Dr James Schauer
Dr James Schauer

When it comes to air pollution control, the focus is on the technological intervention to resolve the issue, but very little attention is being paid on social interventions, which can also help fight pollution to a great extent.

“When we talk about social interventions for cleaner air, it is about people’s role in controlling pollution like waste management, solid waste burning control etc,” says environment engineer Dr James Schauer, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

Dr Schauer was in Lahore on a brief tour to interact with policymakers, government representatives and students and the people for an exchange of ideas on air pollution and to find common grounds to counter the menace in Pakistan.

“We need to educate the public about how their role is important in the fight against pollution. They should know the impact of burning waste at home; they should know how the crop [stubble] burning can pollute the environment.”

About Lahore smog, he said, crop stubble burning by farmers to reclaim the land for new crop could be one source of air pollution. “But, most of the pollution sources are local. Vehicle-emitted pollution, industry emissions, house and solid waste burning -- the local sources of air pollution are endless.”

So, the people of Lahore should focus more on social as well as technological interventions to achieve a cleaner air regime.

Dr Schauer stresses on having in place air quality management systems to find the right solutions.

Elaborating air quality management system, he says there is a need to have programmes to monitor air pollution, and more importantly to understand its sources and to quantify air pollution data. These are a major steps in air pollution management.

So far Lahore is concerned, it has placed, though insufficient, only air quality monitoring systems.

“These monitoring tolls tell us how bad the air pollution is and pollution in terms of indexes but they do not tell us where it comes from, and of what type and source. At the end of day, these monitors don’t help us to form regulations,” said the expert.

To Dr Schaeur, data collection is a key to devise an effective air pollution management strategy. “It will help us [in determining] what should we be focusing on and it is [also] a way of validating if we have a policy and if our policies are effective.”

Once we know about what the sources of air pollution are, we can have effective policies.

But, some sources of pollution are no more a secret.

“We all know that vehicles emit smoke and pollute the air; we know about industry emissions, dust and burning of fossil and solid fuels are the pollutants.”

“Having quantitative data gives us a push towards reliable solutions,” he said, giving the example of US, where data helped the government to fight air pollution despite having enormous industry and vehicle emissions.

“In the US, we burn a lot of fossil fuel but we have clean air … that has been made possible by putting in place emission control technologies, that have been made possible by finding data and then right solutions, not wrong solutions.”

Dr Schauer proves with scientific data that having clean technology does not destroy the economy. “Instead, it improves the economy. For example, health benefits of air pollution control can be enormous and improve overall economy.”

He sees air pollution as the most pressing issue of the day. He supports a proactive approach to fight air pollution through collaboration between scientists, the public, policymakers and industry because “air matters every time; this is what we breathe every time.”

Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2020

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