Despite the countless publications and warnings since the seventies the issue of pollution from human activity appears to have been consistently ignored by most of us.
Today the issue appears very real, and not so contentious or nebulous as the more general climate change 'debate'.
There is so much discussion, often quite vacuous, on sustainability, which historically drove me away from the topic and a career in what seemed like a self-serving marketing and business-as-usual exercise. I could not have been part of that new 'business of sustainability', it did not provide solutions it only provided a mechanism to appear more benign, while carrying on as normal (but that is a story for another day).
The point is that poor air quality is now truly in our faces, you can see it and you can taste it.
Over the last two months or so pollution has been a hot topic in Bangkok. I was only marginally aware of the air quality issue (from other expats) in India, China and Bangladesh for example. However, over the last couple of weeks my children have been kept away from school, prohibited from playing outside, and forced to wear a face mask.
What kind of life is this?
In my case the school's approach to research, monitoring, education (of children and parents) and mitigation of the issue has been admirable, but one wonders how other schools, hospitals, and businesses etc will respond.
Undoubtedly this will become a larger political issue, and it is obviously not specific to Thailand. (Indeed Sadiq Khan has raised the issue recently too). It is very positive to hear today also that it is now officially on the Thai government’s agenda.
Local climatic conditions impact how pollution is dispersed, but the underlying factor is that the pollution continues. It is difficult to see how this can be stopped or even reduced, with the current global obsession with continued growth.
Increased shared transport systems, improved planning and building controls, better fuels, better transport regulation, improved manufacturing processes to reduce pollutants, development of green spaces etc, would likely give us a chance. However, these are mid to long term plans.
Will a multinational organisation still champion globalisation and knowingly send their high performers to polluted cities in the hope of better revenues or market share in the future? What are the risks to the organisation from litigation, if an employee contracts any of the numerous respiratory diseases that are associated with air pollution? Will this impact supply of labour or direct foreign investment to certain regions in time? Will people move out of the cities (if they can), will land prices decrease in polluted city centres? I wonder...
The short-term mitigation strategies of masks, indoor activities only, and air purifiers are all great, but I suppose my question really is: why should we live like this and what are we going to do about it?
Perhaps technology can support in virtual meetings and working, so people do not have to commute, perhaps more independent community nodes can operate more locally to reduce commuting, perhaps a new city master-planning model is around the corner?
How much longer are we willing to suffer this situation, how will humanity mobilise in a way to address this claustrophobic catastrophic situation?
(I am thinking seriously about taking the kids out of the city, it’s the only thing I think I can do and even then, it seems like that's a short-term knee-jerk reaction)