There has been a rise in the application of mapping technologies to display local air pollution. Many applications have a specific focus on the collection of data by the public, and this is mirrored by the development of apps and interactive mapping designed to inform a public that is increasingly aware of particulate air pollution.
The WHO now reports that air pollution is the largest single environmental health risk: in 2012 one out of every eight deaths (seven million people) was a result of exposure to air pollution. Delhi and Beijing are often cited as cities with pollution levels tens of times higher than the recommended levels, however many cities around the world have chronic problems.
This is evident in South East Asia, where the air has been thick with haze as a result of slash-and-burn forest fires in Indonesia and Malaysia. Over recent years, this environmental problem has risen to the top of public and political agendas, as indicated by campaigns such as We Breath What We Buy. A number of open-access maps, such as by the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre and the NASA Earth Observatory, are providing inhabitants of the region with up-to-date information on the level of pollution in their locality at that time.
This is a trend that is mirrored throughout the world by apps like PlumeLabs, which are based on an understanding that consumers want to decrease their health risk by avoiding exposure during peak pollution times.
Public understanding of particle pollution has grown enough to allow large-scale community data collection to be feasible, and a number of technologies have been developed for market, such as Clarity and Air Quality Egg. These allow anyone to regularly collect data on particulate pollution and contribute to the Internet of Things.
This demonstrates rising public concern about air pollution, and public appetite to drive change. The monitoring tool Air Quality Egg, for example, was born from a diverse community of designers, technologists and artists: data is collected from around the globe and shared online.
As Achim Steiner, Head of the United Nations Environment Programme, tweets: “Citizen science means everyone can generate data to form part of the picture of life on our planet”.
Polycentric, open, collective information is growing. Beyond simply raising awareness, is it enabling communities to participate in shaping a healthier and more sustainable future?