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It’s the unavoidable truth, air pollution is something that everyone experiences. Whether living in the country near fields and trees or up in the Mourne Mountains, it takes one plume of exhaust fumes from a tractor or a car to inhale enough particle matter (PM) to enter the blood stream to alter it.

Tim Smedley, sustainability journalist and author of Clearing The Air states – “motor vehicles, in particular those powered by diesel engines, are now pumping out nitrogen dioxide (NO) and tiny particles, known as PM2.5s, in increasing volumes, damaging our lungs and even entering our bloodstream.”

Tim adds: “When we breathe in PM2.5 and NO, the health effects are felt at every stage of life – from reduced birth weights (much as with smoking) to permanently stunted lungs in children, various cancers in adults, strokes, reduced cognitive ability, and dementia in the elderly.”

Nine out of 10 people round the world now breathe air containing high levels of pollutants.

Tim has travelled the world to try and find the answer to reducing air pollution, visiting cities at the forefront of the fight against it, including Delhi, Beijing, London and Paris. He gains insights from the scientists and politicians leading the battle against it, and people whose lives have been affected.

Air pollution has become the world's greatest environmental health risk, and science is only beginning to reveal its wide-ranging effects. Globally, 19,000 people die each day from air pollution, killing more than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and car accidents combined.

The world is in a state of anxiety for the inevitable effects of climate change, it’s overwhelming and a great concern, but if we take a breath and all act together as activists and conscientious consumers; we can help to keep Northern Ireland green.

According to Tim, the good news is that unlike climate change, air pollution is largely local and can be solved locally: “unlike climate change there is no ‘2 degrees’ scenario, no knowledge that things are going to get worse whatever we do. Urban air pollution is local, short-lived, and can be stopped at the source.

“While the focus on air pollution is more on PM2.5 and NO than greenhouse gases such as CO and methane, the actions to reduce one almost always reduce the other. We need to rapidly replace vehicles that burn fossil fuels with electric vehicles, walking and cycling.

"In so doing, we can also halt the release of CO trapped within petrol and diesel. Particles from coal and wood smoke are also bad news, so we need to shift our heating and electricity generation to renewable sources.”

Shortlisted for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2019 Clearing the Air  is essential reading for anyone who cares about the air they breathe. Tim tells the full story of air pollution for the first time: what it is, which pollutants are harmful, where they come from and – most importantly – what we can do about them.

Tim shares the simple things we can all do to improve the air around us – “There are a lot of actions that individuals can take. I literally spell them out in my book in what I call my blueprint for action. Before you burn anything  –  whether it’s fuel in a car or logs on a fire  –  ask yourself if you really need to, or if there is a viable zero-emissions alternative. 

"Try to walk, cycle or use public transport rather than using cars for short journeys – and take the back streets rather than main roads, to reduce your exposure to traffic fumes. Then get in touch with your local politicians and ask them what they are doing to invest in walking and cycling infrastructure, and electric buses. Only people power and political pressure is going speed up these changes!”

NI Science Festival introduces Tim Smedley as keynote speaker at the Festival’s first ever Sustainability Fair(22 January), supported by the Cathedral Quarter BID and Ulster University, Belfast.

The Sustainability Fair is a forum of eco-entrepreneurs, activists and speakers to help everyone understand how everyone can #Do1Thing to make a difference every day to help reduce waste, pollution and be more sustainable. For more information visit www.nisciencefestival.com.


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