Have you ever wondered what makes the skies blue? The science behind it is that the air molecules in the atmosphere scatter blue light in many directions as the sun passes through it, creating the phenomenon you see.  Now this may seem extremely interesting, but what’s more important is: Why is the sky not blue sometimes? There are many ways to answer this question, but if you notice that the sky is grey, red, yellow, or orange, the complication is most likely air pollution. This is also known as haze, where dust, smoke, and dry particles in the air obscure the clarity of the sky.

Air pollution is considered the world’s biggest environmental threat to human health, causing around 7 million deaths worldwide each year. Air pollution exacerbates the impairment of pulmonary and cardiovascular conditions, which range from asthma to cancer. The biggest concern is the chemicals and substances that pollute the earth. Specifically, one of them is PM2.5, particulate matter below 2.5 microns, which can penetrate the lungs and lead to long-term health issues such as strokes, lung cancer, heart attacks, and chronic respiratory diseases. Air pollution is not only harmful to humans but it is also dangerous to wildlife and agriculture. Animals are prone to health problems when exposed to toxic chemicals in the air and crops are susceptible to diseases, destroying them and harming the global economy.

Do you recall any natural disasters that you’ve heard of, or seen on the news that are related to this topic? What you’re thinking of is most likely wildfires. Wildfires are increasing around the globe in terms of severity, frequency, and duration due to increasing temperatures. Wildfire smoke is composed of hazardous substances such as PM2.5. Wildfires also release large quantities of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This year in June, wildfire smoke from Canada blew south to New York City and along the east coast, causing hazardous air quality. As scary as it seems, my generation is currently facing the real effects of climate change. For children, senior citizens, pregnant women, and people with respiratory issues, this challenge is exceptionally hard for them as they’re more vulnerable and sensitive to the toxic air quality that is escalating.

As an intergovernmental organization, the United Nations acknowledges the need to substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air pollution by 2030. It is internationally recognized that improving air quality can help prevent climate change, and vice versa. This is noted since pollutants such as carbon dioxide, methane and ozone which increase air pollution are also major causes of climate change.

The International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies is designated for September 7th to emphasize the efforts needed to improve air quality and reduce air pollution to protect human health. This year’s theme is “Together for clean air,” calling for governments, corporations, and individuals to overcome air pollution.

In a global effort to reduce air pollution, you can also do your part by conserving energy  everywhere you go. Choose a cleaner commute by riding public transportation, riding a bicycle, or walking. In New York City, this is easier to do than in many other U.S. cities. We are all in this #TogetherForCleanAir!