Blue skies are a muse for visionary painters, adventuresome picnickers, songwriters like Louis Armstrong, and everyone in between. They evoke a sense of freedom, a feeling of cleanliness, an impression that you are reconnecting with nature at its finest. But increasingly for many, blue skies are becoming a luxury, masked as they often are by layers of pollution. And as we all know, the aesthetic appeal of blue skies is nothing compared to smoggy skies’ powerful indications concerning climate change and human health. What’s even more frightening is the fact that even blue skies can camouflage invisible pollutants.
For these reasons, the United Nations chose “Healthy Air, Healthy Planet,” as the 2021 theme for the second annual International Day of Clean Air for blue skies. This day, honored on September 7th, is both a means for raising awareness and for calling upon governments, organizations, and individuals to clear the air.
If you live in a place with bright clear skies and plenty of fresh air, you might wonder why you should care or how dramatic the situation actually is. The United Nations Environment Programme offers this interactive map that allows you to observe pollution levels where you live and compare them to the rest of the world. This map pinpoints Europe and North America as the primary areas where air quality meets UN target indicators, thus demonstrating how the distribution of privilege and economic development relate to environmental justice and the right to clean air. In other words, the geographies where so many goods are produced suffer the most pollution, while more economically developed countries still get to breathe fresh air.
What’s more, air pollution can affect you no matter where you live. This past summer, west coast wildfires blew smoke all the way to the east coast, an event that was especially noticeable to those with asthma and respiratory complications. And if the Saharan dust storm that cloaked several American cities in dust particles last year is any indication, pollutants pay no heed to national boundaries. Cleaning up our skies is truly a global effort.
It is an effort that is vital to our continued success as a society. According to a report by the UN, air pollution has become the greatest risk to human health, prematurely killing about 7 million people annually and disproportionately targeting women, children, and other vulnerable populations. For children, over half a million of whom die annually due to respiratory diseases related to air pollution, their personal neuro and behavioral development are also at stake. And of course, pollution can also exacerbate the respiratory complications caused by COVID-19.
Knowing these statistics, we are driven to advocate for ourselves and our fellow human beings. But how can we do that? The UN lays out a few suggestions:
- Use their interactive house diagram to identify opportunities for grassroots change (this is a great activity to do with kids!).
- Consider how to be more eco-friendly when purchasing, using and maintaining your air conditioning unit. Doing so will place less demand on fossil fuels. Reference our recent article on this topic for tips.
- Read articles that catch your eye and hold meaning for you. There are plenty available on the UN website here. Learning the science will enrich your outreach activities with hard facts.
- Contact your representatives to let them know that you value and prioritize clean air for everyone. Try to give constructive criticism by identifying problem policies and areas for improvement.
So, how will you be honoring the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies? Post a photo or video and show the world by using the hashtags, #WorldCleanAirDay, #CleanAirForAll, and #ClearTheAir. Also be sure to tag @UNEP, as well as friends and family who can join the movement!