Many factors shape air quality, including weather and natural phenomena such as volcanoes and forest fires. Pollution travels around the world; winds transport pollutants in and out of the local environment. Sunlight interacts with natural or man-made chemicals in the air to enhance or inhibit the creation of pollutants. Heat and humidity can intensify the impact of pollution.
Human-made air toxins and pollutants—both regulated and unregulated—from stationary (smokestack) and mobile (vehicle emission) sources damage air quality. Vehicles produce the largest amount of air pollutants in Northeast Florida. Jacksonville relies on non-renewable energy sources for energy production and transportation, primarily coal and fossil fuels that produce CO2—a major greenhouse gas implicated in climate change— which is an issue of special concern to Florida because of its low elevation and vulnerability to tropical storms.
Unregulated suburban sprawl with the resultant ever-increasing commute times and the insufficient use of mass transit and its lack of availability on a regional basis lead to more people driving their own cars and more pollutant emissions. Northeast Florida lacks vigorous regional growth management and transportation planning.
While this study, which began with a focus on air quality and air pollutants, does not attempt to address directly the connection between human activities and climate change, it became clear that many of the corrective actions proposed by responsible organizations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and other toxic pollutants would also result in improved overall air quality, creating a win-win outcome. Furthermore, as the study proceeded, a number of major developments came to light:
- the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency must regulate carbon dioxide emissions;
- the Florida Legislature created the Florida Energy Commission—with an advisory group on Climate Change—to create a state energy policy;
- Florida Governor Charlie Crist has called on the Legislature to allocate money for research on alternative energy sources, including solar power and fuels such as biodiesel and ethanol; and
- the public has expressed increasing alarm about the potential impact of climate change.