Rising Standards Of Living And Air Pollution: Connecting The Dots

Rising Standards Of Living And Air Pollution: Connecting The Dots

It appears that the higher you climb on the socio-economic ladder, the more likely you are to contribute to air pollution! Our perception of how dirty the air is often not triggered, until for example, we see or smell a cloud of fumes from the exhaust pipes of some vehicle or generator.

Power generation, transportation and hydrocarbons contribute the most to air pollution in Nigeria, especially Lagos. The ever growing middle class and forever rising standard of living means people are purchasing more generators, air conditioners and vehicles (private and commercial).

It’s often very easy to overlook the harmful effects of  all these fumes. Prolonged exposure increases the risk of lung-related diseases, even for non-smokers. So every time you get into your car or hop on top a bike or public bus, you contribute to (and ironically suffer from) air pollution on our roads. In fact, your socio-economic status tends to affect how much of air pollution you contribute to the environment.

This is a chart that shows the average amount of Carbon Dioxide (grams) emitted by various transportation modes.
What is a carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases—primarily carbon dioxide—released into the atmosphere by a particular human activity.
Despite being in the information age, with about 47% of Nigerians having access to the internet (Statista, 2018), this has not reduced our physical movements. This culminates in huge amounts of carbon emission footprint per person on the environment. Almost every decision to move from point A to point B exposes 94% of Nigerians to air pollution exceeding WHO safety limits.

So, how is the rising standard of living responsible for that?

Research conducted on the socioeconomic characteristics of the urban commuters in metropolitan Lagos shows that approximately 80% of the over 20 million residents utilize public transport for commuting to work and other places. Despite the upsurge in the number of people relying on cars to get around, 52% of the households sampled own no vehicles, while 26% are single-car households. The average household size is between 4 and 6 persons.

A lady selling Boli (Roast Plantains) in a market 

Over 70% of the 1,300 Lagos residents surveyed were between ages 25-65 years. 80% of them had a secondary education or higher, and were in the working-class category.  The average monthly income data reveals that over 11% earn $90 which is below the minimum wage, whereas more than 40% earned between $100 – $300 monthly. About 29% of employed respondents work in the informal sector as traders or artisans, 18% in the civil service and 23% in white collar employment. Working class people including traders, artisans and civil servants constituted a major portion of Lagosians who commute by public transportation instead of private cars. The research further shows that more men (about 60%) move and use public transport than women in Lagos.

About less than 20% of people in Lagos who earn at least $300 monthly and own at least a vehicle, account for the most carbon emissions in the state. Here’s the logic: the rich or middle-class person rides mostly alone in their cars/SUV’s, occupying almost 12 times the space that the lesser income earner, commuting with at least 50 other passengers in a bus occupies. If you divide the carbon emission from the vehicles by the number of passengers conveyed by each, you get the picture.

A person driving an SUV automobile

So, the next time you get in your expensive SUV, understand that you not only have a status symbol, you have the very badge of dirty air on wheels. Interestingly, even the minimum wage earners amongst us try to fake a middle-class lifestyle, so they find a way to own that Tokunbo (second hand) vehicle and swell the ranks of contributors to air pollution in the environment. While we continue to explore ways of fixing our underdeveloped urban transportation system, is there a way we can reduce our carbon footprint and leave a safer environment for our children?

A Nigerian child


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  1. Awesome post. I am a normal visitor of your web site and appreciate you taking the time to maintain the nice site. I will be a frequent visitor for a really long time. Marrilee Noah Fitzger

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