Back in 2007, before Water Gallery was even a twinkle in our eyes, Kenny and I traveled to China to see this fascinating country. It was the year before the Olympics were held there and our hope was that we were a year ahead of the throngs of tourists flooding the country and that it was a slightly more affordable time to go.
It was a truly eye-opening trip-- all at once, interesting, alienating, entertaining, mortifying. The whole gamut. Amongst all the sight-seeing, the exploring, the "taking it all in," there's one thing I'll never forget: the air pollution. The air felt like a thick, particulate haze constantly hovering. It was oppressive.
And I'll never forget a horrifying statistic I learned, never to leave my consciousness: the average life expectancy for a street police officer in Beijing is 35. 35-years-old! A street cop can expect to live approximately 35 years before lung cancer, black lung disease, or another respiratory illness kills him or her. The air quality is that potently dangerous in China.
So, how does air pollution affect people across the globe? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 80% of people worldwide who live in urban areas are exposed to air that far exceeds recommended limits, with low-income cities particularly at risk.
The WHO has declared air pollution a "global public health emergency," with profound financial and health-related consequences for governments across the world. In the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and the western Pacific, where cities are growing at breakneck speed, air quality levels are dismal (India has 16 of the world's most polluted cities).
From asthma, to other chronic respiratory ailments, to lung cancer, hundreds of millions (if not billions) of people are at risk on a daily basis for pollution-related health threats. The burning of fossil fuels is always at the crux of this problem, along with rapid industrialization in general. And at the individual level, it may seem too daunting a problem.
We ask ourselves, how can our day-to-day choices help get rid of the smoggy, toxic air in a city like Mumbai or Jakarta? But daily choices, while they may seem like a drop in the bucket for us alone, can make a profound difference on a global level if we band together and act consistently. Keep single-use plastic items to a minimum if at all. Look into buying an EV for your next car. Check rates on solar panels for your house. Ride your bike to work a couple of times a week.
As always, reduce, reuse, recycle and conserve. Small, everyday changes can make a huge difference.