When I think of climate change, two things come to mind: carbon pollution and politics. Politics is a topic for another day. But carbon is something that is very relevant to the increasing global temperature, the melting of the polar ice caps and the erratic weather patterns. Carbon overshadows the climate debate to such an extent, that the possibility that other pollutants have big impacts on climate change doesn't occur to most of us.
But I want to draw your attention to another culprit: nitrogen. The use of nitrogen-based fertilizers wrought a big change in the agricultural revolution and many farmers owe their livelihood to them. But the extensive use of these synthetic fertilizers is leading to large amounts of nitrogen in the soil, water supply, and in the atmosphere.
How does nitrogen affect the Earth, you ask? The complete scope of the effect of nitrogen is not known, but studies are under way. The health hazards to human and animal life from nitrogen pollution are aplenty. And there are many different effects of nitrogen on the Earth's climate -- nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas. But nitrogen also fuels plant growth. Additionally, nitrogen is responsible for depletion of the ozone layer.
Right now, it seems that the effects are mixed and we still don't know the answers to all the questions. But here is what researchers know for certain: Reducing the levels of nitrogen pollution can reduce the pace of climate change and global warming.
It seems that the more we know about environmental pollution, the less prepared we are to handle the consequences. While the global attention is focused on carbon footprints, it is time to add other players to this list and ensure that nitrogen gets the attention from policymakers that it deserves.