When we find ourselves overwhelmed by life, the advice we often get is simply to breathe. In fact, deep breathing is proven to be one of the best ways to lower stress and improve our mental health because of the positive signals it sends to our brain.
The very act of breathing is necessary to sustain life. The juxtaposition is that the air from which we must draw that breath is also the greatest natural health risk we face today.
It may seem hard to believe, but an estimated 7 million deaths per year are attributed to air pollution. What’s worse is that if we don’t course-correct our behaviours on a global scale, the United Nations expects this number will increase over 50 percent by 2050.
On this International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies, we’ll examine the root causes of the issue of air pollution and explore ways to reverse it.
Fossil Fuels. One in five of the deaths mentioned above is attributed to the burning of gasoline, oil and coal. Because these fossil fuels produce carbon dioxide (CO2) when burned, smog and acid rain are formed.
Smog increases our likelihood for heart and lung diseases by harming our airways. Short term effects of inhaling smog may include coughing, wheezing and a burning sensation in the throat.
The sulphur dioxide created by acid rain can trigger asthma, bronchitis and chronic lung problems.
Indoor Air Pollution. Dangerous pollutants don’t only live outdoors; unfortunately many that are produced originate inside our homes and workplace buildings.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur from appliances within the household including clothing dryers; gas stoves and ovens; furnaces; and water heaters. If homes have garages attached to main living spaces; motor vehicle exhaust; grills and generators can also pollute with carbon monoxide.
Particulate matter pollution caused by dust, smoke and soot often originates in industrial settings and can settle inside factories, warehouses and other confined spaces. These particles can get trapped in your nose and lungs, making it difficult to breathe or enter into your bloodstream and cause illness. Particles from toxins like asbestos found in older dwellings have also been linked to certain forms of cancer.
Ocean Pollution. More than half of the air we breathe comes from phytoplankton that photosynthesize water, energy and carbon dioxide from the sun to generate their own nourishment, thereby emitting oxygen in the process. Oceans also act as nighttime air filters, and absorb pollutants from the sea surface after sundown. When we damage or deplete the plant biodiversity and natural ecosystems in the ocean, we jeopardise the oxygen we depend upon from our ocean.
Deforestation. Mining; drilling; clear-cutting; non-sustainable farming techniques, livestock grazing and wildfires all contribute to or cause deforestation. These actions have become so destructive that approximately one billion acres of forest have been destroyed since 1990. Add to that the loss of 17 percent of the Amazon Rainforest in the past 50 years and we have a recipe for disaster.
As humans, we individually need the oxygen from seven or eight trees per year to survive. Trees not only make and release oxygen, they are our main line of defence against air pollution, as they absorb carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases, which are currently raising the temperature of the planet to dangerous levels.
Regenerative Farming. Kiss the Ground offers several educational opportunities and training to support sustainable soil practices that can help reverse climate change. Nori hosts a carbon removal marketplace that supports regenerative agriculture.
Protecting the Rainforests. The Amazon Conservation Team works with Indigenous groups to protect their land and ecosystems. Their current programs include initiatives in Colombia, Suriname and Brazil. You can support their work directly with a charitable donation.
Online Advocacy. The Oxygen Project is leading active campaigns to Defend the Pewen and save ancestral trees, as well as to Defend the Deep and stop deep seabed mining.
The Forest Plan. Everland has created a data-driven plan to help end deforestation and has several projects already underway. You can learn more about their efforts here.
Global Citizen. This group offers ways to Defend the Planet by signing petitions, tweeting and taking other actions from a free app you can download to your smartphone. They also host an annual festival; this year’s event will happen on September 24th in two separate locations: New York City and Accra.
We believe that access to clean air is a fundamental human right.
Join us to help educate, advocate … and breathe.
‘Mr. Blue Sky’ by Julian Lennon © 2019, is available for purchase here.
Julian’s photography is represented by Posner Fine Art. You can view his current collections and past exhibitions at julianlennonphotography.com.