Gone are the days when we were told to go for a morning walk. The air is not clean anymore. The oxygen is not oxygen anymore. It is oxygen plus carbon dioxide plus nitrogen oxides plus ozone plus particulate matter and what not. According to the WHO, India has 14 out of the 15 most polluted cities in the world in terms of PM 2.5 concentrations.
The biggest problem with air pollution is that it has not left any area of human activity untouched. Imagine the life of a person who is affected by indoor air pollution at home, vehicular air pollution while going to his workplace and industrial pollution at his workplace. No need to mention that his mood or behavior is equally affected by the same.
Major causes of prevalent air pollution in Indian cities include widespread use of fossil fuels, tightly sealed buildings, volatile organic compounds, harmful industrial pollutants, emissions from agricultural fields and livestock farming, biological pollution, smoke, etc. Rampant industrialization and urbanization have made the situation worse for cities which are said to be the driver of economic growth in the future.
The more complicated and serious the disease is, the more is the need for the drug to be severe. Curbing air pollution requires efforts in every possible dimension from technological support to administrative action or policy support.
Technology can assist in combating air pollution in terms of mitigation and prevention.
1) Transport: the use of rapid transit systems like pod taxis, Hyperloop, Stadler buses, Maglev trains, hybrid e-vehicles, energy efficient vehicles can reduce air pollution to a great extent. Recently bio-jet fuel made of jatropha was used for a flight instead of aviation turbine fuel. BS-VI compliant engines need to be promoted which can significantly reduce sulfur and hydrocarbon emissions.
2) Industries: the use of electrostatic precipitators, scrubbers, air ionizer, filters, etc. in machines. Use of supersonic oxygen injection in iron melting etc.
3) Agriculture: Rotavator machines can reduce stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana. Precision farming which involves space technology in farming helps in monitoring soil effectively.
4) Indoor air pollution: change in the pattern of fuel use, adoption of energy efficient appliances, etc
5) Innovative solutions: hydrogen-boost technology in which hydrogen is added to air-fuel mix which allows complete combustion of the fuel, zero-emission hydrogen taxis, terraosave technology which recycles thermal energy from industrial emission, IoT sensors for air quality monitoring, plug and play design in existing vehicles to reduce emissions, Sion electric car which charges itself through solar panels, air purifier developed by IIT Madras students.
Technology alone can not change the fate of cities unless it is supported by the administrative mechanism and associated efforts. The government or the administrative authority at all the hierarchical levels need to design an effective framework in collaboration with NGOs, technology giants and solutions partners. Some of the actions include
1) Comprehensive air quality monitoring plan which includes effective forecasting system, state-of-the-art technology, and responsive back-end mechanism.
2) Adopt best practices from developed countries.
3) Timely adoption of BS-VI engines which also include punitive actions in case of non-compliance.
4) Promote energy efficient appliances, hybrid vehicles, energy efficient buildings by providing incentives. The government also needs to create proper infrastructure. For instance, hybrid vehicles will require enough charging points.
5) Financially empower urban local governance bodies by allowing them to issue municipal bonds.
6) Sufficient budgetary allocation, collaboration with all the stakeholders, regulatory mechanism, legal enforcement, effective Environment Impact Assessment, etc.
It is a noteworthy fact that those countries and societies have achieved the most success in combating air pollution where people participated in the process. Curbing air pollution requires mass participation. If people start participating in wholeheartedly, significant changes will be visible in a short span of time.
Some examples include carpooling, car sharing, using bicycles for shorter distances, using dehumidifiers, HEPA filters, telecommuting (work from home), using public transport, adopting permaculture and organic farming, using fly ash in construction activities, green roofs in home, air purifier plants, waste to compost model, use of biochar, bioplastics, biofertilizers, oxybiodegradable garbage bags and planting trees of course. We can learn from the Philippines, that started a new initiative where a graduation degree is given to students only if they plant 10 trees.
This post was awarded first place in the first ever Youth Ki Awaaz #BolDaal contest, #PollutionKeSolution. With 500+ views and 240+ upvotes, it was shortlisted in the top 10 entries received, and then selected by an expert panel as the clear winner. Congratulations, Aniruddh Shrivastava on championing the change with your Awaaz!