Air quality is a critical part of our well being and the pressure to improve it has been increasing. As populations have migrated towards cities and our use of vehicles has increased, air quality in our urban centres has degraded substantially. Today more than 50% of the world’s population lives in cities and there are more than 1.1 billion cars on the roads. There are now three pressure points that seem to be driving air quality issues to the surface; active courts, proactive governments and citizen technology.
Courts are actively forcing governments to assure citizens decent air quality. Governments are in turn requiring industries to reduce emissions and maintain stricter measurement records. With easy access to air monitoring devices, citizens and NGOs are now monitoring air quality and sharing data with the world.
In the past few months, we have seen courts take action to force certain governments to change their air quality management systems. Just last month, the European Union’s top court ruled that Poland is not respecting air pollution and they must present a clear plan to improve air quality. The UK high court also ruled that the government’s air pollution was unlawful and insufficient. We believe this is a trend that will only increase as citizens and law firms bring suit after suit to ensure regulations and treaties are actually applied.
On the flip side, some governments are taking proactive action. Certain German cities are planning to ban diesel cars and this was ruled legal. For Germany, the capital of diesel car production, this was a seismic shift in the landscape. German car companies are still clinging to hopes that diesel can recover, but I have my doubts. To determine where an industry is headed, you should look at the big long-term trends. For example, we could look at digital cameras back in 1995 – they were expensive and produced low-resolution photos. At the time, no one predicted that Kodak would go bankrupt twenty years later. But, the continuous improvements in digital cameras and their continuous decrease in cost eventually did the most famous camera company in. Today we see many new electric car companies (mostly in China), many will die, but it is certain that electric cars will dominate the market in the not too distant future and diesel cars will no longer be competitive.
In China, where air quality is a disaster, the government actions that began a couple of years ago are starting to have an impact. Their air quality index (AQI) has improved by anywhere between 20-40%, depending on the region. In major Chinese cities, it is very common to see urban middle-class people wearing face masks as they go about the city. Though the face masks are not particularly effective at reducing the amount of particulate matter you inhale, they are sending a strong message to the government about citizens’ priorities.
Historically, accurate air monitoring devices have been expensive and complicated, requiring regular calibration by costly technicians. To improve air quality we need high-quality maps of air emissions that require more data points. This can only be done by dramatically reducing the cost of monitoring devices. Over the past decade, we have seen the emergence of a range of air quality monitoring stations and purifiers. Whether it is the Tesla car’s HEPA air filter, the Chinese companies Xiaomi’s highly popular air purifier (which does not seem to work) or other devices, the cost keeps coming down and the accuracy gets better every year. More and more companies are offering a new range of simple and powerful air monitoring devices to our clients around the world. Nimonik and is working with industry leaders to offer some of these devices to our clients. Read about it here.
We expect citizens, governments and industry to take a more proactive role in monitoring indoor and outdoor air quality. This will require intelligent and affordable technology to gather data and clear guidelines and restrictions for affecting change at the source of air emissions. The road to clean air will be long, but not so long ago many developed countries had very poor air quality, just take a look at these photos of the US before the creation of the EPA. As Bob Dylan said, “the times they, are a changin”.