“A problem adequately stated is a problem well on its way to being solved.” –R. Buckminster Fuller
Air inequality—the unequal access to clean air to breathe—is responsible for 1 out of every 8 deaths in the world. The impact of air pollution on health and the global economy is a massive injustice to humanity. Yet, from London to Los Angeles, meaningful access to air quality data has effectively armed citizens, scientists, journalists, and whole communities to combat dirty air. Many governments, including those in severely polluted places, publicly share air quality data but often in disparate and temporary forms that make the data difficult or impossible to access for almost everyone but a tiny cadre of specialists. No government, international organization, or other group was making these data open and easily accessible.
A global open air quality platform did not exist because: 1. It is not in the purview of a government to openly access and share another country’s data; 2. International organizations like the World Bank, the UN Environmental Program, or WHO must create formal infrastructures to access official data with each government, which there has not been a substantial push to do; and 3. Private sector organizations currently aggregating these data are not incentivized to make these data open. Therefore, a truly free, transparent, verifiable air quality platform that aggregates data from these various sources could currently only be developed by an open-source, open-data community of individuals around the world.
Air inequality often flies under the radar because, while it is a widespread, critical problem, it is one that people perceive as a local or regional issue, so it has been hard to organize national or international movements to demand action and to coordinate strategies, even though it is a nigh universal crisis.
OpenAQ fosters a far-flung series of grassroots networks that fight “air inequality” by building and using the only global, real-time, and historical, open-air quality data platform in the world, aggregating data from, so far, 47 countries and more than 5,400 ground stations. Through its open-source platform and rapidly growing collaborative community, OpenAQ promotes an ecosystem of air quality information that has enabled previously impossible cross disciplinary and international collaborations, scientific research projects, policy initiatives, and newly empowered, informed activism. Air pollution has enormous impacts on health and the global economy, and very poor communities often suffer the brunt of those adverse impacts.
No government, international organization, or other group had made these data open and universally formatted prior to OpenAQ’s innovative platform. Beyond its data aggregation and sharing, OpenAQ is committed to on-the-ground convenings and has, so far, held three pilot workshops in Bosnia, India, and Mongolia to bring together journalists, scientists, software developers, artists, policymakers, and others to address air inequality. Information can’t, by itself, lead to systemic change, but widespread access to the truth about air quality accompanied by OpenAQ’s efforts to nurture dynamic and virally spreading networks, coalitions, alliances, and cross-disciplinary collaborations across regions can effectively serve as a “trim-tab” in the struggle to re-establish what should be a birthright for all humans and living creatures: healthy air to breathe.
You can read more about OpenAQ on their website.