Doing Our Bit for Air Quality
Every day we need energy to heat and light our homes, and to drive our cars. Most of the energy we use for this comes from the burning of fossil fuels which release pollutant gases, including carbon monoxide, particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, into the atmosphere. Through international legislation and national strategies to reduce air pollution, countries have witnessed a gradual improvement in air quality, with reference to some of the common air pollutants. Nevertheless, it is only by reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and energy consumption that a long-term improvement in air quality can be maintained.
The individual has little influence on how his/her energy is produced, for example by coal or gas fired power stations, or alternatively by wind or solar power. However, the individual does have control on how he or she uses that available energy. Through the implementation of simple measures we can all effectively bring about a reduction in energy consumption, and help to reduce the amount of emissions which may lead to poor air quality. Using less energy also means savings on fuel bills.
Heating (space and water) accounts for approximately 25% of UK energy use. On average 55% of fuel bills are spent on space heating, but in an uninsulated house about half of this heat escapes through the walls! Water heating can account for up to 20% of the average fuel bill but we are often wasteful of this resource. Energy use in these two areas can be cut whilst still providing the heating that you require. Energy-saving light bulbs are now widely available in supermarkets and electrical stores. The initial cost of energy saving light bulbs are relatively high compared to standard light bulbs, but the lower running costs and longer lifetimes mean that the initial cost can be recouped within a couple of years. The energy use and efficiency of household appliances, such as fridges, freezers, cookers, washing machines and televisions depends on the age, model and manufacturer. In the UK 20% of electricity is used by domestic appliances. Retailers in Europe are required to label all new fridges and freezers with an eco-label.
Transport is the fastest growing energy-consumption sector in the UK and the number of cars on the road is projected to increase by 17% by 2010. It is therefore an area that requires great attention to reduce fuel consumption and hence pollution. Transport pollution is emitted at ground level from a mobile source, and is therefore a larger problem than other pollution sources. As an alternative to driving the car, walk, cycle or use public transport where it is suitable and safe for you to do so, particularly for short trips where using the car is not really necessary and an alternative exists. Where walking or cycling is impractical, consider taking public transport if it is available and convenient to use. A bus full of passengers is more than twice as fuel-efficient as a family car. In addition, if you and your friends drive to work consider the option of car sharing.
Everyone contributes to national and global emissions of pollutant gases, but it is not only governments that can take action to reduce the environmental damage caused. For their policies to work effectively and for their targets to be achieved the actions of the individual are required. The cumulative energy reductions by individuals would reduce the need for energy consumption, conserve stocks of raw materials such as coal, oil and gas, and bring about a reduction in pollutant gas emissions which can cause poor air quality.