During the recent United Nations Climate Conference in Glasgow, government leaders and environmental demonstrators alike called for action to combat climate change, including air pollution. “Air pollution knows no borders,” the UN points out, and improving air quality is “key to tackling the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.” Yet, according to the UN, 43 percent of countries don’t even have a legal definition for air pollution.
Why Should You Care about Air Pollution?
Air pollution can worsen asthma, COPD and cardiovascular disease, and is especially bad for children. In fact, the UN reports that air pollution kills seven million humans a year, and many air pollutants also contribute to global warming.
Big problems like climate change can feel overwhelming, but the good news is, we don’t have to wait for governments to act before stepping up to improve air quality in our own communities. Here’s how.
1) Happy Trails to You
Where feasible, walk or bike on your commute to work or school. Bonus: While exploring new paths, you’ll also get in some healthy cardiovascular activity and boost mood and cognitive function.
2) Take the Bus, Gus
Too far to walk or bike? Switching to public transportation for a daily 20-mile round trip lowers your carbon footprint by 4,800 pounds each year. If you do need a car for occasional use, read more about greener transportation options here.
3) Use a Rake, Jake
Why do we need loud, gas-powered leaf blowers disturbing a peaceful neighborhood at 7 a.m.? Or at all? According to the New York Times, the leaf blower exists in “a category of environmental hell all its own, spewing pollutants—carbon monoxide, smog-forming nitrous oxides, carcinogenic hydrocarbons—into the atmosphere at a literally breathtaking rate.” Use a rake or a broom, or at the very least, an electric-powered leaf blower.
4) Get Onboard
Are you a sailor? If you’re a boat owner, look into swapping portable generators and installed gensets for other ways of generating electricity onboard. A solar bank or wind generator, for example, can provide enough power to keep up with a boat’s refrigeration system.
5) Schedule a Tune Up
Fully inflated tires and properly aligned wheels make cars more fuel efficient. According to FuelEconomy.gov, keeping tires at the correct pressure can improve gas mileage up to 3.3 percent—that’s the equivalent of saving up to ten cents per gallon of gas. Americans use up 123 billion gallons of gas every year, so if everyone puts a little DIY into their tires’ PSI, we would save 3 billion gallons of gas.
Replacing old, clogged air filters also boosts fuel efficiency and reduces exhaust emissions. And maybe clear that junk in the trunk? At highway speeds, excess weight in the car can reduce fuel efficiency by 25 percent.
6) Don’t Be Idle
If you can switch off the engine while waiting in line to pick up a kid, do so. Otherwise, students are exposed to ground-level ozone emissions. (Arranging a car-pool with another family helps cut down on the number of cars in line to begin with.) Drive-through restaurant windows also encourage idling vehicles, so if you are able, pop inside for that fancy latte or tasty order of fries instead of waiting in line with all the other cars.
Food waste such as coffee grounds, apple peels, and leftover celery bits can be easily composted, using a countertop compost bin with a built-in charcoal filter. Bacteria break down these scraps, reducing their volume by about 50 percent. That means less trash rotting in a landfill and producing climate-killing methane gas.
8) Plant Trees in the Yard
Trees scrub the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. The shade from trees can also keep your home cooler, reducing the need for air conditioning. According to Green America, some common trees that improve outdoor air quality include Eastern red cedar, red maple, American elm and white poplar. However, do a little digging—pardon the pun—to see what species are best for your region. Native plants need less water and fertilizer, as well as fostering healthy wildlife populations.
9) Where There’s Smoke…
Who doesn’t love a S’more around a backyard fire pit or a cozy night curled up by the fireplace? We’re not saying to cut these pleasures out entirely—ya gotta live—but treating them as an occasional splurge rather than a regular event will reduce the amount of particulates being thrown up in the air by your woodsy pleasures. Build fires with dry firewood, which burns more cleanly than unaged wood and emits fewer pollutants.
10) Click Mindfully
Maritime shipping is a huge polluter, contributing nearly 3 percent of the world’s gas emissions. That doesn’t sound like a lot, until you realize it’s the same yearly output as all of South America. Target, for example, imported 600,000 containers in 2020, generating over 2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. The cargo industry is slowly changing, as it explores alternative fuel sources like hydrogen and even shipping by schooner, but in the meantime, we can help out. Shop locally when possible, and take a moment to consider how much you really need all those overseas consumer goods that seem to leap effortlessly into our online shopping carts.