Take a deep breath

Or maybe don't. Do you really want to?

 Now that my awareness of the impact of poor air quality on the human bio-system has been awakened, I’m not sure I want to take a deep breath. Certainly not when I’m crossing the 6-lane mega highway outside my house, or standing at the traffic lights watching all the car fumes smoking up into the sky. I confess that there is a distinct smell of paranoia setting in, which I’m hoping to bring back under control soon, whilst I pull my scarf over my nose.

 So when the Mayor of London’s consultation came out regarding the extension and tightening of the Low Emission Zone, I ticked every box for ‘do it now’ and ‘make it as tough as possible’.  Even though I live in the proposed new emissions zone.

 I am beginning to realise how far we have evolved, if you want to call it that, from how we originally biologically designed. We don’t eat, sleep, work, travel – or breathe – how we are designed to.

 Who can blame our ancestors for getting (over-?) excited by the benefits of the industrial revolution? It created enormous advances in medicine and general health, yet with no or little consideration for the unintended consequences on the human entity. However, as we now look back on the enormous boulder that this process has kicked down the hill, the benefits of hindsight are glaring and alarming. Add to this the giga-boulder of the technology revolution, and we are living in a world so vastly different to that of 200 hundred years ago that it is no surprise that we have not managed to evolve our bio-systems to cope.  In evolutionary terms, this is not even a blip on the screen.

 The facilities of the 21st Century enable a lifestyle that has become normalised, allowing us to work, shop, eat and sleep without encountering another human being. We live and work in environments that may have no natural elements in them, providing artificial lighting, ventilation and physical environments that are designed to promote efficiency.   Then we trudge home, exhausted and overstimulated, to sit in front of the TV and eat something made in a lab.

 It is not so surprising that our species’ hubris has extended to the very air we breathe. Within a centuries-long perspective on the issue, it is less surprising that we are only now beginning to question the quality of the air we breathe, and the long term public and private health impacts of poor air. As our species crowds itself more and more into the urban environment, bringing with it myriad new design, healthcare and sociological challenges, tackling the engine-rooms of our daily lives is critical.

 So before everyone stops breathing, the positive news is that this very same technological revolution may well provide the solution.  As monitoring systems for both outdoor and indoor air become more accurate and affordable, we are being offered some measure of control – since once we can measure it, we can at least understand the scale of the problem. The challenge then begins as to what to do about the results. We need champions like many of the Mayors in our cities to be willing to fight for our community breaths to be clean, and corresponding champions in our internal spaces to protect the places where we now spend more than 90% of our time: indoors.

 Once we have fixed that, there’s just the small mountain range of the other modern life issues to deal with – lack of sleep, Vitamin D deficiency, obesity, not enough exercise, too much time sitting indoors…. it sounds like a list of New Year’s resolutions!

 I think I’ll start with something easier like measuring the air quality. We now have 2 indoor air quality meters in our house measuring 5 key parameters. Since we live so close to a major road artery, I am particularly concerned about the rooms facing towards the main road. In a few weeks, I will be able to see whether my paranoia is justified, and whether I can take the scarf off my nose when crossing the road.

 *Buyer Beware: not all air quality meters are created equal. Make sure you know what you are buying and how accurate it is.


 Philippa Gill | January 2017