Pollution: it isn’t all bad, in fact it can be pretty useful

Summary

It’s no secret that climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the world today. In the Global Risks Report 2016, failure to mitigate the effects of climate change – as well as related risks such as water crises, food security and extreme weather events – dominated the list of major threats

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This is why a central tenet of the landmark Paris climate agreement, hammered out last December by representatives from 195 countries and effective as of 4 November this year, is to keep global temperature increases well below 2C and if possible, below 1.5C – something that can only be achieved through a significant reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases.

Greenhouse gas emissions trap heat and make the planet warmer, and the largest source of these is, of course, the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, heat and transportation. This is spewing an ever increasing amount of pollution into the air we breathe. As a result, an estimated 92% of the world’s population lives in areas where air pollution exceeds safety limits, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), causing millions of deaths a year and costing the global economy billions of dollars in lost labour income.

As of November 2016, 113 countries had ratified the Paris Agreement, showing that a concerted global effort to avert environmental catastrophe is being made. Governments aren’t the only ones taking action to tackle air pollution, however. And as well as cutting emissions, there are a number of innovators, entrepreneurs and even artists who are hoovering up this CO2 and turning it into something that we can actually use. Here are a few of the technologies that could help to clean up our air for good.

Turning smog into diamonds

Smog is grimy, suffocating and unpleasant on the eye, but Dutch artist Dan Roosegaarde has come up with a way of turning it into a thing of beauty.

“It started with a dream,” he said at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions. “The dream of clean air for everyone.” Staring out of a hotel window in Beijing (the city we often associate with smoggy skylines, though it is not the world’s most polluted), Roosegaarde came up with the idea for the Smog Free Project.

How does it work? First of all, seven-metre-tall towers suck up polluted air and clean it at the nano-level. The clean air is then released back into parks and playgrounds, which Roosegaarde claims are now 70-75% fresher than the rest of the city.

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