The climate crisis can sometimes seem like an abstract, intangible problem. But one of the biggest reasons for tackling it is all around us. In fact, chances are you’re breathing it right now.
If you spend most of your days in the city, you know the feeling when you get out into the country and breathe in truly fresh air. Your lungs just want to take in as much as they can. Well, soon even city dwellers could have that feeling every morning if we ditch dirty fossil fuels and embrace the technologies helping us fight the climate crisis today.
One of the main sources of urban air pollution is the electricity sector. Coal plants, in particular, throw off fine particulates that can pollute the air and spread even hundreds of miles away. They also contribute to ozone and other pollutants that give air that not-so-fresh feeling.
However, despite coal and the rest of the fossil fuel industry seemingly getting everything from the government right now, renewables are getting cheaper and cheaper and even the most conservative (in terms of technology) utilities are forecasting enormous numbers for renewables in the years to come. And it’s not just the fact of more renewables coming on line, but also the growing use of technologies like smart meters and energy storage that are making the grid cleaner and more reliable. Already, smart cities like Salt Lake City, Utah and Boulder, Colorado have seen which way the wind is blowing and committed to shifting to 100 percent renewable and stink-free electricity sources by 2030. The technology is there for the rest of us to follow.
Diesel engines in particular choke city air with particulates and other pollutants. And if you have ever tried to jog near a highway, you don’t need a graduate degree to know that city air can be pretty foul.
Luckily, battery technologies are also providing an alternative to urban areas’ greatest source of air pollution – transportation. Companies like Tesla are making electric vehicles sexy, and electric vehicles are like your electric toothbrush – they don’t emit anything (other than clean teeth – the toothbrushes that is, not EVs). But it’s not just Tesla – companies like General Motors and Ford are making big investments in electric vehicles. And not only in cars either as many companies are now developing city buses to run smooth, quiet, and pollution free by running on electricity. If we take away the tail pipes on our roads, clean and fresh air is sure to follow.
Another thing that can make breathing in the city a less cathartic experience (especially in summer) is the smell of garbage wafting down our streets. Tourists fill the restaurants and organic waste fills the dumpsters and on some balmy, muggy days you can’t help but think that your beloved city stinks.
Well, if we are going to address the climate crisis we need to address food waste. Why? Because food waste in landfills produces methane – a very powerful greenhouse gas. But increasingly cities are embracing composting programs where organic waste is picked up curbside and put to good use. New York City, for example, is beginning a widespread volunteer program that may become compulsory some day.
But wait, won’t organic waste still smell, even if it is separated? Hopefully not. New York City’s new composting bins are made of tough plastic and seal to prevent the stinkiness from becoming a neighborhood problem. So instead of odor and methane, food waste will create rich soil and flourishing gardens.
Personally, I can’t wait for the day when I sit back, relax, and enjoy the freshest air our country has to offer right there in the middle of Times Square (“I’m sittin’ here!”). It is possible. We just need to do the work to get there. Let’s Make American Cities Smell Great Again (or for the first time – horses were not odor free).
To learn how you can get involved in helping US cities shift from dirty fossil fuels and help us all breathe a little easier, sign up for our email activist list.