Engaging young minds in the fight against air pollution

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Teaching children about air pollution

Authors:  

Dr Ruaraidh Dobson | Programme Manager (Air Quality)

Date: 18 July 2023

Trilateral works with local communities on their net zero and air quality targets, encouraging behaviour change, improving health, and encouraging community engagment. With Project Trim, we’ve deployed a range of sensors and created the bespoke Meath Environmental Platform to deliver insights to Meath County Council, helping them understand existing problems and plan for the future.

But making real change must be centred on community engagement, and is why I was delighted to be asked to run some workshops in schools to showing them what we’re doing and explain why air quality is so important. These are issues close to my heart – it’s a huge part of my career, and a core element of Trilateral’s social impact work. I wanted to share with the young people I was speaking to some of the passion I feel about reducing air pollution and climate change.

 

How to engage with young people on air pollution

The Trim project focuses on knowing what the air is like in your local area and using that information to understand the effects air pollution is really having. We thought the best way to bring that to students would be to have them build their own air pollution sensors. We used some off-the-shelf components and custom software to get the kids working with their hands, plugging circuit boards and sensing equipment together to understand not just how the sensors work but what’s in the air around them.

With our fantastic colleagues from Meath County Council, I visited five primary schools and two secondary schools in the town of Trim. It’s a beautiful place – it has Ireland’s oldest bridge, some fabulous pubs and restaurants, and (vitally for me as a Scot) the castle where they filmed Braveheart.

In primary schools we focused on carbon dioxide and climate change. Our audience were very knowledgeable already – their passion and concern for the environment was obvious, to the point where I was worried that I couldn’t tell them anything new! When we got to building the sensors, it was great to see them really engage with air quality as an issue, especially indoors. And to watch them compete to see who could get the highest CO2 reading!

In secondary schools, we did something a little more complex. Students were asked to build sensors that could detect both CO2 and particulate matter (the dust in the air). Once they built their sensors they took them around the school, measuring in different classrooms and other locations indoors and outdoors. I was really impressed with the level of understanding and thoughtfulness from the students – one group even asked the teacher to start the car so they could measure air quality around it!

After that, we were able to link our mini sensors up to the Meath Environmental Platform, showing young people results over time compared to outdoor data. That gave a real sense of how we can use this information to understand what needs to change.

Why is it so important?

Showing the next generation how important our environment is can seem like a challenge, but in all of these events I was struck by the level of knowledge, passion, and concern students had for the world around them. That made it even better to see them getting a new understanding of what the air was like indoors and outdoors.

Making real behaviour change – whether that’s promoting active travel, changing road use patterns, or ventilating better indoors – means showing people the real impact of air pollution. I could see that happen with the students I worked with. It’s an important reminder that data alone doesn’t matter: it’s what you do with it, and the context you place it in, that makes a real difference.

Please contact us if you’d like to run similar workshops in your area, or for more information on our air pollution products and services.

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