It’s Getting Hard to Breathe
It’s like a scene from a disaster movie: Flights are grounded, traffic and shipping comes to a standstill, schools close, factories are shut down, government inspectors patrol the streets, the tops of high-rise buildings disappear from view, and city inhabitants walk around with face masks on as one news agency reported “in a daze.” The reason? Smog.
At the time of writing, the city of Beijing has suffered from extreme air pollution and the 22 million inhabitants of Peking have been ordered to stay indoors. According to Chinese Environmental News- an official publication of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, in spite of emergency measures being implemented, smog concentration was increasing in one place after another and as many as 24 cities had been forced to issue red alerts. As an example, we only have to take the steel-producing area of Tangshan. Recently, in the city of Hebei, the air quality index (AQI) reached 578, bearing in mind that red alerts are issued when the AQI is expected to exceed 200 for more than four days. Hazardous concentrations of particles known as PM2.5 were also over 30 times higher than the safe recommended limit as set by the World Health Organization.
This dangerous contaminating trend is becoming increasingly common in other cities around the world and a day does not go by now without us reading about alarming levels of air pollution in Paris, London or Madrid, so much so that recently the word “Airpocalypse” was first used to describe the phenomenon. This fact refutes the common claim that air pollution is generally a problem only for industrializing nations. A recent report published Oxfam sums it all up clearly: “Half of the world’s carbon emissions are produced by the world’s richest 10 %, while the poorest half – 3.5 billion people – are responsible for only 10 %”.
” More than 2 million people die each year as a result of the effects of air pollution
Air Quality Awareness Week (celebrated in May 2016), and Air Quality Action Plans that are drawn up by local authorities and even Departments for the Environment in many European countries that address the importance of air quality in school curriculums, are all part of widespread efforts to raise awareness of the dangers of the dirty air we are breathing. One such initiative to be highlighted is the Plume Air Report, an advanced atmospheric and air pollution forecasting platform that, similar to a weather forecast, provides information on the pollution levels and pollutants in over 200 cities globally. The company behind the project has described their aims as, “making the air more transparent, helping individuals improve their environmental health and enabling cities and enterprises to build cleaner products, services and policies.” Check out levels in the town closest to you and download the app!
One of these so-called “cleaner products” that has been launched in the private sector at the end of 2016 is by a Dutch designer called Daan Roosegaarde that has turned his efforts to try and fight climate change: The Smog free tower. A 23 foot tower that purifies the air rather like a traditional normal-looking purifier. It traps the smog and contaminating particles in its filters, blasts them with a positive electrical charge, expels clean air and then with the dirty stuff that’s left inside makes jewelry.
What? Did you just say jewelry? Yes, pretty little smog-free rings.
After a recent test in Rotterdam, the company announced that it had managed to clean the surrounding level of air by some 70 %, purifying as much as 30,000 m3 of air each hour. Only time will tell if inventions like this one are adopted by other cities and will really make a better and cleaner difference to our lives.
” Recent innovative applications and inventions such as the Plume Air Report and the Smog Free Tower are raising awareness and even cleaning the air we breathe.
And as we move into 2017 we will see just how much longer so many parts of northern China continue to choke under a blanket of thick smog. To their credit Greenpeace recently commended the Chinese government for “taking air pollution seriously,” however, the recent “Airpocalypse” is evidence that much more needs to be done. Since 2005 the country has become the world’s number one greenhouse gas emitter producing more than a quarter of the planet’s yearly emissions. It is very easy to point a finger and demand more cleaner greener reforms however, let us not forget; China is the world’s manufacturing giant and one reason why the country’s emissions are spiraling out of control is because it is making more and more of the products that we all want to buy. An article in Carbon brief made the following strong argument, “… if we have clothes and products with a “Made in China” label, then we are also responsible for some of the country’s pollution.”
Ironically, what we do over here, if we are reading this in Europe- thousands of miles away from China, may even affect the quality of the air they are breathing over there.