Your 2017 New Year’s Resolution: Breathe Cleaner Air
Hurry! 2017 is almost upon us! Don’t delay—you know the drill. We all have to jot down some New Year’s Resolutions, stick with them for a few months (if we’re lucky), and then forget about them altogether until next year!
Or perhaps we ought to shake things up in 2017. Perhaps instead of setting the broad and overly ambitious “adopt a healthier lifestyle” goal, we start with something smaller and more achievable such as “breathe cleaner air” and go from there. After all, one good habit begets another, right?
Unfortunately, as you’re probably well aware, air quality is a massive issue in both the U.S. and indeed around the world, so the challenge of accomplishing this goal may sound a bit daunting at first. In fact, in their 2016 State of the Air report, the American Lung Association found that 52.1 percent of Americans—some 166 million individuals—lived in counties that had unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution. Similarly, in a related first-of-its-kind study published earlier this year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) attributed over 6.5 million global deaths to air pollution.
Also, did I say this goal was smaller and more achievable? I meant to add “imperative” in there as well, because—in tune with the IEA findings—exposure to bad air has the potential to result in a host of cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases such as asthma, and, of course, death. And, unfortunately, air pollution is by no means an isolated problem that can be fixed by simply moving to another city, state, or country.
But don’t fret! The proliferation of renewable energy systems and low-carbon vehicles will, in time, help to improve air quality around the globe!
“Clean air is a basic human right that most of the world’s population lacks,” said Fatih Birol, IEA executive director, in a press release. “No country—rich or poor—can claim that the task of tackling air pollution is complete. But governments are far from powerless to act and need to act now. Proven energy policies and technologies can deliver major cuts in air pollution around the world and bring health benefits, provide broader access to energy and improve sustainability.”
So what are we to do while we wait for these “major cuts in air pollution,” you ask? Although it sounds a bit underwhelming, the best course of action we can take is to simply avoid ‘bad air’ as best we can. This includes limiting time spent in traffic, avoiding secondhand smoke, and monitoring local and regional Air Quality Indices (AQI). The Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow system is a particularly good resource for monitoring real-time and forecasted air quality data and should factor into your decision to conduct any outdoor activity.
Additionally, you can better identify areas of poor or even dangerous air quality by investing in certain devices that alert you to environmental factors. The SPARROW wearable air monitor, for instance, measures for carbon monoxide and communicates with local air quality monitoring networks to deliver air quality data wherever you go.
In this way, you can find healthier routes when you’re out walking your dog or commuting to and from school or work. With real-time monitoring, you can also be alerted much faster to concentrations of life-threatening pollutants like carbon monoxide.
There are also a number of simple changes you can make at home to reduce indoor air pollution which often can be much worse than you’d experience outdoors. For starters, invest in some indoor plants like aloe vera that can absorb harmful pollutants and help purify the air in your home. You’ll also want to pay close attention to the cleaning products, pesticides, and other household items you use in and around your home as they can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can cause severe health problems.
It is also of paramount importance that you ensure proper ventilation throughout your home and have appliances like your HVAC unit regularly inspected and maintained.