A friend of mine, who knows more about these things than I do, corrects me when the subject of global warming enters the conversation.
The correct term, she reminds me, "is climate change." The bottom line is scientists who study the weather are pretty much in agreement that the cumulative effect of decades of air pollution will be to change weather patterns over the long haul. They've come up with evidence that it's pretty much started, as several of the hottest years since records started being kept have been in the last 10 years.
On average, in the next several years, things are expected to get warmer, hence the term global warming; what happens because of global warming, that is to say an increase in the amount of fresh water melting into the oceans, is theorized to possibly have a different kind of effect. Some people suspect it could trigger something approximating a new ice age. In other words, forecasting climate change resulting from air pollution is a bit like forecasting the prospects for nice weather next weekend when we're watching TV this weekend. It's inexact, but you can probably get a general idea.
That the science is inexact and there is disagreement as to whether we'll be freezing or cooking has been the ideal excuse for folks who don't want to do anything about air pollution to lay claim to the position that the prospect of climate change or global warming or whatever you want to call it is just hype or scare tactics puffed out for the purpose of political gain.
Curiously, former president and oil man George W. Bush was among those who denied a link between air pollution and the climate early on as president. Later on, however, he acknowledged that the scientific evidence does, indeed, draw a link between air pollution and the potential for climate change.
I often ponder this as I walk my dog along Route 24 in Forest Hill, not so much because I often get a whiff of the car and truck exhaust from the busy road, but because of another pollution issue. Every spring and fall, a kind group of volunteers spends a Saturday walking along the section of roadway and fills several large bags with garbage. Then, within a few weeks, there's plenty more garbage strewn about. It's as if the cleanup crew never came through. Then I think of a section of highway — the ramp linking Moravia Road with Route 40 down in Baltimore — that doesn't have a cleanup crew to make the rounds a few times a year. It's as if that bit of roadway were cut through the land of garbage; you can't see the curbs or ground, thanks to all the trash people have tossed out their windows. I suspect were it not for the efforts the cleanup crews, Route 24 near my house would look an awful lot like that ramp down on the east side of Baltimore.
By now you'd think everyone would have gotten the message that it isn't OK to toss garbage out the window, but clearly this isn't the case. I'm guessing the same mentality that presumes air pollution doesn't have any discernible effect on the air also presumes that tossing out a soda bottle or sack of fast food leftovers won't have any discernible effect on the roadway.
I'm here to tell everyone who thinks pollution is something we shouldn't worry about to start worrying. Sure, air pollution may trigger global warming, which triggers a freshwater influx in the ocean which triggers global cooling which then ends up being offset by more global warming. That doesn't mean there's no effect. Beyond that, however, is the harsh reality that there's more to air pollution than global warming, or climate change. The harsh reality is, you wouldn't leave your car running in a garage then send your kids in there to play, so there's no reason to presume that the poisons that come out of the tailpipe are safe when they're cut loose into a bigger space.
In a way, it's just like tossing a scrap of paper out the window of a car. Yeah, paper can be broken down relatively easily into its natural components and consumed by the environment. Not much harm is done. But unloading tons of paper will overload the environment's ability to break it down. Add in plastic, metal and glass and you've got a much bigger problem.
Yeah, I drive a car and contribute my share to air pollution, but I'm not foolish enough to believe this isn't having an effect on the air I breathe. Unfortunately, like most everyone reading this, I'm not in a position to give up the trappings of modern civilization. I can, however, advocate for cleaner transportation (I'm of the opinion that hydrogen generated by splitting seawater into hydrogen and oxygen using solar-electric panels could power the cars we drive) and call baloney when someone says air pollution's effects are inconsequential.
And yeah, I can also refrain from tossing garbage out my car window and pick up what some other miscreant has tossed out.