Even if the temperature wasn’t rising, air pollution would be high on the list of problems we need to solve as we work for a more just and peaceful future. There’s no ambiguity in the research – air pollution from transportation and from industry have a large, measurable affect on human health.
Traditionally, the worst effects of air pollution are felt by those with the most exposure, and those with heightened vulnerability. The sick, the very young, the elderly, and developing fetuses are all more likely to be harmed by poisons in the air, and the less wealth and power you have, the more likely you live near a freeway, factory, or power plant.
And, of course, higher temperatures mean more dangerous air pollution. If you want to look into it more, the WHO might be a good place to start.
So what can we do about it?
Well, the first, and most obvious solution is to find ways to reduce the amount of air pollution we’re putting out. Converting the U.S. from a country that runs mostly on automobile transit, to one that has a solid, nation-wide public transit network, would cause a massive reduction in both air pollution, and in CO2 emissions. Factories can be refitted to capture their exhaust, rather than releasing it into the atmosphere.
My favorite solution is the one that is easiest, cheapest, and most likely to also improve the mental health of the people currently suffering from the burdens of environmental injustice: Governments at every level need to prioritize urban green spaces, and more trees or “green walls” along any highways that we don’t put underground or in air-filtered tunnels.
In addition to helping cut down on local air pollution, increasing plant life in developed areas will also fix CO2 as plant matter that we could then sequester away to reduce greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. Finally, and most importantly to human survival as the temperature rises, more plants means lower temperatures in the city.
If we want this to really work in the long-term, as cities work out how they’re going to survive droughts, they should consider irrigation for city greenspaces as a priority. In the end our survival comes down to our ability to keep plants alive, and we need to start viewing their ability to clean air and produce oxygen equally important to their calories and medicinal compounds.
As always, we have everything we need to enact this and make things better right now. We’re just not doing it yet…
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