef provides revenue and culture for the Australian people and serves as a home and haven for such a vast and wonderful array of plants and animals, many of which would be unable to survive outside of the Reef. To simply allow it to fade away and die would cause a cruel and unjust domino effect to be set into motion. The death of the Great Barrier Reef would mean the death of an unfathomable amount of marine life, as well as the loss of an Australian landmark and international treasure. It’s true that the Great Barrier Reef has seen better days, but until we can say we’ve done everything in our power to keep it alive, we cannot give up on it. This is why it is so important that the World Heritage Committee takes action and recognizes the Reef as endangered. With that title, the GBR would be able to receive greater aid than ever before. Even with current and well-meaning conservation efforts, the Reef needs every little bit of help it can be afforded. The Great Barrier Reef is still alive and intact and still waiting for help. Until we’ve exhausted all possible methods, we cannot lose hope for this beautiful natural wonder.


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Readfearn, G. (2021, November 29). ‘Confronting’: Great Barrier Reef faces frequent extreme coral bleaching at 2C heating, research finds. The Guardian.

Readfearn, Graham & Wachenfeld, David. (2020, April 6). Great Barrier Reef’s third mass bleaching in five years is the most widespread yet. The Guardian.