What influences air quality?
Air quality and its impact on our health is influenced by many things. It can be influenced by climate drivers, such as increasing temperatures and changes in rain patterns due to climate change; by urban landscapes, such as where emissions are produced and locations of homes and roads; and by social drivers, such as housing quality and access to air conditioning and air filtration.
One of the biggest contributors to bad air quality is motor vehicles, such as cars, motorbikes, and trucks. Vehicles produce huge amounts of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter. Hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxide also combine to form ozone, which contributes to smog and causes respiratory problems.
Due to improvements in technology and fuel, vehicles create less pollution than they did a few decades ago. However, as more people and more vehicles are added to our roads every day, these benefits are reduced. Data from the Jakarta Provincial Environment Office shows that around 75% of Jakarta’s air pollution is caused by vehicles.
Power plants are also a major contributor to air pollution. Most of the world’s power plants burn coal, oil, and natural gas to create energy, and in the process, emit huge amounts of carbon dioxide. They also emit dangerous pollutants like mercury and arsenic, which are deadly to people and animals alike. Around 9% of Jakarta’s air pollution comes from power plants.
Factories and Waste Management
Like power plants, industrial factories and waste management facilities pollute the air. Factories burn a lot of fossil fuels to create products, such as turning iron ore into steel. Waste management facilities produce air pollution through incinerating rubbish or when rubbish begins to decompose in landfills. Many people in Indonesia also burn their own rubbish. About 8% of Jakarta’s air pollution comes from burning rubbish and another 8% come from industries.
Changes in seasons
Changes in seasons and humidity can also affect air quality. Air in Jakarta is cleaner during the rainy season, for example, and dirtier during the dry season. Meanwhile in Beijing, air is cleaner during the summer and dirtier during the winter.
There are also many things that have a positive influence on air quality. Outdoors, trees and plants clean the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. Mangroves, peatlands, and soil also absorb carbon, so the more we preserve natural environments, the better our air becomes. Indoors, we can use air conditioning and air filtration to help improve air quality inside our homes and workplaces.
Systematic improvements are needed
Most sources of outdoor air pollution are beyond the control of individuals, but systematic improvements can be made through policies that reduce air pollution. There are many examples of policies that can be introduced to do so. They include technologies to capture carbon and methane; clean energy (wind, solar, hydropower) solutions; prioritising rapid urban transit, walking and cycling; increasing the amount of green space in urban areas; and improving waste management.
Air pollution can travel surprisingly far from the sources of pollution, too. Let’s learn more about it.
Dinas Lingkungan Hidup DKI Jakarta. 2019.