How to help clean up our air

Clean air, like clean water, is in short supply around the world. Many of us take the air we breathe for granted. But we shouldn’t. Without clean air, we cannot live.

Air pollution is the world’s single biggest environmental health risk. It causes one in nine deaths – more than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. More than 7 million deaths a year are linked to air pollution, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports.

Nine out of 10 people worldwide breathe polluted air. Those affected are mainly people living in Asia and Africa and in megacities around the globe. Many of these cities exceed the WHO air quality guidelines by more than five times.

Lung and heart diseases are the most commonly known illnesses linked to air pollution. Others include autism, Alzheimer’s and diabetes, as well as decreased brain function, infertility, low birthweights and immune system defects.

Breathe Life, a global campaign for clean air is the brainchild of the WHO, the United Nations and the Climate & Clean Air Coalition. Its goal: to raise people’s awareness of the harm air pollution causes to the environment and to human health.

Joining global movements like these is important. But taking action at a local level can also make a big difference. Lobby your local politicians to cut air pollution levels wherever you live and work. Ask schools, restaurants and other businesses where you spend time to support a future with clean air.

And here are some practical measures you can take:

• Bike or walk – don’t drive. Studies show that biking or walking reduces exposure to air pollution and delivers benefits that outweigh driving. If you must drive, consider carpooling and ridesharing. Or better yet, take public transport.

• Reduce your use of fossil fuels and electricity. Switch to an electric or hybrid car and choose an electricity provider that uses renewable energy. Buy energy-efficient lighting and electric appliances and turn them off when not in use.

• Reduce, reuse, recycle. Cut down on the amount of waste you send to waste treatment plants for incineration.

• Buy and eat food produced locally. Source food closer to home and support your local farms (preferably organic ones).