Sam Judd
Comment on the environment from columnist Sam Judd

Sam Judd: All we need is the air that we breathe to be clean

Smog in Christchurch. Image / iStock
Smog in Christchurch. Image / iStock

Each year, New Zealand families suffer 1,175 premature deaths because of air pollution.

Our health system also bears a burden of 607 extra hospital admissions for respiratory and cardiac illnesses and 1.49 million work-days are impaired where we could otherwise be adding value to the economy.

These figures come from a study conducted by some 20 experts from a wide variety of specialties and they summarised that the cost to New Zealand from air pollution are $4.28 billion per year or $1061 per person.

It is clear that this is a measurable problem that we need to address.

The Ministry for the Environment has set a goal of reducing Health impacts from anthropogenic (human-made) sources are reduced by 10 per cent from 2012 levels, but this is a serious challenge that will need multiple departments to support achieving the goal.

The two biggest causes of air pollution - open fires and transport - are highly challenging to address.

It is certainly not easy for elected officials to ask people who may be struggling to afford to buy a heat pump not to have an open fire in Christchurch in the depths of winter and not drive a car to work in Auckland.

As I have written before, studies have shown that Auckland - where transport is the major issue for air quality - is one of the most car dependent in the world and public transport rates are among the lowest.

It is obvious that this should see a concerted effort at change, but what can we do about it?

I enjoyed reading that in London, researchers had strapped measuring devices onto pigeons to better understand air quality problems. Over there, innovation has seen the development of super high-tech air fresheners that could help remove filth from the air that we breathe. But while I like the motivation behind this concept, it seems undoubtable that it will cost a packet.

An amazingly clever solution that is easily available locally through flat roof experts Nuralite is their Pure White 3PM membrane. This product actually converts harmful nitrogen oxides and sulphur oxides into harmless solids.

I feel like we need to combine these technologies with behavioural change and harnessing the natural capital of nature to solve air quality issues.

READ MORE: Sam Judd: Should water be a basic human right?

As you may already know, I love the idea of living walls. Somehow these plantings are highly effective at reducing air pollution and they look great too.

Who would not rather walk past greenery in comparison to bricks and mortar? I could almost guarantee that it would make people feel happier too, if a survey was done.

Another option is living roofs. Last year the French government passed an excellent law, requiring all new commercial roofs to be living (having plants growing on them) or have solar panels installed.

But once again, the most basic (and I think satisfying) solution, for air quality issues is to plant more trees. Trees are the lungs of the world.

The planting season for most regions of New Zealand has just begun. I feel privileged to be heading up to Whenua Rangatira in Orakei today to plant some trees overlooking Rangitoto Island. I would encourage all of you that are physically capable to find the time to volunteer this planting season.

If you want to find a worthy project, check out
or to find out where we are running tree planting next to waterways this winter and send me an email if you want to bring a group.

They - and the air - will love you for it.

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