The Problem: too many cars on the road
While the average Indian has a relatively small carbon footprint, the country’s sheer size makes it the third largest source of air pollution in the world, after China and the USA. Many areas of India suffer from a permanent haze of smoke, produced by a combination of primitive cookstoves, widespread burning of fields after harvest, and ever-present traffic congestion. The problem has become severe enough that the average non-smoking Indian has 30% less lung capacity than most Europeans.
Automobiles produce a variety of air pollutants: fossil fuel combustion creates fine air particulates that lodge in the lungs, leading to respiratory disease, and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), which are carcinogenic; two-stroke mopeds, while more fuel-efficient, leave black clouds of soot and smog; even the wearing down of break pads spreads tiny particles of toxic metals into the air.
The Solution: 2 billion trees
India’s Rural Development Minister, noting both the air pollution crisis and an epidemic of unemployment among rural teens, has proposed a project to plant an estimated 2 billion trees along India’s 62,000 miles of national highways. This project would employ thousands of youth while also directly combating air pollution right at the source.
By locating trees on either side of busy highways, this project is estimated to trap up to half of harmful particulate emissions produced by passing traffic. This estimate is backed by a recent UK study finding that they hairy underside of leaves traps a substantial amount of dust, fine metal particles, and other harmful particulate emissions, while the photosynthesis and respiration process filters greenhouse gases and harmful VOC’s.
- Write to your state and local leaders to ask them to consider tree plantings beside busy highways to trap harmful air emissions before they are released into residential areas.
- If you live near a busy road, let your landlord know that air pollution kills more people than AIDS and Malaria combined. Ask them to consider planting a barrier of trees to screen out incoming air pollutants.