Los Angeles' famous smog, photo by Metro Transportation Library and Archive (Flickr CC)

The dirty, low-tech burning of fossil fuels, wood and other biomass produces poisonous pollution and “short-lived climate forcers”, mainly black carbon, methane and ground-level ozone.

Black carbon (soot) from sources such as crop burning, dirty diesel engines and simple coal or wood burning stoves causes cardio-pulmonary diseases and low birth weight. UN figures put deaths due to indoor smoke from cooking stoves alone at 1.9 million per year – mostly women and children in developing countries. A study from the University of Delaware states that soot from diesel freight ships contributes to 60,000 deaths from lung disease every year.

Ground-level ozone and methane from livestock farming, leaking gas pipelines and wastewater treatment also has adverse effects on human health, pollutes ground water and damages crops.

These pollutants only stay in the atmosphere for days and weeks, but make up some 25-30% of climate changing emissions, according to the UN environment program and the World Meteorological Organization.

The full impact of black carbon is still being assessed but it is linked to the melting of the glaciers in the Himalayas, disruption of traditional rainfall patterns in India and Africa, and low yields of maize, rice, wheat and soya bean crops in Asia and elsewhere. It is also partly generated by wood-burning stoves and dirty diesel cars.

–Guardian

In poor countries, replacing rudimentary cooking stoves, which burn wood, crop waste, coal and dung, with clean burning stoves saves lives. Ground-level ozone, mainly from vehicular traffic, causes and contributes to lung diseases and poisons plants, according to the US EPA. Removing dirty diesel burning vehicles from the roads and seas would therefore save lives, as would prohibiting the burning of agricultural waste.

Read more about the economic, health and environmental impacts of black carbon and other air pollutants and what can be done to mitigate them in the Guardian.

Also check out the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves