Living in a large city can seem to be an intimidating and complicated existence at times. Safe to say everyone would like to solve world hunger, achieve world peace and solve the climate change dilemma once and for all, if only the working day weren’t so long, or the train would arrive on time. National and global environmental issues like pollution, waste or environmental collapse that fill the headlines and campaigns we see every day often just become too big to deal with, too complicated and someone else’s responsibility or problem. When faced with large issues like climate change, a common response is to do nothing and let those closer to the issue find the solution, while we carry on with our busy lives.
Air pollution is one such issue which can seem remote and daunting. Itself fitting in as one aspect of the broader range of environmental challenges which are of increasing significance in the 21st century. Contrary to popular opinion, in all these areas it is the small actions of people, aggregated, which produces some of the best results. Breaking these issues down, we can see how they are all made up of the small everyday choices and actions we make. From the largest scale of global climate change and atmospheric CO2 release, right down to their smallest components, all these issues have solutions which are accessible and do not require leaving the city to live as a Buddhist monk. Air pollution is no different.
Global Action Plan, the organisation behind the national Clean Air Day initiative has identified a range of small-scale actions which can be taken by anyone which improve air quality in the home, on your street and in your local community. Such small actions as:
- Planting/maintaining your own garden.
- Choosing alternate modes of transport (walk, cycle, scooter, bus, train, hang-glide, car shares) anything to decongest the roads in built-up areas, where air pollution can skyrocket near busy roads.
- Change your route, avoiding busy roads and congested areas.
- If you do need to drive; ensure the car is running efficiently, tyres are pumped and serviced. All these things can contribute to air pollution if not monitored.
- Think about your products in the home; roll on deodorants cause much less pollution than aerosols, avoiding aerosol air fresheners, ensure appliances are running efficiently.
- Purchase wisely; If possible, when purchasing food or products, choose locally produced food or bike delivered items (such as Deliveroo), some delivery services provide hubs for pickups, reducing the number of vans clogging up the streets.
There are so many other tiny changes and choices we can all make in our daily lives which have a significant effect on the long term. £2 a day saved instead of spending on that second coffee or third pint will buy a new iPad in a few months. £1 a day instead of being spent on lottery tickets or chewing gum will buy a new pair of shoes in a month or two. Aggregating small gains requires some perspective but it has a high impact over the long term. It is the same when considering the environment and air quality. For example turning off your engine when waiting for the school pickup can accumulate tonnes of emissions saved as well as hundreds of pounds saved over the course or a year. (Restarting your engine in these situations amasses to about £7 per year in added wear, whilst wasted fuel can easily add up to upwards of £400) (EDF.org, 2009).
The opportunities to make an impact are all around us and, with a little guidance, perception and attention can be utilised to make large impacts. One individual riding a bike to work once will not make a difference, but groups of people, on a neighbourhood, city or national scale making small changes over the long term will yield huge results in making the air with breath cleaner and healthier, to the benefit of everyone.