There are lots of ways to stop air pollution. The combination of personal action, legislative measures and market pressures combine to make for better air quality. Educating the public about the causes and harms of air pollution will help people take more responsibility for what they and their companies do to pollute the air. Do what you can and then get others to be more proactive in their efforts to reduce air pollution. When you get active you’ll find several ways to stop air pollution.
While learning about air pollution and protecting yourself against its effects are important, the real goal should to finding ways to stop air pollution before it is released. There are things you can do to stop your own air pollution, and things you can do to persuade others to stop theirs.
Some ways to stop air pollution are obvious and simple. Quit smoking. Drive less. Don’t burn things. Use water-based paints and varnishes that do not emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Other ways to stop air pollution are not so obvious. For example, it has been argued that walking to a destination results in more harmful CO2 emissions than does driving. But CO2 is only one air pollutant; humans do not emit much uncombusted hydrocarbons when they walk!
New housing construction is a major source of air pollution from dust, transportation, construction equipment, solvents, etc. Buy an existing home. Be satisfied with it; don’t pollute the air with the products of major renovative construction.
Persuading others to stop their air pollution is more difficult. It can be very hard to convince a power company that its coal-fired plant hundreds of miles from your home is any of your business. Real estate developers see themselves as good, productive citizens benefiting society, not as air polluters.
Sometimes, litigation is a necessary way to stop air pollution. Three non-profit organizations, representing residents of California’s San Joaquin Valley, have taken legal action to support the state environmental protection agency’s regulations to reduce air pollution from new development in one of the nation’s most heavily polluted areas. The regulations would restrict building materials transportation, construction techniques, and the materials used in construction. Developers claim this would increase costs, and they’re probably right in the short term. But as developers adapt to these new ways to stop air pollution, they would learn to use them more efficiently.
Dirty air or clean air both come at their own costs. If one can shift the cost of polluting the air on to others, then one will pollute more. One of the best ways to stop air pollution is to make polluters pay the full economic cost for the privilege or polluting the air. Permits and license fees issued by the EPA and other air quality control agencies are one way to stop air pollution by making it cost more than it’s worth. Higher gasoline and tobacco taxes are other examples.
But what is the cost of clean air? Generally, it is an opportunity cost — the value or pleasure we do not gain when we forebear from an activity. The cost of clean air is a sacrifice that each of us must make, whether we are simply barbecuing in the back yard or trying to earn millions of dollars building new subdivisions. If we simply barbecue without those tasty but smoky wood chips, or build without raising dust, then we are paying the price of clean air. The many ways to stop air pollution all add up to doing less, not more.