I have been keeping an eye on the MetClim PM10 pollution forecast. Their predictions are very close to the readings my SDS011 is picking up. What seems clear is that the increased air pollution Eastbourne has been experiencing for the last few days comes from Paris, carried here by prevailing winds.

Two things to note here.

  1. The forecast has been accurate, the pollution has been visible in a dirty haze above the Channel. Particularly clear at dawn and dusk, but present all the time when you look at the horizon. This looks spectacular in the way it catches the light, but it is potentially deadly. The forecast predicts generally poor quality air coming across the Channel into the UK, but there is a stream of highly polluted air coming from Paris that has been headed straight for Eastbourne. Over the next day or so that stream is due to wander around as the wind blows it and then disperse. No doubt it will form again, but who knows which way the wind will be blowing then. Cities have a big effect on their regions

  2. These regions are large, respecting no political boundaries. Air pollution has international consequences. Using charts like the MetClim one it is possible to quantify the impact of different sources of pollution and where that impact is most clearly felt. Citizen science projects like this one provide insight into the accuracy of those forecasts and models, certainly in tracking changes in relative concentrations, even if the absolute values are not calibrated properly.

This second issue shows that it is very difficult to track back the consequences of pollution to the person or people that polluted, and removes the usual motivations to behave better. How do you incentivise the average Parisian to drive or burn less when there is a steady wind blowing their pollutions away from the south? The knowledge that it is people in Eastbourne who are suffering is unlikely to have a huge impact (read into that my own personal failings, not a comment on Parisian altruism). Motivation normally works best when there is an immediate positive feedback loop, e.g. drive less and you will breathe more easily and your kids won't get asthma. In this case though it is, drive less and someone in another country who you will probably never meet will breathe more easily and their kids won't get asthma.

The answer to this kind of thing is often travel more, see people living life in other parts of the world, become a global citizen. But, you know, international travel pollutes (especially aeroplanes), so maybe that's a non-starter. Just bringing them to Eastbourne would be not be much help. The Parisian plume of pollution blows where the wind goes.

Perhaps air-quality monitoring stations and pollution forecast models should be used to determine which pollution has come from where and that should impact import/export tarrifs each month or year? But just think about the amount of paperwork this would generate, or the computer cycles required to run the sums. Would any benefit be worth the cost?

How do you close this feedback loop?