Perils of pollution: It’s time we stopped taking clean air for granted

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Let us begin by acknowledging the gravity of the problem. We have not managed to personalise the issue of the deteriorating quality of air or given it due importance. Clean air is taken for granted by most people.

Stats don’t lie

The World Health Organization (WHO), in collaboration with BreatheLife, has developed an online indicator to assess the quality of the air we live in by measuring PM2.5 — fine particulate matter whose higher amounts in the air suggest serious health hazards and deaths.

According to this indicator, all regions of Delhi-NCR are exposed to five times higher amounts of PM2.5 than the stipulated safe level. Nearly all of the global population (99 per cent) lives in places where air pollution levels exceed WHO guideline limits. Despite the said statistics and hard facts, the problem continues and challenges all stakeholders of clean air to take cognisance of the magnitude and nature of the issue.

Time has come for us to take the responsibility to determine where we have gone wrong in dealing with the menace of air pollution.

Ignoring the seriousness of vehicular pollution

Transportation and vehicular pollution present themselves as major contributors to air pollution. People continue to own and use more than the required number of cars to amplify their social status. Although metro and cab-pooling have come into vogue in a few cities, most people prefer to drive, saying it saves money and time. While money and time are important resources, air is equally significant, if not more fundamental. Economists would describe it with certain elegance — ‘lagged adjustment’ — when we ignore a significant change until it absolutely upsets our lives and demands a change in course of action.

The price of industrial progress

Interestingly, the burning of fossil fuels, industrial emissions, and microbial decaying processes in manufacturing chemical and textile industries are integral not only to developing economies but also to air pollution. We have confined ourselves to tapered, straight-jacketed notions of ‘progress’ and ‘development’ and compromised quality of air and life.

Anjum Hajat, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington, explains, “On a global level, our research underscores the importance of social class when considering the unequal distribution of air pollution.”

Therefore, the marginalised sections of societies that are employed in such occupations and industries especially bear the brunt of polluted air.

Clean air: More business less social responsibility

Entrepreneurship too has enabled gatekeeping, a resource meant for everyone. Until recently, air used to be the prime example of a public good – a good which is defined by two characteristics: non-excludable and non-rivalrous. However, the commodification of air in the form of exotic ‘bottled air’ disputes the classification of air as a public good. International firms such as Vitality Air and Auzair claim to sell freshly packaged air from areas with lesser pollution levels. Pure Himalayan Air, an Indian company, claims to make available the fresh air from the mountains of Chamoli, Uttarakhand.

Accounting for people and the environment are old-fashioned, while seizing a business opportunity and creating a market have become primary concerns.

Road ahead

Understanding the problem of air pollution as well as taking concrete steps towards a greener future are essential to ensuring that we do not let ourselves or future generations down.

The author is a 4th-year student doing a Bachelor’s in International Relations at Shiv Nadar Institution of Eminence. Views expressed are personal.

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Perils of pollution: It’s time we stopped taking clean air for granted
Perils of pollution: It’s time we stopped taking clean air for granted
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