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Global warming and air pollution are related problems linked by the combustion of fossil fuels. The burning of coal, oil, and natural gas produces not only greenhouse gases, but also a range of harmful air pollutants, including ozone, airborne particulates, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. Exposure to these pollutants causes a number of adverse health effects ranging from shortness of breath and coughing to lung cancer and premature death. As emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise, so too will emissions of these harmful air pollutants. Increasing temperatures will further worsen air quality problems across the United States. Hotter temperatures will speed the formation of ground-level ozone, the main component of smog. Smog exposure damages the lungs and can lead to the development and aggravation of chronic lung diseases, such as asthma. Higher temperatures, combined with elevated carbon dioxide levels, may also increase the concentration of natural air pollutants, such as pollen, which will exacerbate the symptoms of people with allergies. Additionally, as people struggle to adapt to warmer temperatures, increased energy use to power air conditioners on hot days would put even greater amounts of pollutants into the air.
Download PSR's Fact Sheets:
Air Pollution Effects on the Cardiovascular System (PDF)
Air Pollution Effects on the Respiratory System (PDF)
Air Pollution Effects on the Nervous System (PDF)
The Medical and Public Health Impacts of Global Warming (PDF)
Particulate Matter (PDF)