Cities With The Worst Air Pollution

Air Pollution In New Delhi Worse Than Beijing

Air quality in most cities that monitor their air pollution levels exceed what the World Health Organization deems as safe.

Delhi has the highest level of the airborne particulate matter, PM2.5 considered most harmful to health, with 153 micrograms. Not far behind is another Indian city, Patna with 149 micrograms. These figures are six times what the WHO considers a “safe” limit — which is 25 micrograms.

air pollution worst cities
Air pollution could choke expanding economies in Asia.

Half of the top 20 cities in the world with the highest levels of PM2.5 were in India, according to the air pollution data released by the WHO, which included 1,600 cities. Other cities with high levels were located in Pakistan and Bangladesh. PM2.5 refers to the diameter measured in microns of particulates such as ammonia, carbon, nitrates and sulfate — which are small enough to pass into the bloodstream and cause diseases, including emphysema and cancer.

The WHO data echoes an earlier study this year which found that air pollution in New Delhi is now worse than Beijing. Delhi has been described as having weak enforcement of pollution controls by India’s Center for Science and Environment, a public interest group.

air pollution in India's cities
No Chinese cities ranked in the top 20 most polluted cities, despite thick, gray smog filling its cities.

No Chinese cities ranked in the top 20 most polluted cities, despite thick, gray smog filling its cities and millions of residents commuting behind surgical masks. Beijing reported 56 micrograms of PM2.5. This year, Chinese leaders have declared “war on pollution.”

“Originally designed as compact entities to reduce the length of travel … (Indian cities) are becoming victims of killer pollution, congestion and a crippling car-dependent infrastructure,” according to the group.

Air pollution has spread by increasing reliance on fossil fuels, coal-fired power plants, cars and the use of biomass for cooking and heating.

Cities with the lowest level of pollution were located in Canada, the United States, Finland, Iceland and Sweden.


Glasgow Becomes First University In Europe To Divest From Fossil Fuels

Smart Money Says Fossil Fuels For Dinosaurs

Glasgow University has become the first academic institution in Europe to divest from the fossil fuel industry, in a turning point for the British arm of the student-led global divestment movement.

After 12 months of campaigning, led by the Glasgow University Climate Action Society and involving over 1,300 students, the university court on Wednesday voted to begin divesting £18m from the fossil fuel industry and freeze new investments across its entire endowment of £128m.

fossil fuels and climate change
Glasgow University dumps fossil fuel investments to help fight climate change.

Describing the result as “a dramatic beachhead for the divestment movement,” American environmentalist and climate activist Bill McKibben said that it sent a powerful signal that Europe would be “just as powerful in this fight as Australia and North America.”

“That it comes from Glasgow, which has as much claim to birthing the industrial revolution as any city on Earth, makes it that much more special,” said McKibben. “Everyone from the Rockefellers on down is realizing it’s time to move on.”

As of last month, more than 800 global investors – including foundations such as the Rockefeller Brothers, religious groups, healthcare organizations, universities and local governments – have pledged to withdraw a total of $50bn (£31bn) from fossil fuel investments over the next five years as a result of the campaign which began on college campuses in the United States three years ago.

Writer and activist Naomi Klein said that Glasgow University had joined “a fast-growing global movement providing much-needed hope to the prospect of climate action.”

“Students around the world are making it clear that the institutions entrusted to prepare them for the future cannot simultaneously bet against their future by profiting from corporations that plan to burn many times more carbon than our atmosphere can safely absorb,” said Klein.

“They are sending an unequivocal message that fossil fuel profits are illegitimate – on par with tobacco and arms profits – and that brings us a significant step closer to demanding that our politicians sever ties with this rogue industry and implement bold climate policies based on a clear, progressive ‘polluter pays’ principle.’”

Glasgow University joins thirteen US universities, including Stanford, which have already committed to divest from the fossil fuel industry. In the UK, student unions at Imperial College and University College, London, are demanding that their institutions take similar action. The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), at the University of London, has agreed to a temporary freeze on investment in advance of a decision on full divestment to be taken later this year.

Decisions are also imminent from the University of Edinburgh, which conducted a staff and student consultation that was overwhelmingly in support of divestment. Oxford University and its colleges, which have an endowment wealth of £3.8bn, the largest of any higher education institution in the UK, is currently conducting a staff-only consultation, after almost 2,000 students and academics joined a campaign calling for divestment.

Andrew Taylor of the People and Planet Network, which has launched over fifty ‘Fossil Free’ campaigns across the UK involving over 15,000 students in the past year, said: “Divestment now has a firm foothold in the UK. Student and academic pressure to get out of fossil fuels is building across the sector. It’s time to stop profiting from wrecking the climate, whether you’re an institution with lots of money like Oxford or Edinburgh, or a world leader in climate research such as the University of East Anglia. Glasgow has helped make the moral case crystal clear and we expect more universities to very soon put their money where their research is.”

Founded in 2011 across just half a dozen US college campuses, the fossil fuel divestment movement has gained remarkable traction over a relatively short period of time. A study by Oxford University last autumn found that it had grown faster than any previous divestment campaign, including those relating to apartheid, armaments and tobacco.

The campaign has recently enjoyed a succession of symbolic boosts. Last month, the heirs to the Rockefeller oil fortune announced that they were withdrawing funds from fossil fuel investments and in July the World Council of Churches, which represents over half a billion Christians worldwide, decided to pull its investments out of fossil fuel companies.

Writing in the Guardian in April, Archbishop Desmond Tutu urged that “people of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.”


Rooftop Gardens Help Mexico City Fight Air Pollution

Plants Cleaning The Air, Sheltering Buildings

In a sheltered corner of one of the greatest megacities on Earth, there is a place where lizards careen around tree trunks, butterflies drink nectar from vermillion flowers and hummingbirds whisk the heavy air with their wings. Stand in the botanical gardens of the Bosque de Chapultepec (the Chapultepec forest) and listen carefully enough, and something remarkable happens: birdsong begins to pierce the groan of trucks and the screech of taxi horns from the long avenue that bisects the park.

mexico city rooftop garden
Mexico City’s rooftop gardens provide food and shelter, while absorbing CO2 from the air. City’s around the world are leading the green revolution for both efficiency and resiliency.

The gardens are home to one of a growing number of azoteas verdes – or green roofs – that are springing up around Mexico City as part of the metropolis’s efforts to purge its air of the pollution that has long been among its least-desired claims to fame.

The azotea verde atop the circular single-story offices of the botanical gardens, is planted with hardy stonecrop, which can withstand the Mexico City summer, but which also produces oxygen and serves as a filter to draw out the carbon dioxide and heavy metal particles in the air. As well as providing the park’s squirrels with an arena in which to practise their parkour, the roof help regulates the temperature of the offices below and soaks up rainwater to keep the building dry.

Last year, the city’s environment secretariat spent almost $1m (£595,000) on the azoteas verdes project, bringing the total area of green roofs in hospitals, schools and government buildings to 21,949 sq m. This year, the investment will rise by a third.

Mexico City’s environment secretary, Tanya Müller, says: “In a city like ours where urban development puts pressure on the space we have at ground level, we have to take advantage of our rooftops to create a green urban infrastructure.”

The green roofs do far more than simply purify the air: they reduce the “heat island effect”, teach children about nature and speed up the recuperation rates of hospital patients, she adds. A little way across town, not far from the city’s ancient heart, the Zócalo, sits the secretariat’s air-monitoring lab. It too has been given over to greenery and from its neatly planted roof, where dedicated staff congregate for lunchtime exercise classes, the haze that blankets the capital is plain to see. It smudges the outlines of distant towerblocks, as well as the mountains that enclose the city and its 21 million inhabitants.

But, as Müller is keen to point out, fighting air pollution demands rather more technological solutions than sowing seeds on rooftops. Her glass-and-steel office, which overlooks the Zócalo, feels like a curious hybrid of an internet startup office and an architectural practice. On the wall by her desk is an enormous screen with a live Twitter feed and electronic maps showing the temperature and ozone levels of Mexico City and the surrounding area. On a wet April afternoon, the ozone levels are creeping above the normal levels, but other pollutants are within the usual range.

“I have this dashboard on my smartphone and it’s the same dashboard as the department of air monitoring has and the mayor has,” Müller says. “We know how the air quality is every day and whether we have to take decisions.” Readings from the 29 air-monitoring stations in the city and the surrounding state of Mexico can trigger a variety of responses. If pollution levels are seriously high and remain so for 48 hours, the environment secretariat’s Hoy No Circula (No driving today) ban kicks in, and those cars with registration plates of a certain colour and two-digit code are not allowed on the roads. Anyone found driving when they shouldn’t be has their plates taken away and must pay what Müller describes as a very harsh fine of 20 days’ pay based on the Mexico City minimum wage. “Even though the measures aren’t very popular – we’re the first administration not to have suspended Hoy No Circula for any holiday – they are very responsible,” she adds proudly. Unsurprisingly, Müller, who cycles to work, is a big fan of pedal power. The two mountain bikes parked in a rack outside her office, up the stairs from the Diego Rivera murals that decorate the walls, suggest that her staff are too.

By expanding the city’s Metro system and investing in the Ecobici bike hire scheme – which is used for about 26,000 journeys a day – she hopes to wean people off their dependence on cars. “We still have a long way to go: although 80% of the population uses public transport, the city is still very car-orientated,” Müller says. “What we’re trying to do is make people conscious of how you use you car: it has to be in a much more rational and responsible manner.”

Other initiatives to improve the city’s air quality over the past two decades – such as moving refineries beyond its boundaries and introducing cleaner buses – appear to be paying off. Between 1990 and 2012, levels of ozone fell from 43 parts per billion to 27 parts per billion; sulphur dioxide from 55 parts per billion to five parts per billion, and carbon monoxide from 84 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion.

Muller says air quality is her priority “because it has an impact on your health and that obviously has consequences for your quality of life”. She adds: “We’re working on air quality and climate change together, because whatever we do for air quality and emissions will have a positive effect on climate change. At the end of the day, we want a city that can offer better quality of life for its citizens.”

Mexico City’s efforts to clean up its act have not gone unnoticed; Müller recently met officials from Tehran who wanted to compare notes, while members of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group have also shown interest in the city’s smartphone apps.

As Mexico begins to shrug off its smog and attendant grimy reputation, Müller believes its strategies could help cities further north. “What’s very interesting for us is what’s happening right now in Paris and London: we somehow have this perception that in these very developed, first-world European cities with great transport and infrastructure, you’ve overcome these issues of air quality,” she says.

“But we’re seeing that it’s not so. The origin and the problem is the same: it’s the use of private automobiles. People need to know that even if you have a great public transport system, if you do not rationalize private car use, you’re going to have problems.”


Half Of Americans Live In Unhealthy Air Conditions

Californians Choking On Worst Air In America

Nearly half of all Americans – more than 147 million people – live in counties where ozone or particle pollutions levels make the air unhealthy to breathe, according to the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2014” report released today.  The 15th annual national report shows that while the nation overall continued to reduce particle pollution, a pollutant recently found to cause lung cancer, poor air quality remains a significant public health concern and a changing climate threatens to make it harder to protect human health. Especially alarming is that levels of ozone (smog), a powerful respiratory irritant and the most widespread air pollutant, were much worse than in the previous year’s report.

unhealthy air quality United States
California has its work cut out on clean air and climate change.

“We are happy to report continued reduction of year-round particle pollution across the nation, thanks to cleaner diesel fleets and cleaner power plants,” said Harold Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association.  “However, this improvement represents only a partial victory. We know that warmer temperatures increase risk for ozone pollution, so climate change sets the stage for tougher challenges to protect human health. We must meet these challenges head on to protect the health of millions of Americans living with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. All of us –everyone in every family—have the right to healthy air.”

Key “State of the Air 2014” findings include:

  • Nearly half of the people in the United States (147.6 million) live in counties with unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution.
  • More than 27.8 million people (8.9%) in the United States live in 17 counties with unhealthful levels of all pollutants measured in the report.
  • Twenty-two of the 25 most ozone-polluted cities in the 2014 report – including Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago – had more high ozone days on average when compared to the 2013 report.
  • Thirteen of the 25 cities with the worst year-round particle pollution reached their lowest levels yet, including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Bakersfield.

Once again, Los Angeles remains the metropolitan area with the worst ozone pollution, a ranking it has held in all but one of the 15 State of the Air reports.  Fresno-Madera, Calif. moved to the top of both lists for most polluted for particle pollution. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Bangor, ME, Bismarck, ND, Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL, and Salinas, Calif., were named the “cleanest cities” for having no days with unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution and for being among the 25 cities with the lowest year-round particle levels.

clean air cities
Half of all Americans live in cities and counties where the air is unhealthy to breathe.

Continued Progress in Reducing Particle Pollution

This year’s report shows that many areas maintained significant strides in reducing year-round particle pollution.  Lower particle-pollution levels are a direct result of the transition to cleaner diesel engines and the clean-up of coal-fired power plants, especially in the eastern United States.  Several major cities reached their lowest annual levels ever in addition to those mentioned above, including Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis.

Progress was also seen in reducing short-term “spikes” in particle pollution this year.  Among those measuring their fewest ever unhealthy days were Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City and San Diego.

Ozone Pollution on the Rise

Ozone is the most common air pollutant in this country, and it has proven to be one of the hardest to reduce. While particle pollution levels generally showed improvement, ozone worsened in the most polluted metropolitan areas in 2010-2012 compared to 2009-2011.  The warm summers in 2010 and 2012 contributed to higher ozone readings and more frequent high ozone days.

Of the 25 metro areas most polluted by ozone, 22 had worse ozone problems.  Among those measuring worse ozone problems were Los Angeles, Houston, Washington-Baltimore, Las Vegas, Phoenix, New York City, Cincinnati, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

Some of the most polluted cities have made extraordinary headway. For example, Los Angeles has erased more than one-third of its unhealthy ozone days (by weighted average) in the last fifteen years. Pittsburgh has lowered its year-round particle pollution levels by one-third.

“The progress we’ve seen in cleaning our air from our first report to our 15th shows that the tools in the Clean Air Act work.  States and the federal government need to keep using all of those tools to continue to reduce the risk of premature death, asthma attacks and lung cancer,” said Wimmer. “The past 15 years have also confirmed that air pollution is a more serious threat to our health than we’d previously known. For example, the World Health Organization determined last fall that particle pollution causes lung cancer. Air pollution remains a pervasive public health threat in the United States, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must continue to follow the Clean Air Act and set and enforce standards that protect the public health.”

Safeguards are necessary to protect the health of the millions of people living in counties with dangerous levels of either ozone or particle pollution that can cause wheezing and coughing, asthma attacks, heart attacks, and premature death.  Those at greatest risk from air pollution include infants, children, older adults, anyone with lung diseases like asthma, people with heart disease or diabetes, people with low incomes and anyone who works or exercises outdoors.

The American Lung Association calls for several steps to improve our air:

  • Clean up power plants.  The EPA needs to reduce carbon pollution.  Ozone and particle pollution that blows across state lines must be controlled. In the next year, the Administration has pledged to set standards for carbon pollution from new and existing power plants.
  • Strengthen the outdated ozone standards. The EPA needs to set a strong, health-based standard to limit ozone pollution. Strong standards will drive the needed cleanup of ozone across the nation.
  • Clean up new wood-burning devices. The EPA needs to issue strong standards to clean up new wood stoves, outdoor wood boilers and other residential wood-burning devices.
  • Fund the work to provide healthy air. Congress needs to adequately fund the work of the EPA and the states to monitor and protect the nation from air pollution.
  • Protect the Clean Air Act. Congress needs to ensure that the protections under the Clean Air Act remain strong and enforced.

“The Clean Air Act has been proven to deliver tremendous health benefits,” said Wimmer. “Congress must allow the Clean Air Act to continue to protect our health and ensure that the EPA and the states have adequate funding to monitor and protect the nation from air pollution and new threats caused by increased temperatures.”

To see how your community ranks in “State of the Air 2014,” to learn how to protect yourself and your family from air pollution, and to join the fight for healthy air,

Nation’s Most Polluted Cities

Top 10 U.S. Cities Most Polluted by Short-term Particle Pollution (24-hour PM 2.5)

1           Fresno-Madera, Calif.

2           Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, Calif.

3           Bakersfield, Calif.

4           Los Angeles-Long Beach, Calif.

5           Modesto-Merced, Calif.

6           Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton, Penn.-Ohio-West Va.

7           Fairbanks, Alaska

8           Salt Lake City-Provo-Orem, Utah

9           El Paso-Las Cruces, Texas-New Mex.

10         San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, Calif.

Top 10 U.S. Cities Most Polluted by Year-Round Particle Pollution (Annual PM 2.5)

1           Fresno-Madera, Calif.

2           Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, Calif.

3           Bakersfield, Calif.

3           Los Angeles-Long Beach, Calif.

5           Modesto-Merced, Calif.

6           Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton, Penn.-Ohio-W.Va.

7           El Centro, Calif.

8           El Paso-Las Cruces, Texas-New Mex.

8           Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz.

8           St. Louis-St. Charles-Farmington, Missouri-Ill,

Note: Cities with the same number ranking are tied (e.g., Bakersfield and Los Angeles are tied for 3rd most polluted.)

Top 10 Most Ozone-Polluted Cities

1           Los Angeles-Long Beach, Calif.

2           Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, Calif.

3           Bakersfield, Calif.

4           Fresno-Madera, Calif.

5           Sacramento-Roseville, Calif.

6           Houston-The Woodlands, Texas

7           Modesto-Merced, Calif.

8           Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas-Okla.

8           Washington-Baltimore-Arlington, District of Columbia-Md.-Va.-W.Va. – Penn.

10         Las Vegas-Henderson, Nev.-Ariz.


The “State of the Air 2014” report uses the most recent quality-assured air pollution data, collected by federal, state and local governments and tribes in 2010, 2011, and 2012.  These data come from official monitors for the two most widespread types of pollution, ozone and particle pollution. The report grades counties, ranking cities and counties based on scores calculated by average number of unhealthy days (for ozone and for short-term particle pollution) and by annual averages (for year-round particle pollution).


Most Chinese Cities Choking On Air Pollution

Cities In Northern China Have Poorest Air Quality

Only three of the 74 Chinese cities monitored by the central government managed to meet official minimum standards for air quality last year, the Ministry of Environmental Protection announced this week, underscoring the country’s severe pollution problems. The dirtiest cities were in northern China, where coal-powered industries are concentrated, including electricity generation and steel manufacturing.

China air pollution WHO
Air pollution could choke China’s expanding economy.

The ministry said in its announcement, which was posted on its website on Tuesday, that in the broad northern region that includes the large cities of Beijing and Tianjin as well as the province of Hebei, which surrounds Beijing, the air quality standards were met on only 37 percent of days in 2013. Beijing, with 20 million people, did so on only 48 percent of days, the ministry said.

  • Pollution Killed 7 Million People Worldwide in 2012

The report underscored the immense challenges facing ordinary Chinese as they try to pressure Communist Party leaders to change growth policies and enforce regulations that would lead to cleaner air. Awareness of toxic air has risen sharply since January 2013, when a stretch of severe pollution in northern China nicknamed the “airpocalypse” resulted in widespread outrage and forced propaganda officials to allow the Chinese news media to report on the problem. Some leaders acknowledge the issue — Prime Minister Li Keqiang announced this month that China would “declare war against pollution” — but environmental scholars say it will be at least five years or even a decade before there is any notable improvement to the air.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the air monitor at the United States Embassy in Beijing rated the air as “hazardous,” which meant people should avoid all outdoor activity. Many cities across northern and eastern China also had poor ratings this week, as shown by figures from local monitoring equipment.

Many tourists are deciding not to visit China because of the reports of pollution. This week, Samuel L. Jackson, the American actor, has been writing to his 3.4 million Twitter followers about the poisonous air in Beijing, where he is promoting a new film, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

“Even w/ lights, you can only see 2 1/2 blocks . . . maybe! AQ 312!!” he wrote in one of a series of messages, referring to an air-quality reading that by American standards falls in the hazardous range. In an earlier post, he wrote: “Landing in Beijing, Air Quality 216 VERY UNHEALTHY! Oh well…..”

Foreign workers in Beijing are also becoming much less willing to tolerate the toxic air. That was reflected in an annual survey released on March 19 by the American Chamber of Commerce in the People’s Republic of China. Almost half of the 365 companies in the survey, most of them in the Beijing area, said they had problems recruiting or retaining senior executives because of the poor air. That figure was only 19 percent in the chamber’s 2008 survey.

Pollution Pay On The Rise

As a result, some companies are now offering bonuses or higher salaries to fill openings in China, which foreign workers are calling pollution pay — and a few are even announcing the policy publicly, as Panasonic, the Japanese electronics maker, did in mid-March.

On Tuesday, the World Health Organization announced that air pollution, both indoors and outdoors, contributed to seven million deaths worldwide in 2012. More than one-third of those deaths occurred in fast-developing nations in Asia, including China and India. In both those countries, nearly the entire population is exposed to fine particles in the air known as PM 2.5, which can penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream,researchers reported on Wednesday in an article posted on Scientific American’s website. They wrote that a recent global environmental index showed that China and India ranked worst in terms of populations affected by poor air.


Beijing Air Pollution Reaches Record Levels This Week

Shanghai Also Under Smog Alert

Beijing’s air pollution reached 11 times World Health Organization-recommended levels today, as the country’s meteorological department forecast smog in north and central China to continue. The concentration of PM2.5, fine particulates that pose the greatest risk to human health, was 290 micrograms per cubic meter at 3 p.m. near the city’s Tiananmen Square, the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center said on its website. The WHO recommends levels of no higher than 25 micrograms per cubic meter in 24 hours.

Beijing air pollution WHO

Beijing raised its air pollution alert to orange yesterday as smog levels were projected to stay hazardous this weekend, triggering orders for some enterprises to limit production and a ban on outdoor barbecues and fireworks. Pollution in Beijing and Shanghai placed them among the least hospitable of 40 international cities listed in a report by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, which ranked China’s capital second from bottom, ahead of Moscow.

When the air gets really bad, Beijing says it has an emergency plan to yank half the city’s cars off the road. The only problem is: It may be difficult to ever set that extreme plan in motion. It wasn’t triggered in January, when the city recorded extremely poisonous air pollution. And not this week, when pollution was expected to continue for several days at hazardous levels.

A rare alert issued Friday was an “orange” one – the second-highest of the four levels of urgency – prompting health advisories and bans on barbeques, fireworks and demolition work, but no order to pull cars from the streets.

“Yesterday, I thought it was bad enough when I went out to eat. But this morning I was hacking,” a Beijing pedestrian who gave her name as Li said Friday, as a thick haze shrouded the city.

Red Alert Not Issued, Yet

Still, the government did not issue the red alert. Beijing’s alert system requires a forecast of three days in a row of severe pollution for the highest level. Days of extreme pollution or polluted skies that are expected to clear in less than three days do not trigger the most stringent measures.

A period of pollution in January that saw density readings of PM 2.5 particles exceeding 500 micrograms per cubic meter prompted only the mildest, blue-level alert. That density is about 20 times as high as the 25 micrograms considered safe by the World Health Organization. PM refers to “particulate matter,” a mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets, the size of which is linked to their potential for causing health problems.

The measures that went into effect Friday also ask members of the public to use public transportation and to turn off their cars rather than let them run idle, as well as call for water sprinkling on the street and dust-control measures at building sites.  The most stringent level, red, would order half of Beijing’s 5 million cars off the road – based on the last digit of their license plate.

Ma Jun, of the non-governmental Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing, said that accurately forecasting three days of heavy pollution is technically difficult. But in any case, he said, the government is reluctant to adopt the most disruptive measures, because it would be nearly impossible to notify all drivers of the rules and to adequately boost the capacity of public transportation to accommodate the extra passengers.

“When the alert is at a low level, the measures are not effective, but those for the high-level alert are not feasible,” Ma said. “The government is reluctant to raise the alert level.”

However, Ma credited the government with becoming more open in recent months about air pollution levels, and noted that many people receive real-time government updates about Beijing’s air quality on their mobile phones, so that they can take protective measures.


The Top 10 Cities In The World For Clean Air

Clean Air A Top Issue For Citizens

If you’re making plans for summer vacation, you might prefer not to visit the smoggiest countries. But where might you go to find the cleanest air? The American Lung Association ranks Cheyenne, Wyoming as number one in the U.S. for being the cleanest in annual particle pollution, but the city’s crisp mountain air has become smoggier as a result of natural gas drilling that has raised ozone levels, (higher than Los Angeles).

As this World Health Organization list reveals, you’ll find some of the cleanest air in Canada, the U.S., Europe (northern regions) and Australia. If you’re hoping to breathe a bit easier, here are 10 places you might want to visit based on information from the WHO and the 2013 State of the Air report from the American Lung Association (ALA), as determined by the amount of ozone and long-term and short-term particulate matter in the air.

1. Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada

The largest city in northern Canada, Whitehorse in the Yukon, has some of the cleanest air of any city in the world, according to the WHO. As Whitehorse mayor Bev Buckway says,

“A lot of people come up north and they smell the air and the say “‘Oh wow. Amazing. The air smells so good.’ And we tend to take it for granted because we just have that all the time.”

Whitehorse can thank a lower population density and stricter regulations for its clean air, as well as a favorable climate.

2. Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

New Mexico’s capital has some of the cleanest air in the U.S., with low counts of both particle pollution and ozone — in fact, it is one of only 20 U.S. cities whose ozone levels have consistently been low. Situated in a region with 1.5 million acres of forest, the city has strict regulations to limit the burning of wood in the open air. Besides this, Santa Fe has been designated a UNESCO Creative City for its thriving art, crafts and design community.

3. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

Honolulu means “sheltered bay” or “place of shelter” in native Hawaiian; this aptly describes the city on the big island of Hawaii. Honolulu is about 2,000 miles away from the U.S. mainland, beyond where particles from burning coal can travel. The Diamond Head and Koko Head craters are nearby and the city has low levels of ozone and particle matter and receives plenty of rain. A well-designed transit system with dedicated bus lanes also helps to cut down on emissions.

4. Great Falls, Montana, USA

Situated in an area of great natural beauty with hiking trails and nature refuges, Great Falls is located in north-central Montana. The city’s residents have worked to keep their air clean, successfully fending off the construction of a 250-megawatt coal-fired power plant that would have released 2.1 million tons of carbon emissions into the air per year. The power company said it would instead built a 120-megawatt natural gas-fired plant.

5. Calgary, Alberta, Canada

The WHO ranks the air quality of Calgary, Canada, highly, even with a large gas and oil industry in the region. Thoughtful urban planning and public transportation help to manage traffic congestion. Calgary is located in southern Alberta province and maintains three sanitary landfill sites for screening garbage and removing biodegradable and recyclable materials.

6. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

From a light rail system to a Spring Cleaning the Capital program in which 60,000 volunteers join together to clean parks and other public spaces, the Canadian capital has established a number of measures to keep its streets and air clean. The Rideau canal (pictured above) runs through a good part of the city and, in the winter when it freezes, becomes a huge outdoor skating rink.

7. Helsinki, Finland

The capital of Finland is one of the cleanest metropolitan centers in Europe thanks to efforts to limit emissions from vehicles and industry; the government says that as much as over half of the particle pollution in the country comes from elsewhere. The city has wide streets to cut down on traffic congestion and also advises residents to take public transit when air quality is poorer.

8. Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm has an extensive public transportation system. The Swedish capital also has the largest percentage of clean vehicles in Europe with about 5 percent of all of its vehicles being hybrids. Stockholm has also imposed a congestion charge on cars in its central area and promoted cycling. It’s a wonderful city to walk around in; Stockholm’s archipelago offers ready access to the wilderness.

9. Zurich, Switzerland

Located near Germany on Switzerland’s northern border, Zurich has a well-developed and highly efficient public transportation system of trains, boats, buses and trams. The city also encourages bike riding and has tried a number of innovative methods to main air quality such as outfitting buses with mobile sensors — all the better for residents and visitors to enjoy its architecture, cultural institutions and lake.

10. Tailinn, Estonia

Tallinn is the capital of Estonia, the small Baltic country ranked as having the best air quality by the WHO (Estonia is also the most wired in the world and a leader in e-government). More than half of the country’s land is covered by trees and public transit helps to keep emissions low.

While saying that “in Estonia, clean air is as natural as tooth brushing in the morning in a decent family,” Keit Pentus, Minister of the Environment, emphasizes that residents must remain vigilant via “more environmentally friendly energy production and more modern and comfortable public transport.”

Clean air is something we cannot, sadly, take for granted today — all the more reason to keep working to make the air in these cities clean.

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California Announces Urban Forestry Grants

Urban and Community Forestry Grants

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) has set aside funds to provide grants to applicants that wish to create or implement a“Leading Edge” Urban Forestry and Urban Greening Project or Program. The funding level of eachCAL FIREUrban & Community Forestry grant program may be adjusted based on the applications received.

urban forestry grants
Urban forestry grants available.

The CAL FIRE Urban & Community Forestry Program works to optimize the benefits of trees and related vegetation through multiple-objective projects that provide environmental services and cost-effective solutions to the needs of urban communities and local agencies, including, but not limited to, increased water supply, clean air and water, reduced energy use, flood and storm water management, recreation, urban revitalization, improved public health, and producing useful products such as biofuel, clean energy, and high quality wood. Such efforts play a significant role in meeting the state’s greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. We encourage citizen participation in the development and implementation of state and local agency and non-profit organization urban forestry programs and projects.

Eligible applicants include cities, counties, qualifying districts, or nonprofit organizations qualified under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (PRC 5096.605). Districts include, but are not limited to, school, park, recreation, water, and local taxing districts. Urban & Community Forestry Leading Edge Projects Grant 2012-2013

Oakland’s Zero Emission Bus

Transportation Part Of Sustainable Infrastructure

The buses are 40-foot-long behemoths, but they glide along downtown streets as silently as sleds coasting over snow; passersby barely turn their heads. The local AC Transit agency, which serves Oakland, Berkeley and other East Bay cities, hopes its fleet of three hydrogen-powered buses—the largest in the nation—will help to leave the environment just as undisturbed.

Oakland's green bus.
Oakland’s magic bus–zero emissions.

Jaimie Levin, AC Transit’s director of alternative-fuels policy, had his conversion experience in 1999 when he attended a demonstration. “I couldn’t believe the potential for addressing environmental-health issues,” he says. “The only emission from this bus was water vapor.” When the California Air Resources Board passed a regulation in 2000 requiring transit agencies to switch to cleaner buses, AC Transit had the impetus it needed to start a project. Over the next few years, it amassed more than $12 million in grants and forged partnerships with multiple companies that helped them design the hydrogen-powered buses. The first buses took to the streets in 2005, and the fleet should grow to eight in 2009.

Although the buses substantially reduce transit pollution (diesel buses emit 130 tons of carbon dioxide per year), initiatives like AC Transit’s remain largely showcase projects.

Custom components drive the price of each bus to $2 million, more than five times the cost of diesel buses. Levin believes this will change if U.S. authorities throw their full political and financial weight behind hydrogen—which seems a more feasible goal now that the Federal Transit Administration has started parceling out $49 million in research grants for fuel-cell buses. “Ultimately, this becomes a public-policy decision,” he says. “We can bring costs down by building the buses on a large scale, and local governments can help accelerate that.


History Lessons Under The Trees

Trees Help Keep History Alive

A unique tree-planting program would like to put a piece of history in your yard. The Famous & Historic Tree Program is an environmental education concept combining contemporary conservation with our nation’s heritage.

famous and historic trees
This poplar tree was planted by George Washington in 1785.

Young trees that are direct descendants of trees planted by – or associated with – George Washington, Betsy Ross, Martin Luther King, and 130 other famous people and places are available for planting, said Neil Sampson, vice president of American Forests, the nonprofit group sponsoring the program.

“We’ve identified trees all across America and around the world that are associated with significant people or events in history,” he said. “From the seeds of those one-of-a-kind trees, we grow small healthy trees and make them available for sale.”

Included in the group’s catalog are descendants of trees that witnessed the landing of Columbus, the American Revolution and the bloody battles of the Civil War. Others were nurtured by presidents, inventors, artists, heroes and other accomplished Americans.

George Washington, for instance, planted numerous trees at his home in Mount Vernon, Va. The program’s George Washington tulip poplar dates back to 1785 and is the largest of the living trees planted by the first president, said Sampson.

famous and historic trees

Other famous trees come from the lives of Abraham Lincoln, U.S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, John James Audubon, Edgar Allen Poe, Hellen Keller, Jesse Owens, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.

One of the most popular selections involves trees from Walden Woods in Concord, Mass. Since this is where Henry David Thoreau lived and wrote from 1845 to 1847, it has been a sacred tract of land to many. Singer Don Henley and other celebrities have helped with the group’s Walden Woods Tree Project, aimed at stopping development on the land.

“One-third of the purchase price of each Famous & Historic Tree benefits the tree-planting and preservation efforts of American Forests,” Sampson said. “To date, more than 10,000 trees have been sold to more than 2,000 individuals, corporations and community organizations.”

Each of the one- to three-foot seedlings comes from the group’s nursery in Jacksonville, Fla. The trees sell for $35 and are guaranteed to grow. The tree also comes with a certificate of authenticity, fertilizer, planting instructions, a protective net and a stake for added support, Sampson said.

The Benefits Of Trees To Cities, Citizens

Forest restoration is a global issue, but planting a tree is a very local action. Through our Global ReLeaf program, American Forests works with communities of all sizes to get the right trees planted where they are needed. We have worked with Roanoke, Virgina; Houston, Texas; Washington, DC; and many other cities to increase their tree canopies. We have also been involved with smaller projects, like planting 331 trees at the Boston Nature Center to help mitigate the impact of rapid development nearby. View the rest of our urban projects here.The city of Baltimore, for example, estimates that its 2.8 million trees store 527 tons of carbon and remove 244 metric tons of ground-level ozone annually. It also estimates that its trees reduce energy costs citywide by $3.3 million a year.

Urban trees are a vital part of a functioning ecosystem. City trees can significantly reduce stormwater runoff, which pollutes local streams. Trees also absorb dangerous chemicals and other pollutants in the soil and can either store the pollutants or make them less harmful. Portland, Oregon, for example, is trying to increase its tree canopy from 26 percent to 33 percent by planting 83,000 trees to help manage stormwater. Other major cities — including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Phoenix — are also increasing their tree canopies.

Trees improve air quality by taking in carbon dioxide and other air pollution and releasing oxygen. They also intercept airborne particles and muffle urban noise. Their shade and evaporation create microclimates cooler than the surrounding sunny areas, cutting down on pollution and reducing the urban heat island effect.

Trees can also increase a home’s value and reduce energy use. Deciduous trees on the east, west and south sides of a house can significantly reduce summer cooling costs. Besides shading the structure itself, trees can shade a heat pump compressor to make it work more efficiently. In winter, evergreens that block the wind on the north side of a house can reduce heating costs.

Founded in 1875, the American Forests organization itself is part of America’s history. It is the country’s oldest nonprofit citizens conservation organization, he said. For more information about the program, call 1-800-320-TREE. Or visit

Earth Fact: Millions of tree-planting spaces are available around homes and businesses in towns and cities around the world. Planting those trees could save billions each year in energy costs. Those energy savings would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from energy production by millions of tons per year.