Monday, September 15, 2008
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
The Importance of Air Quality
Air Pollution & Air Quality
September 11, 2008
Air quality is important to me.
As someone who regularly commutes on bicycle and public transportation I am reminded regularly of the effects of poor air quality on personal health.
I remember in particular a summer in Seattle that was hot that I would ride my bike or take the bus to school. On one of those muggy afternoons I remember feeling nauseous from the fumes of the many diesel buses lining the streets. It seemed too much to bear.
My routes would change based on heat and other factors so that I could experience the noticeably cleaner air just on the side streets. I know that in some ways the air probably was not that much cleaner, but in terms of the most obvious air pollution, riding a bike behind a diesel bus breathing heavily from the physical exertion is a sure way to recognize it.
Air quality also became a factor on choosing where I might want to go to graduate school. Bellingham, Washington is known and frequently listed as one of the places in America with the best air quality. Bellingham, just 30 minutes south of the US-Canadian boarder is a gorgeous city with mountain views, streams and trees. They have a terrific environmental program and I sincerely considered going there both for the quality education and quality of life. Air quality is one factor I considered among numerous others that affected how I thought about the place.
Serving a mission in England I am not scared of poor air quality. It is particularly noticeable when one blows his or her nose and notices the color: soot black. Dense cities seem to really struggle with air pollution.
In land use planning the idea of smart growth promotes more mixed-use areas where commercial, industrial and residential areas all mingle. Combining these uses decreases the distances needed to travel to important areas and increases the residential density. More people in less space with less need to travel decreases many forms of pollution. It can be much more efficient for example to heat a large complex than to heat multiple small complexes with many more sources of heat loss. Many polluting activities can be reduced such as travel, heating or electricity usage overall. However, while density seems to reduce per capita pollution, the amount of pollution per geographic area would likely increase. If half the previously made trips were reduced by the new development, but ten times as many people lived in the community than did before you might see 5x as much pollution per block than you would have seen before even though the overall effect on the earth might be reduced. Visible and breathable signs of air pollution may not measure the whole effect. Pollution per capita might be a more accurate measure. in that measure China might not be any worse at polluting than the United States, but it is more visible because the pollution is spread out over a greater amount of space. In that sense in order to reduce air pollution one may want to live in a place that feels and probably is more polluted.
1. Money Magazine. Top 25 Cleanest Air. Sep 10, 2008.