Don’t hold your breath waiting for the atmosphere to heal itself. From industrial emissions to automobile exhaust to everyday human activity, air pollution puts all of us — and the planet — at risk. After all, breathing isn’t optional. And despite progress in some areas, the air we rely on remains dirtier and more dangerous than it has been throughout most of human history.
If you’ve ever traveled to a remote village or mountaintop, you doubtlessly realized how much purer the air was then what you’re used to. But could the air quality in your home city or town ever be that pristine — and what would it take to accomplish this? That’s the question at the heart of the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies, a global initiative striving to restore the health of our shared skies. Read on to learn about the movement, the mission, its origins, and what you can do to help give the environment some much-needed breathing room.
Why clean air is important to our health
Clean air shouldn’t be a luxury — it’s a fundamental right that impacts our well-being, our environment, and the future of our planet. The International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies, observed every September 7, signals the urgency needed to address air pollution and its consequences. After all, air pollution isn’t confined to borders. From respiratory ailments and cardiovascular diseases to climate change and ecosystem degradation, the effects of polluted air can be felt everywhere, affecting people of all ages and walks of life. In fact, 15% of global deaths in 2019 were caused by exposure to fine particle outdoor air pollution.
So, as we mark this day celebrating clean air, let’s remember pollutants threaten both our health, the well-being of loved ones, and the delicate balance of our ecosystems. As aesthetically appealing as they are, clear skies mean our actions have aligned with the greater good of the planet.
What causes bad air quality?
Bad air quality is primarily caused by pollutants and harmful substances from various sources, both human-made and natural. In the U.S., the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions is burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat, and transportation. Here are some of the common causes for air pollution around the world.
Exhaust emissions from cars, trucks, buses, and motorcycles release nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and particulate matter (PM) into the air. These pollutants form smog and contribute to poor air quality, especially in urban areas with heavy traffic such as Los Angeles, New York, and Hong Kong.
Factories, power plants, and other industrial facilities release pollutants into the air as byproducts of their operations. These include sulfur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and fine particulate matter. Industrial emissions can be a significant source of pollution, especially in areas with high concentrations of industrial activities.
Construction and demolition
Construction activities, such as excavation and demolition, generate dust and particulate matter, which diminishes air quality. Uncontrolled construction dust can contain harmful substances and exacerbate respiratory issues.
Burning of fossil fuels (beyond vehicle emissions)
The burning of fossil fuels for energy production, heating, and cooking releases emissions from coal, oil, and natural gas combustion. Pollutants like CO2, SO2, and NOx contribute to air pollution as well as climate change.
The open burning of waste materials, including plastic and organic waste, releases toxic fumes and particulate matter. This is a common practice in areas with inadequate waste management systems.
Natural sources of air pollutants include volcanic eruptions, wildfires, dust storms, and pollen release from plants. While these events are natural occurrences, they can significantly impact air quality, especially in nearby areas.
History of International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies
The roots of this day trace back to the United Nations and its commitment to environmental sustainability. In 2019, the UN General Assembly recognized the importance of clean air and adopted a resolution designating September 7 as the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies. The goal? To inspire collective action on a global scale, uniting nations, communities, and individuals in the shared pursuit of clean air and a healthier environment.
The name itself holds a poetic symbolism — “Blue Skies” represents the clear, unspoiled atmosphere we aim to restore, where skies are not veiled by smog.
How to get involved in the clean air revolution
Are you looking for ways to make a difference on International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies? Here’s what you can do.
Education is the cornerstone of change. Use social media, workshops, and discussions to raise awareness about the significance of clean air and its impact on health, environment, and climate change. Share compelling facts and statistics to ignite conversations and inspire action.
Embrace sustainable transport
Vehicle emissions contribute significantly to air pollution. Consider walking, cycling, carpooling, or using public transport to reduce your carbon footprint. By choosing sustainable transport options, you contribute to cleaner air and reduced traffic congestion.
Make your surroundings greener
Trees are nature’s air purifiers. Organize tree-planting activities in your community or participate in reforestation projects. Creating green spaces not only improves air quality but also enhances biodiversity and provides havens of tranquility.
Advocate for policy change
Engage with local and national authorities to advocate for stricter air quality regulations and policies. Support initiatives that promote renewable energy, cleaner fuels, and emission controls for industries.
Reduce energy consumption
Energy production is a major source of air pollutants. Implement energy-saving practices at home and work, such as using energy-efficient appliances and switching to renewable energy sources like solar power.
Choose eco-friendly products
Many household products release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. Opt for eco-friendly and non-toxic products to minimize indoor air pollution.
Monitor the air quality
Stay informed about the air quality in your area by using air quality monitoring apps or devices. This knowledge empowers you to take protective measures when air quality is compromised.
Many weather apps, including Apple’s Weather app, show the air quality index in your area. Here are the basics you need to know to understand the air quality index. Basically, anything 50 and under is considered safe and as the numbers rise it becomes more dangerous and unhealthier. Emergency situations are above 300.
As the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies approaches, let’s make a stand for clean air, turning a shared vision of pristine skies and fresh air into a reality.