The Situation with Air Pollution


Who and what are the drivers of change?
  •  Coal-fire power stations
  • Koeberg Nuclear Power station
 What is happening?
  • 4000 people die annually in South Africa due to Air Pollution
  • 2 Million die worldwide
  • causes major diseases
 What can be done?
  •  support the growth of renewable energy solutions
  • home solutions
  • Rooftop Gardens
 How to get it done
  •  Awareness through social media
  • starting trends of making rooftop gardens
 What are the means to do it?
  • Awareness
  • a budget behind the right ideas…


Figure 1: Emphasising the seriousness of the situation

Air pollution has claimed over two million lives prematurely worldwide. In South Africa alone, approximately 4000 people are killed annually due to air pollution(2011). What is also shocking is that in the whole of South Africa, Johannesburg is rated as the most polluted air. The World Health Organisation (WHO) based their statistics on 91 countries and 1600 cities worldwide to conclude that South Africa is ranked 30th in the world for bad air quality and Johannesburg is the 99th most polluted in the world. As author Vikrant Parsai said, “Many people will never be bothered by air pollution because they don’t stop taking a long enough to take a deep breath.” Thusly this blog post will hopefully clear the air and allow readers to comfortably take a deep, reassuring breath of air.”

This blog aims to use the theories given by Poul Holm et al. in their article, ‘Humanities for the Environment—A manifesto for research and action’ (2015) as well as the supporting theories of Shelby Grant and Mary Lawhon in their article, ‘Reporting on rhinos: analysis of the newspaper coverage of rhino paoching’ (2014) to provide an environmental humanities analysis and critique of three media articles written about the pollution in the air, specifically to Johannesburg. This blog will also be using various other articles to support information and arguments given; the main articles used are from ‘South Africa’s impressive Solar power plant’, ‘Urban Population’ as well as ‘SA Air Pollution ‘an environmental threat’.

The blog post will ask and analyse the following questions: who and what are the drivers of change? Do the drivers for change relate to the “Great Acceleration”of human technologies, powers and consumption? What are the political, institutional, cultural and societal factors that drive the change? How does the absence or presence of solutions relate to “The New Human Condition”? Do the proposed solutions engage with the business / corporate sector? Do the proposed solutions and means to do it stem from collaborative processes of research, stakeholder engagement and public participation?Are the solutions translated into practical means that can easily be achieved by the public?

Summary of Health with regard to Air Population in South Africa

Air pollution is caused by fossil fuels released by car emissions, burning coal and oil and manufacturing chemicals. Air pollution is also used by filing petrol into your car, painting operations, dry cleaning, even your deodorant releases harmful chemicals. As more people live in cities, there is a concentrated amount of fossil fuels related therefore air pollution is more common in urban areas.  A result of air pollution is also urban smog and toxic compounds which cause serious health issues such as; burning in eyes, an irritated throat and difficulties breathing. In long-term effects it can cause cancer and long-term damage to the immune, neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems. In extreme cases, it can even cause death.

“The air in South African cities is so bad it is comparable even to the mega-polluted cities of China,” environmental organisations Healthcare Without Harm (HCWH) and groundWork said in a joint statement (2015).The same database reviled that Johannesburg’s air is particularly poor because of coal-fired generation, a system that was created in Apartheid South Africa. In February 2015, South Africa’s power greater, Eskom was granted a ‘postponement’ to comply with the Department of Environmental Affairs laws to only have 14 coal-fire power stations.

Do the drivers for change relate to the “Great Acceleration” of human technologies, powers and consumption?

According to the Anthroposcene (2010), ‘The Great Acceleration’ refers to the human activities starting in the industrial revolution (1750) and continuing to right now and its changes to the environment mainly referring to greenhouse gas levels, ocean acidification, deforestation and biodiversity deterioration. Although as Holm states (2014), ‘Unfortunately, intellectual and cultural enlightenment does not necessarily lead to changes in human behaviour.’ implying that not all responses to the Great Acceleration are positive or evolving solutions.

Figure 2: Graph of the Urban Population. Available from

For further information on carbon dioxide in the air, see-

The drivers of change, mainly the new solar power stations and the Koeburg Nuclear Power station do relate to the Great Acceleration as they create pollution as well as air pollution too. In certain way, they may help clear the air, by providing alternative energy supply but the station require power to be run, the manufacturing that had to be done required power and all these factors add up to create more air pollution.

How does the absence or presence of solutions relate to “The New Human Condition”?

According to Holm (2015) the New Human Condition refers to how humans react and concern about the consequences and impacts on the environment. The idea is that humans learn and evolve with the impacts and make solutions. However, Grant, S & Lawhon, M. (2014) say that, ‘[…]nine years after the review [of the state of environmental affairs] was published, the world seems, if anything, more divided, uncertain and incapable of dealing with the issues of the global environment.’ implying that not all reactions are positive or progressive.Public responses to the idea of the New Human Condition ‘range from denial to despair, and from alarmism to instinctual belief in our ability to cope.’ (Holm: 2015) I will first begin to put solutions forward and then relate them to the `new human condition’.

  1. A solution to air pollution has been given by the Independent Democrats (2011), ‘The only way to achieve (cleaner air) is through increasing our energy efficiency and supporting the growth of renewable energy technologies.’ Despite this abundant solar resource, South Africa has still not built a single solar thermal plant even though it is a mature technology, which has been producing energy in the United States for over twenty years.

SolarReserve (2015) announced on 11 November 2014 that the 96 megawatt (MW) photovoltaic (PV) Jasper solar power project was completed and fully operational. The Sishen Solar Energy Facility came online in December 2014, with an estimated 216GWh per year of electricity generation. In January the Department of Energy announced the construction of two new CSP plants, which will be built in the Northern Cape. These solar power plants complement other large solar installations, including the Kalkbult Solar Park, Lesedi Solar Park, and Letsatsi Solar Park.

Figure 3: Kalkbult Solar Power Park. Available from

The first of its kind on the continent, the Redstone Solar Thermal Power Project features SolarReserve’s molten salt energy storage technology in a tower configuration with the capability to support South Africa’s demand for energy.

With relation to the New Human Condition, South Africa’s population as well as the world has realised that the air pollution is a serious concern, therefore the population has taken into consideration that Solar power might have a positive change on our air. People are reacting with shock at first, at the alarming rate that the air pollution has taken lives and caused diseases. The next human condition is to try change and fix therefore responding by action.

Do the proposed solutions engage with the business / corporate sector?

The solutions that were proposed by the SolarReserve (2015) and implemented were the new solar panels were paid for by the South African tax money, therefore in a round about way, all businesses were involved paying for the new solutions.

Grant, S & Lawhon, M. (2014) suggest in their reading that the government, non-government, government and joint effort are the only ones ever mentioned in newspaper articles relating to environmental affairs.  They also say that the public is hardly ever mentioned or involved. regarding the articles I have read, I disagree and think there is equal media suggestion of both parties being suggested and involved in solutions. It could be that their theory only applied to their case study on Rhino poaching and not in general on all environmental issues.

Another solution is to have rooftop gardens. This has become a huge trend in Northern America especially Chicago, where not only do the plants clean the air, they also decrease energy expenses and reduce storm runoff. In Johannesburg CBD, there are a few gardens in Maboneng and Bramfontein, but hardly enough yet to curb the air pollution.

Figure 4: Rooftop garden in Chicago. Available from
Figure 5: Rooftop bar in Maboneng, Johannesburg. Available from


There are many smaller solutions that are practical for the public to become involved in such as using a propane or natural gas barbecue rather than a charcoal one, in your home. But not many companies enforce such rules into a household. There are various NGO’s that are trying to engage with recycling and better waste management, but not many businesses and corporate sectors.

Are the solutions translated into practical means that can easily be achieved by the public?

As previously stated, in the above question, many of the larger/more impactful solutions do not involve the public much. There are smaller more public achievable solutions that are suggested that one can do regarding their car and home. The rooftop garden solution is also an option for someone who is able to create one, providing they have a rooftop. The garden can also be used for growing vegetables, therefore lowering ones consumer traffic simultaneously.

Another solution is to raise awareness. Many bloggers and other social media raise awareness and bring forth concerns as well as solutions that can be implemented by the public. Small solutions regarding the road are for example are; walk, ride or take a bike when possible, take public transport. Solutions at home are for example; turning off lights in vacant rooms, do not use gas stoves, recycling etc. These minor solutions, that have large impacts, if everyone is involved do not engage with the corporate or business sector.

Final thoughts

The air is one of our most significant resources that humans need, unfortunately people have been taking the air for granted since the 1750’s. The consequences of this kind of mentality is that millions of people around the world die from air pollution. The aim of this blog has been to create awareness and raise concern as well as propose solutions to help curb the rate of air pollution. Solutions made by SolarReserve was to make solar energy power plants. Other solutions that were simple to implement at home that decrease fossil fuel emissions as well as creating rooftop gardens. Although many people have acknowledged the issues, many are still in denial and disbelief, as the New Human Condition predicted. Main articles that were used were; ‘South Africa’s impressive Solar power plant’, ‘Urban Population’ as well as ‘SA Air Pollution ‘an environmental threat’. 

There are other relevant and interesting, related articles on environmental humanities, to find them please search the hashtag #DigEcoAction.


California Environmental Protection Agency | AIR RES. 2010. Simple solutions to help reduce air pollution. [Online] Available from – [Accessed on 2/04/2016].

Grant, S & Lawhon, M. 2014. Reporting on rhinos: analysis of the newspaper coverage of rhino paoching. Southern African Journal of Environmental Education 30:39-52.

Holm, P et al. 2015. Humanities for the Environment—A manifesto for research and action. Humanities 4:977–992.

Independent Democrats. 2011. Sustainable Solutions for our Environment. [Online] Available from – [Accessed on 2/04/2016].

Mail&Guardian. 2015. South Africa’s Air Quality is Improving – DEA. [Online] Available from – [Accessed: 1/04/2016].

MyBroadBand. 2015. South Africa’s impressive Solar power plant. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on: 2/04/2016].

News24. 2015. South Africa’s Air Pollution Hotspots. [Online] Available from – [Accessed : 1/04/2016].

TheCitizen. 2015. SA Air Pollution ‘an environmental threat’. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on: /04/2016]

U.S Environmental Protection Agency. 2014. Basic Information. [Online] Available from – [Accessed on: 1/04/2016].

Figure 1 : Pintrest. 2016. Beautiful Drawings. [Accessed: 1/04/2016].

Figure 2: Welcome to the Anthroposcene. 2010. Urban Population. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on 2/04/2016].

Figure 3: MyBroadBand. 2015. South Africa’s impressive Solar power plant. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on: 2/04/2016].

Figure 4: Emaze. 2015. Amazing Chicago Rooftops. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on: 3/04/2016].

Figure 5: Airbnb. 2016. Masoning Coburg Rooftop with Garden. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on 3/04/2016].


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