Take a breath in. Feel the crispness of life rushing through your body. This simple act is something that many of us take for granted. In some countries, however, cities are suffocating in smog. In China alone, air pollution kills 1.1 million people every year. The thick smog that is devastating countless lives is driven by these countries’ continued burning of coal, numerous factories instated by businesses both domestic and foreign, and the dumping of international trash into the land.
In the process of trying to combat this issue, scientists in Xian, China, erected a 328-foot tower, which is essentially a giant air purifier, in 2018. The tower works by pulling in the air into greenhouses at the base of the tower. The air is then heated up via solar energy, which causes it to rise through the tower while simultaneously passing through the layers of filtration systems. Clean air is then pushed out, improving the air quality of approximately 3.86 square miles around the tower. The air filter in Xian removes PM2.5, or atmospheric particulate matter (PM) with a diameter of fewer than 2.5 micrometers. This is approximately 3 percent the diameter of human hair, which is precisely what makes these fine particles so dangerous. With the air pollutants being so small, it makes it easy for us to breathe them in and enter our bloodstream. Breathing in this air can cause premature death due to lung or heart disease and triggers asthma, heart attacks, bronchitis, and other respiratory problems.
The researchers working on the purifying tower in Xian found a 15% reduction in the number of particles in the air since the installation of the tower. This is why the government in India is planning on installing similar towers in Delhi, India, a city that also heavily suffers due to the toxic smog. In 2017, 1.2 million people died in India due to air pollution. The Supreme Court of India has directed the local government in New Delhi to install the air-purifying towers around the city to battle the smog. At first, this sounds like a wonderful idea; however, upon closer inspection, it’s easy to see how this plan is just putting a band-aid on the actual problem.
A 15% reduction in toxic particles means that there are still countless of lives lost every year. It means that children are still being born into neighborhoods where they can’t breathe. The toxic smog that is enveloping these cities did not come out of nowhere. Which means that the solution should be tackling the pollution at the source, rather than acting like there’s no way of stopping it. To push the thorn deeper into the wound, the tower in Xian is powered entirely by electricity, which is generated by burning coal in nearby factories. The people of India have recognized the flaw in this solution and wrote a letter to the government of India, imploring them not to waste money on the towers and to instead enforce industrial emission standards, close down old factories, promote clean energy, strengthen vehicle emission standards, and improve public transportation.
Unfortunately, this problem of putting a “band-aid” on the environmental problem is not an issue that only India and China are facing. Governments all over the world are ignoring the crisis at hand because it supports their economic model. It is so crucial for everyone to be engaged in their local and national politics, no matter where they are. We will not be able to move in the right direction without the people standing up and asking for renewable energy, stricter emissions standards, better waste management programs, and so many other solutions that the governments have the power to organize and enact. If we keep learning, sharing, and speaking up, we will someday soon be able to support the Earth the way this beautiful planet has been supporting us.