Air Pollution: Why be concerned and 5 ways you can help


Air pollution is the theme of World Environment Day 2019. Why should we be concerned and how can we help? In this introductory video, I explore its health impacts, sources, and 5 areas of our lives where we can help make a difference.


According to World Health Organization, air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health threat.

In 2016, bad outdoor air caused an estimated 4.2 million premature deaths, and 90% of them were in low- and middle-income countries, illuminating how people with less privilege are disproportionately affected by environmental issues.

Even still, air pollution is an issue no one can escape from. In the U.S., nearly 134 million people—over 40 percent of the population—are at risk of disease and premature death due to air pollution.

And hiding out indoors actually may be worse, because indoor air pollution is often two to five times higher than typical outdoor air pollution. (Americans on average spend about 90% of their time indoors.)

Sources of air pollution:

  • Natural sources: volcanic eruptions, wildfires, dust in the wind… (Environmental sources contribute to only a minority of air pollution, though.)

  • Human activity: industrial activities, transportation, burning fossil fuels, manufacturing, power plants, conventional agriculture (mono-cropping, animal factory farming, etc.), deforestation leading to desertification, etc.

  • Indoor sources: building construction materials, paint, furnishings, furniture, rugs, mold, cleaning products, nail polish, hair spray, perfume, cosmetic products, the chemical dyes or finishes used to treat our clothing, microfibers shed from clothes and textiles, etc.

Health impacts of air pollution:

Air pollution is a generic, umbrella term including all pollutants that can negatively impact our environmental and public health.

In general, though, air pollution can cause day-to-day irritations to our  eyes, nose, throat, skin; it can give us headaches, make us feel dizzy or tired and fatigued; and even worse, it can give us respiratory infections, stroke, heart disease, and cancer.

5 ways to help address air pollution:

  1. Green our modes of transportation to lessen our reliance on fossil fuels.

    • Walk more, bike around more, take public transportation more, drive electric or hydrogen fuel cars if we have access to them or when we're ready to upgrade.

  2. Support initiatives and vote for policies aiming to green our urban spaces.

    • It's important to reduce our air pollutants, but it's also important to strengthen our natural ecosystems so they can better filter out toxins and be more resilient to contamination.

    • Denver, for example, passed a law which required big buildings to have green roofs. This was amended to cool roofs recently as a compromise, meaning that buildings have the additional option of having light-colored roofs to deflect light and heat instead of having greenery. Regardless, it shows how it is possible for active citizens to come together and turn our ideas into guidelines and laws to help green our cities.

  3. Grow more (native) plants of different species on our lands, balconies, or indoors.

  4. Be curious and conscious consumers and get curious about how things are made.

    • Ask:

      • What is this made of?

      • How far did it travel to get to me?

      • What chemicals may have been used?

      • Who made this product?

    • Vote with your dollar:

      • Purchase local to decrease the transportation distance.

      • Choose goods and food that are less processed and less manufactured, which means less energy and chemicals used.

      • Eat less meat, especially avoiding ones from factory farms; eat less produce from from conventional, mono-cropped farms; shop at farmer's markets if we have access to them; and choose foods from organic or regenerative farms whenever possible.

      • Look for “low VOC” products for home goods and furniture, like rugs, mattresses, paint, curtains, textiles, etc.

      • Avoid cosmetic products with the ingredient “fragrance,” which just means there are hidden, undisclosed ingredients that are “trade secrets.” Oftentimes, fragrance consists of a chemical concoction of potential or known neurotoxins, carcinogens, or ingredients that may be harmful to reproductive health and more.

  5. Minimize the amount of general trash we send to landfills.

    • Landfilled trash either gets incinerated or burned, immediately releasing toxic fumes, or gets buried and emits toxic fumes slowly over time.

    • Reduce, reuse, recycle, compost what we can, and only as a last resort, throw things in the general trash container.

Summary of key action areas:

  1. Green our transportation and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels;

  2. Support initiatives that green our urban spaces;

  3. Plant more native plants in our homes;

  4. Be a curious and conscious consumer;

  5. Reduce, reuse, recycle, compost, and really minimize the amount of stuff we send to landfills.


If you found this helpful, you may also enjoy our latest Green Dreamer Podcast episodes on holistic wellness:


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reduce air pollution | green dreamer
reduce air pollution | green dreamer