5 Ways Technology Can Help Tackle Air Pollution
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Every year, over 9 million deaths across the world are due to air pollution. Every day, across the world over 1,700 children under the age of five die because of unhealthy air. The World Health Organization states that air pollution is the single biggest environmental health risk that we face. Air pollution is literally everywhere. From New Delhi to New South Wales, the world is suffering the effects of air pollution. Living in a polluted city like New Delhi can reduce one’s life expectancy by at least nine years. The causes for air pollution can be human made—industrialization, vehicular emissions and construction—or natural, like forest fires raging out of control, but the effect is the same.
As Peter Drucker, consultant and author, famously said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t fix it”. One of the biggest factors affecting humankind’s fight against air pollution is the lack of accurate measurement. In spite of the alarming statistics and facts, there is little being done to combat pollution and solve this crisis. There is hardly any reliable data for regular people to understand and gauge the quality of air in their immediate surroundings. Outside major cities and metros, there is nearly zero measurement of air quality. This indicates that we are unaware of the quality of air we breathe, the impact it has on our health and whether the steps taken or solutions implemented are actually improving air quality around us.
Various methods have been used to monitor air quality—from large monitoring stations costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, to satellite imagery. So far, none have succeeded to an acceptable level of accuracy and granularity. This is where technology steps in. Using multimodal input sources, from satellites to meteorological data to sensors, data science can be used to build accurate granular models of what people are breathing in real time. This opens up endless possibilities for the world.
Here are just five ways in which technology can help in tracking air pollution.
Data for public health
Most governments around the world support and pay for public health. Using air quality data, administrators can pinpoint sources and hotspots of air pollution, shutting them down fast, and improving the health of surrounding residents. For example, in the UK the National Health Service spends over £20 billion to fight breathing diseases alone. Using air quality data, it becomes easier to ascertain causation by geography, and then apportion resources better. Policy decisions can then also be taken to mitigate pollution and its effects, all leading to better public health.
Data for governance
Have you ever wondered if the odd-even rule worked? Or if one way vehicular movement actually reduces traffic jams and decreases pollution? A strong base of accurate, granular data will go a long way in understanding the efficiency and effectiveness of such policy decisions. Conclusive proof of effectiveness for a controversial change like the odd-even rule will make sure it’s accepted more and viewed favorably. With citizens waking up to the reality of the consequences of pollution, this data access is vital.
Data for individual decision making
Would you let your child play outside during pollution? How about if you knew that in an hour, it would be a lot healthier? Or that another school has far better air quality, so your child spends six hours a day breathing cleaner air. Access to this data can be life-changing and hugely enhance individual health and productivity. The simple act of walking or cycling to work, after choosing a healthier cleaner route, could have immeasurable impact on the well-being of millions across the world.
Data for better businesses
Do you like when your flight is delayed by bad smog? Or when the neighbourhood pharmacy has run out of cough syrup just when you need it? Using granular air quality data, it becomes easier to predict such occurrences, and plan around them. Airports and airlines can use this data to reschedule flights well in advance, avoiding cascading delays. Pharmacies and chemists can predict an uptake in certain medicines, improving their supply chain and remaining always ahead of the demand curve. These are just two examples from a world of possibilities.
Data for smarter devices
How do you know if your air purifier works? Do you need one at all? Does it keep your family safe when you’re out of town? Using concrete data to trigger decisions, whether to buy an air purifier or to turn it on automatically when the air outside is bad, is a logical evolution of a data-driven society and smarter, better connected devices.