According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 7 million people die each year due to exposure to air pollution, a problem that extends to the majority of countries around the world.
Every day, approximately 93% of the world’s children under 15 years of age (1.8 billion children) breathe air that’s so polluted it puts their development and health at serious risk. One reason children are especially vulnerable to the effects of air pollution is because they breathe more rapidly than adults and, consequently, absorb more pollutants.
Air pollution contributed to the deaths of about 500,000 newborns in 2019, according to a State of Global Air 2020 report. While most of these deaths happened in developing countries from a combination of indoor and outdoor air pollution, this is also a threat in developed countries. People that live near an airport or highway are exposed to more fine particulates (PM 2.5) and carbon monoxide that can lead to premature birth. A recent Stanford study in central California found that children exposed to air pollution for as little as a day may risk higher rates of heart disease and other diseases as adults.
And in the case of wildfire smoke, it’s not just a regional problem. Surprisingly, researchers recently found that wildfire smoke harms more people in the eastern US than in the west, where the majority of it originates. About three-quarters of asthma cases and deaths from smoke pollutants occurred east of the Rocky Mountains.
Globally, the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) found that particulate air pollution reduces average life expectancy by nearly two years, making it the single greatest threat to human health.
The WHO estimates that climate change could potentially increase the number of deaths from air pollution by hundreds of thousands between 2030 and 2050.
This is not a coincidence. There is significant overlap with the sectors most responsible for emitting greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change and the causes of air pollution. This includes electricity generated by fossil fuels. According to the EIA, “Electric power sector power plants that burned fossil fuels or materials made from fossil fuels, and some geothermal power plants, were the source of about 34% of total U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions in 2017.”
Climate change and air pollution share another common attribute: they are near-universal human experiences. Studies have consistently estimated that 95 percent of the global population is breathing dirty and harmful air.
In order to fight this global risk, cities around the world are taking steps forward to reduce air pollution using technology and smart city initiatives: Mobile operators are using predictive Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, like sensors that provide real-time air pollution updates to enable accurate monitoring.
Artificial Intelligence-enhanced (AI) monitoring platforms evaluate big data feeds and utilize machine learning to enable smarter analyses of commuter traffic and weather information to predict areas of poor air quality. Local smart city governments can then use the information to reduce air pollution by reducing factory emissions and optimizing traffic.
Additionally, renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and hydroelectric systems generate electricity with no associated air pollution emissions.
Reducing air pollution is a top priority for building sustainable cities of the future. Here’s how five such cities are using smart technology to reduce the harmful effects of polluted air.
Want to learn more? These 50 shocking facts about air pollution will leave you gasping for fresh air.