Crafting a call to action on air pollution

The following is a guest contribution from Eric Van Vlandren. Eric is a long time sustainability professional specializing in education and communication.  He was recently the Campus Sustainability Coordinator at Emerson College and now works as a consultant for variety of organizations, including Vivergy, Vermontivate, the MA House and others.  He can be reached at ericvanvlandren (at) gmail (dot) com.

When I was a student at Emerson College studying political communication theories and practices, we were taught a rhetorical technique called Monroe’s Motivated Sequence.  It is a tried and tested framework for making a persuasive case to an audience to adopt a certain idea and action (with lots of grounding in social science research).  While originally designed for spoken communication it can certainly be adopted to written, video … even abstract art if you are clever.  Here are the five simple steps:  Attention, Need, Satisfaction, Visualization and Action (or, as I was taught, Realization).

Let’s examine how the Motivated Sequence can be used to organize our thoughts and actions for an even larger problem.  Air pollution.  Something which affects all of us yet is often difficult to see, hear or smell (although in certain cases it can be all of those things to be sure).  Now how could that be brought to a local level and personalized?  Here is one example:

Attention:  The first step is to use a fact in an attention getting way to focus your audience on what you are about to tell them.

Today your children breathed in the equivalent pollution to spending 20 minutes in a car with people smoking in the front seat simply because they were outside playing with their friends.  Air pollution can be as dangerous to your health, potentially as carcinogenic, as second hand smoke. Have you ever stopped to think about that?

Need:  Next is to outline the need – or one could say the problem – for your audience to confront.  Remember, this is a need (problem) they certainly have but for one reason or another are not addressing in an effective manner.

Air pollution threatens all of us.  It is not the sort of environmental issue we sometimes see in other places.  Often there is a single point cause of pollution and addressing that source, even if complex or costly, would fix the problem.  (Building the Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant to clean Boston Harbor would be one example of this.)  With air pollution we are faced with something so ubiquitous it can seem unsolvable.  Yet it is the very nature of the problem – you can’t take one discrete action, or move away from it – that makes the need for collective action all the greater.

Satisfaction:  This step is to show your audience that adopting a prescribed course of action will gain them satisfaction – it will address the need you have brought to their attention.

Quantifying the problem will help everyone understand the need to act.  Empirical data has a quality which focuses the mind in a different way than anecdotes and supposition.  By banding together to collect air pollution information in your local area your efforts will serve to galvanize a community in a unique way, because you did it yourselves.  Knowledge is power, to quote the old cliché.  Consider a Vivergy monitoring program at your local school and empower play an active role in the health of your community.

Visualization:  Just as it sounds, here you paint a picture for your audience of a future where in they are satisfied because they addressed their need in the manner you are advocating.

Imagine running a simple monitoring program in your own community.  Imagine being able to tell where the air pollution hot spots are – at the bus stop?  Near the highway?  During high heat and humidity?  Consider the value if your data could be linked on-line to that of other communities.  Consider how the process and the data could provide real world science experiences for your students.  Vivergy monitoring systems offer one option for this sort of community action.

Action:  The final step is to urge your audience to take action – because you captured their attention, demonstrated an acute need, showed them how they can achieve satisfaction and helped them visualize the solution.

So for the action step in addressing air pollution, it couldn’t be more simple.  Speak with your local School Board.  Talk to your principal, and maybe your science teachers.  See if the Select Board has a little extra money to purchase a monitor – they can probably swing it.  The monitors are not expensive.  And then … do it.  Install the monitor, use the software.  Learn about the air pollution around your school.  Show your community how cars and busses are contributing to a carcinogenic environment for all of us.  Then you are equipped to do something about it.  We all, especially our children, deserve no less.

I hope you find this little rhetorical exercise helpful.  Here’s to cleaner air.

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There’s hope: Personal actions can lead to societal solutions

The following is a guest contribution from Eric Van Vlandren. Eric is a long time sustainability professional specializing in education and communication.  He was recently the Campus Sustainability Coordinator at Emerson College and now works as a consultant for variety of organizations, including Vivergy, Vermontivate, the MA House and others.  He can be reached at ericvanvlandren (at) gmail (dot) com.

The modern world presents us all with many opportunities not available to previous generations. It comes with a host of new challenges as well, first among them things like climate change, pollution and other sustainability issues. If you are like many of us it is easy to feel overwhelmed by seemingly intractable problems, complex and costly solutions and frustration at the inactivity of our elected leaders.

Well, I have good news – which may at first sound like bad news. Each of the challenges threatening our healthy future is not a onetime event. No one pushed a button and overnight put billions of tons of carbon in the atmosphere, or polluted the oceans, or filled the air we breathe with soot and chemicals. Those things all happened over a long time through individuals taking singular actions again and again as part of their daily lives, businesses, industries etc. Our environmental problems have grown gradually and while they are undeniably large now (here comes the good news) the solution to them is, simply, to run the process in reverse. That’s right, there will be no button to push to magically undo any of this. Rather each of us needs to do what we can every day to lighten our footprint, to live mindfully, to “be the change we wish to see in the world” – Gandhi

The even better news I have for you is that many issues lend themselves very well to individual action, to community building and to learning through grass roots action. One of the best is tackling an issue like air pollution. We all contribute to the soot, chemicals and carcinogens in our atmosphere through the normal behaviors of our daily lives. Don’t feel guilty about that – you didn’t create the society and technologies we live with. No, feel empowered. Take heart in examples of awareness resulting in larger solutions as well. Think of the crises of the Antarctic ozone hole of 20 years ago and how widespread understanding led to international treaties and action to mitigate it. This same type of awareness bred action which also lead to indoor smoking laws, because of the harmful effects of second hand smoke and individuals demanding protection of their health. There are many others.

I recommend thinking about what is most important to you – your children. I can tell you that although I have none myself, children are the most important thing to me too. A rational person realizes they are the most precious aspect of any society. Each day children are exposed to high levels of air pollutants through the simple act of going to school. In fact, as Vivergy tells us, the typical child is exposed to toxins and particulates at the equivalent level as being in a closed vehicle breathing second hand cigarette smoke for 20 minutes. No one would tolerate that for their children. What if there were a way to learn, not guess, what the air pollution chemicals were and at what concentrations? What if we could set up a simple monitoring program right at our neighborhood school? We could see the levels fluctuate with time of day and activity. We could compare to other communities. We could empower ourselves with the information we need to make changes that would improve the health of our children as well as take those small steps we all need to take to address larger sustainability issues.

As a professional whose career centers on effective sustainability communication one of the things which fills me with hope is the promise of creating a culture of individual actions, living a resource light lifestyle. It is hundreds of non-profits, NGOs and pioneering startups, like Vivergy, which many times offer the solutions. Every idea was small once. Seek places where you can access information directly, without a mediator. None of us, especially our children, need to live with toxins in the air we breathe. Consider taking steps now, in your town, to do what you can to learn about and reduce air pollution. I think you will find this kind of grass roots activism is empowering and shows a path towards tackling many of our environmental challenges large and small.

Vivergy Inventions: Wi-Fi Enabled Outdoor Air Quality Monitor

Air pollution, specifically particulate matter 2.5, can vary significantly over space and time. Although the EPA’s AirNow system is good in the sense that it has highly accurate monitors and releases the data hourly to the public, I was dissatisfied with its coverage in my area, the greater Boston area. There are 5 monitors that provide data to 4.7 million people… not very granular! Furthermore, this data is pretty impersonal- these monitors are not located in publicly visible places, and simply reporting an air quality value for a massive area is not going to make it feel very real to people after considering that air pollution is not in a high enough concentration to be visible here 95% of days.

So, I wanted to bring air pollution data down to a very human level so the average Boston resident could understand its relevance to their lives. My requirements for the monitor were:

  1. A technology that was proven accurate in independent testing for a reasonable price
  2. Live streaming to the web via Wi-fi for ease of sharing the data
  3. Weatherproof down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, able to withstand the Massachusetts winter
  4. Power and internet demands that were easily available in the US
  5. Minimal maintenance for ease of use by end-user
  6. 100% uptime, no interruptions in service by device.

The following instructions show how I built V1 for approximately $500. I settled on creating a system based around the following 3 technologies:

  1. Dylos DC 1100 Pro with PC interface (link)
  2. CanaKit Raspberry Pi w/ Wi-Fi (link)
  3. Primex P1000 weatherproof case (link)

Other things you will need:

-Reflectix Insulation (link)

-Velcro adhesives (link)

-Zipties

-Incandescent rope lights for heating (link)

-Trendnet Serial to USB cable (link)

-3 Way Wall Outlet Plug Adapter (link)

-Scissors

-Box cutter

 

And it looks like this:

20151204_112527

Here are 4 key resources I consulted to make this:

  1. Drexel senior design project, outdoor Dylos system (link)
  2. WorldAQI Build Your Own Wi-Fi Enabled Dylos Monitor (link)
  3. Outdoor Cat Enclosure, heated and insulated for cheap (link)
  4. Accuracy testing for Dylos monitor (link1)(link2)(link3)

Live experiment streaming currently at joinvivergy.com/schools

The heating method is needed for proper functionality of the Dylos. In order for the Dylos to read accurately, it needs to be at a temp above 32 degrees Fahrenheit, I aim for 40 degrees to be safe.

Part 1: Connecting Raspberry Pi to Dylos/ Wi-Fi Enabled

  1. Set up your Raspberry Pi with Raspbian OS, as provided
  2. Connect your Raspberry Pi to the Dylos with the Serial to USB cable.
  3. Download the PHP scripts from the WorldAQI project (link) to the Pi and follow included instructions. You are also going to want to set it up so that they run on startup of the Pi, instructions at that link as well. Furthermore, you may want to stream the results to your personal server if you want to manipulate the data yourself. Check line 82 of /dylos.php to change to destination of data.

Finished picture:

AirwatchOutdoors2

 

Part 2: Setting Up the Enclosure

Start by lining your Primex P1000 with insulation, attached with Velcro.

Bare enclosure

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Plan for velcro on Primex

PrimexSetup

And Reflectix Insulation

 

ReflectixBottom

ReflectixTop

Finished picture with velcro attached (minus second strip of velcro for attaching incandescent lights

20151201_220717

 

Part 3: Assembling pieces within enclosure

First, the lighting/heating. Coil the incandescent rope light into a loop that fits on the left side of enclosure, then use a zip tie to hold the form. Use two loops of Velcro to attach to the top, the attach to the two lines of Velcro “hooks” on top.

Diagram

Incandescentlightloopdiagram

 

Pic

20151204_112535

 

Second, everything else. It is going to be a tight fit. You need to add one strip of Velcro “loop” side along the bottom of the Pi, then one strip “loop” side at the top of the Dylos and one at the bottom.

 

Diagram

Boxlabeleddiagram

 

Pic

BoxDiagram

 

Make sure to remember to turn the Dylos on before putting it in place!

 

Got any questions/comments? Would love to hear ’em. Leave a comment or reach me at kevin (at) joinvivergy (dot) com.

Thanksgiving Pollution Review: It Ain’t Pretty, Folks

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is one of the biggest travel days of the year. So, we asked, could all of those cars on the road actually change air pollution levels for millions of Americans? We ran this analysis with the Share My Air real-time pollution map at joinvivergy.com/air. We also did a previous analysis of the pollution wave crossing the country in August due to the wildfires on the West Coast

In order to investigate, we looked at 5 cities on the Boston-Washington corridor (Boston, Providence, NYC, Philadelphia, Washington DC). This is where hundreds of thousands of drivers are on the road at a holiday time since all of the cities are within a reasonable driving distance for millions of residents. Then, we looked at 2 urban and 2 suburban air quality monitors at random in each metropolitan area, for a total of 20 monitors. In order to examine the impact of Thanksgiving travel, we looked at the entire holiday week (11/22-11/28), and noted the day with the highest particulate matter 2.5 levels.

And the results were… not great news for human health. Out of the 20 monitors sampled, 80% (16) experienced the most pollution on November 25, the day before Thanksgiving. This day was, on average, 5 ug/m3 higher than the weekly average. In other words, every man, woman and child within the Boston-Washington corridor was exposed to the equivalent of an extra 13 minutes in a sealed car with a smoker on that day (based on this sample).

So what can people do in the future to prevent this? The price of seeing your family for the holiday should not be an extra dose of pollution in 21st-century America. In this case, pollution is caused by personal vehicles, so families will have a lot of control over creating a healthier holiday next year. Two great solutions for this situation are public transit (train or bus) and electric vehicles. Both would allow families to promote clean air with their holiday travels.

Want to review the data yourself? Check out the Share My Air tool at joinvivergy.com/air.

–The Vivergy Team

Introducing AirWatch, The Outdoor Air Quality Monitoring Solution For Schools

watchdoglogotitle

Today, we are proud to announce the launch of AirWatch, our new complete solution for schools to measure air quality on their premises and live broadcast the results to students, parents and staff in real-time. With AirWatch, schools can not only get accurate air pollution readings at their school every minute, but also share these results in real-time through a user-friendly web interface.

So how exactly do we deliver this groundbreaking package?

AirWatch is composed of two parts.

  1. A Dylos Air Quality monitor hooked up to a Raspberry Pi for live streaming via Wi-Fi.

AirwatchOutdoors2

The Dylos DC1100 Pro is a highly accurate air quality monitor (source) that reads every minute, but there is just one issue- there is no good way to share those results! So, we hooked it up to a Rasberry Pi (microcomputer) with a Wi-Fi adapter so that the results can be shared widely in real-time.

Raspberry Pi Wifi

2. The AirWatch Site

AirWatchScreenshot

The AirWatch interface at joinvivergy.com/schools allows students, parents and teachers to easily browse the monitor’s readings and check out historical data. It also allows parents to share any actions they are taking to clean the school’s air.

Any school that has power and Wi-Fi (in other words, almost every school) is eligible. And by the way- we also translate the live readings into secondhand smoke equivalents, as always, so everybody can understand the readings.

Got questions or want to see this in your school? Email us at info (at) joinvivergy (dot) com!

–The Vivergy Team

Build Your Own (Accurate) Air Quality Monitor That Live Streams To The Web

Just came across an excellent guide from World AQI on how to build your own air quality monitor that streams data live from your location to the web.  Oh yeah, did I mention that it is super easy, accurate and only costs around $350?

All you need is:

-A Dylos air quality monitor with PC interface

-A Raspberry Pi

-Serial to USB cable

This setup will allow you to broadcast air quality from your location live to the internet, and even add it to the World AQI map in real time. The instructions and documentation are available on the World AQI blog. The Dylos has been independently reviewed by both the EPA and WAQI, and although it does not perform at a government-approved level, it gives excellent data accuracy for a device that costs less that $300. The only downside is that the Dylos is not weatherproof, but perhaps we will develop that next! An example of the findings on accuracy is below:

DylosProfile

If you want to check out mobile air quality monitoring options, check out our guide to the Airbeam!

–The Vivergy Team