U.S. Is Polluting Less, So Why Is Our Air Smoggier Than Ever?

The United States has managed to reduce the amount of air pollution it produces, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at and breathing in the air. That’s because pollution created in Asia is gradually making its way across the Pacific Ocean to the western hemisphere.

According to research published in the Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics journal, up to 65 percent of the newly created smog in the U.S. has actually drifted over from Asia. The country’s western states are most vulnerable to the increase in ozone due to their proximity to the continent.

The study, a collaboration between scholars and officials at Princeton University, Columbia University and the Environmental Protection Agency, studied ozone levels dating all the way back to 1980. For decades, scientists have worried that Asia’s spike in pollution could pose problems all the way to the U.S., and this longitudinal research appears to support that belief.

Asia’s worst offenders aren’t hard to guess: China and India. These two countries are undergoing an industrial revolution of sorts, resulting in a load of factories fueled by dirty energy sources like coal.

Overall, Asia has tripled its smog production in the past 17 years, which unfortunately counteracts the work the U.S. has done. To its credit, the U.S. has chopped its nitrogen oxide emissions by half thanks to regulations on vehicles and the Clean Air Act.

Rather than using this study as an excuse to point fingers at Asia, though, let it serve as a reminder that all of humanity will need to come together as global citizens in order to tackle these environmental woes. Pollution does not just hover over the country that produces it. What happens in one part of the world can have a negative impact on the environmental conditions in other parts, too.

That’s a lesson that the United States in particular could stand to learn. As the second greatest producer of carbon emissions, the U.S. is doing more than its fair share of damage to the planet. We may be generating less smog than we used to, but we’re still heating the planet at an alarming rate.

Unfairly, it’s not the United States that’s suffering the most (or second most) due to climate change. That distinction goes to the island nations who are watching their land sink underwater as the glaciers melt and the sea level rises.

Perhaps seeing an instance when another part of the world’s environmental messiness is just the remedy we need to wake up to the eco-recklessness that we impose on other nations. We’re all in this together and we need to factor that into our environmental policies.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Marie W
Marie W9 months ago

thank you for posting

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill10 months ago

The smog comes across the Pacific from China. China never lives by it's agreements.

Telica R
Telica R11 months ago

Thanks for sharing

Philippa P
Philippa Powersabout a year ago


heather g
heather gabout a year ago

We live on the one small, blue planet.

Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeldabout a year ago

Margaret G.,
Read my previous post explains a few of issues that have led to the recent problems. Each island has its own particular issues. Some are rising, while others are falling. On average, more islands have gained area than lost.


Margaret G
Margaret Goodmanabout a year ago

Dan Blossfeld wrote, " ... fake news about islands sinking under water due to melting glaciers ... ' Dan, as far as I know, islands are sinking under water. If so, what is causing this phenomenon?

Margie F
Margie FOURIEabout a year ago

It is so easy to blame someone else.

william Miller
william Millerabout a year ago


Anne M
Anne Moranabout a year ago

Asia's to blame ?? - WOW !! - amazing how this smog is wafting it's way across the ocean... - It truly IS a small world...