I had a marketing idea after reading the beautiful essay, , “A dream of blue skies”, written by Ma Jun, an outspoked China environmentalist, and translated into English by China Dialogue’s Dinah Gardner. Ma Jun writes to express the sorrow that he and other Chinese confront when they take time to think about the air quality of their cities, especially when the become aware of the possibilities that a clean city holds.
These days, I often travel abroad for work. When I fly over international cities such as London, Paris, New York, San Francisco, Tokyo and Melbourne, it isn’t the skyscrapers my fellow countrymen so admire that affect me most deeply, but the clearness of the air. As the earth below comes into view, rivers, lakes, forests and meadows are vivid; street blocks, buildings, and vehicles clear and distinct. And I begin to fantasise about a day in the future when my city’s air is also clean.
On the morning of that day, you won’t wake up with a sore throat. You’ll be able to throw open the window and let the refreshing breeze into your room, breathing deeply without worrying that PM2.5 is penetrating your lungs. You’ll be able to change into a pair of trainers and go for a morning jog in the sunlight, without worrying that the exercise may be doing you more harm than good. Just as if you were in one of these other countries, the collars of your shirts won’t get dirty after just one day, you’ll be able to go for weeks without polishing your shoes and park benches and stone statues on the streets won’t be permanently covered in grime.
Midway through the piece is a critique of official air quality monitoring standards in many parts of China that are failing to monitor PM 2.5 particulates, an especially vicious type of air pollution as far as human health is concerned. From a separate China Dialogue piece;
PM 2.5 is the term for particulate matter measuring 2.5 microns or less in diameter and has become afocus of public safety campaigners in China in recent months. Fine particulates have the ability to penetrate human lung and blood tissue and can lead to asthma, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
How are the satellite measures of PM 2.5 derived? In short, scientific instruments aboard the satellites assess something called Aerosol Optical Depth (AOD). This is a measure of the degree to which aerosol particles prevent the transmission of light either through absorption or scattering.
Ma Jun’s frustration is the opportunity for foreign hospitals, and it can be capitalized on by becoming a brand associated with timely and transparent pollution information. The cost would be minimal. You need a way to monitor the air, staff to put the collected information into a usable form, and a great computer programmer to build an application. If you can then become known for being the source for updates on air health, it’s a short jump to becoming the source for good health more generally.