Air pollution solution: We need plants to survive anyway, so let’s make there be more of them…

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.

This image is concept art of a hypothetical

The future could be beautiful…

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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  1. says

    There is another aspect to this – our forest maintenance should go back to pollarding/copiccing wherever and wheneverer possible, and with local species if possible. Further harwesting and processing trees grown this way along the highways and roads could be automated or at least semi-automated and there are. And thus obtained biomass consists entirely of carbon sequestered from the atmosphere and could be used as fuel.
    Lawns on public areas in cities should be replaced at least in part with fast growing shrubs that produce long wooden shoots in first thre-four years and that respond well to being cut down to just a few cm above the earth afterwards. There is plenty of such species that grow rapidly an then slow down unless cut, they can be quite decorative and again, during the fast growing three-four years they would sequester a lot of carbon. And instead of mowing the lawns each two weeks you would have to harvest them every thre-four years.
    Yes, we have a lot we could do right now and are not doing it yet. The greedy have crippled our ability to do anything by lying for too long and too effectively.

  2. says

    I went to an organic farmers association meeting in New Hampshire probably 7 years ago, and they were talking about the possibility of NH feeding itself. The soil’s not great – LOTS of rocks and sand – and there’s not much flat land to farm.

    Someone made a presentation about some experiments run on a method to create topsoil on the barren land left by slash and burn agriculture.

    Basically, they got something like canary grass, that has shoots capable of punching through a dense vegetation mat. They let it grow to a few feet tall, then ran a roller over it to flatten it after seeding. I don’t recall how many times they did this in a growing season, but the end result was that in the space of three years or so, they have a significant layer of rich, root-anchored soil built up.

    I’ve been trying to find something more concrete about that for the last couple years, and I haven’t been able to find it in the haze of other irrelevant crap out there, and it hasn’t been quite worth the effort to try to track down the presenter or their materials, but it stuck in my mind as a potential use of some of those big mono-culture farms and their equipment.

    If we get serious about our control over the climate and what that means, I feel like harvesting carbon from the atmosphere ought to be something we pay farmers to do. They have ALL the tools they need, and they won’t even have to worry about stuff like weeds – they’d just need the funding.

    Anybody know a billionaire?

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