Why Clean Air Matters 

Clean air is something many of us take for granted until we don’t have it. It’s the invisible hero in our daily lives, sustaining our health and our planet. But did you know that clean air is also intimately linked to the fight against climate change? With International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies behind us, and World Car-Free Day approaching, it’s the perfect time to reflect on why clean air matters and how each one of us can make a difference.

How are clean air and climate change linked? 

The same activities that degrade air quality also release potent greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. For example, burning fossils fuels for transportation releases carbon dioxide; methane is released by livestock, in rice farming and fossil fuel production; and fertiliser emits nitrous oxide. Air pollutants from these activities can also interact with the environment in ways that exacerbate climate change.

But is clean air really that big a problem? 

Well in short, yes. Let’s take a moment to consider some eye-opening statistics: 

  • Health Impact: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 99% of people breathe polluted air and it is responsible for approximately 7 million premature deaths each year worldwide. It’s a silent killer that affects our lungs, heart, and overall health and is a greater threat to life expectancy than smoking. 
  • Economic Burden: Air pollution not only costs lives but also burdens economies. The World Bank estimates that air pollution costs the global economy over $8 trillion annually in welfare losses and healthcare costs. 
  • Environmental Consequences: Poor air quality contributes to climate change, harms ecosystems, damages crops, and threatens biodiversity. Clean air is crucial for maintaining the balance of our natural world. 

What steps can we take to help?  

There are lots of steps we can take to help the air quality both globally and in our local communities. Here are a few ideas to get you started: 

  • Choose some active travel by walking or cycling instead of taking the car. 20% of trips are less than a mile, so there’s plenty of opportunity. It’s good for the air but also for your physical and mental health. If you are travelling longer distances, think about public transport or car-pooling. World Car-Free Day is a fantastic opportunity to ditch your car for a day and experience alternative modes of transportation.  
  • Don’t idle your car. Common spots for idling (your engine is on but you’re not driving) are often where people are waiting such as schools. Harmful air pollution in these areas is particularly damaging, because children are more susceptible to the effects of air pollution. 
  • Support green spaces. Participate in tree-planting initiatives or create green spaces in your community. Trees and vegetation act as natural air filters, improving local air quality.  
  • Raise awareness. Share information about the importance of clean air with your friends, family, and colleagues. Knowledge is the first step toward change. Encourage them to join you in celebrating World Car-Free Day and adopting cleaner, more sustainable lifestyles.  
    How seriously a country takes the problem typically depends in part on public awareness, as Michael Greenstone, an economics professor at the University of Chicago says “Air-pollution improvements are often driven by the demand of the people”

These are some simple steps to get started, but there are many more areas of change that can make an even bigger impact, such as flying less, switching to greener energy and consuming less. Action that we take to reduce the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere will be contributing to cleaner air, because so many activities which pollute our air, also create powerful greenhouse gas emissions too. By recognising this relationship between clean air and a stable climate, we can take meaningful steps to combat the environmental challenges we face. 

Clean air is a shared responsibility, and it’s within our reach to make a difference!