The quintessential air quality public engagement apparatus – the PSA

Well, it’s 2018, a new year and I’m looking at the newest edition of the American Lung Association’s “Breathtaking Views 2017-2018 Clean Air Calendar.” A highlight (and I would expect nothing less): not a single photo throughout showing polluted air. Moreover, in the photo accompanying the month of April, which, incidentally, is of Holmdel Park, New Jersey, the Lung Association on the page opposite (the side of the page on which the calendar is printed) has space devoted to the ALA’s April message: “Air Quality and Quality of Life.” In this the Lung Association relates that 40 percent of Americans reside in locales with unhealthy outdoor air. So, I’m thinking that in all of the places shown in the photos these locations are not among the areas with unhealthy concentrations of polluted outdoor air.

A 1971 PSA “Keep America Beautiful” featured Iron Eyes Cody (left)

I get the clean-air point. Really, I do. But, what about for air that, for many, is not up to snuff, meaning certain established standards? Just so you know, today, the sky that I saw from my vantage point could not have exemplified this any more.

As it has to do with substandard, dirty, unhealthy air, if the mission is to not only spread, but drive that message home, what is best at doing this? Enter the public service announcement or PSA. Next, what should be the central message or main thought? (My own ideas about what the message is that I think should be delivered to viewers is shared here).

In paying close attention to detail and in an effort to be realistic and do justice, I would show in the 60-second spot various sources that are responsible for causing the air pollution that we have, namely, car, truck, bus, plane and train exhaust; smoke from industrial smoke stacks, chimneys, charbroilers; dust from agricultural and construction activity and presented in a montage format – I believe you see where I’m going with this.

I read as well as hear about cases during episodes of severe pollution like the one here in Fresno, California today, where people who are sensitive and have a negative reaction to such a condition have to be transported to the hospital emergency department. If there is someone fitting this profile willing to go on camera and describe what an experience of this nature in their life was like, I would want to include that in the production too.

And, finally, in filling out the PSA, I would want documented footage inserted of some location which once had a severe or extreme pollution problem – and this could be anywhere in the world, whether the problematic pollutant was ozone or fine particulate matter or both – but no longer does, to be able to feature that locale, would be ideal. Related to this, a representative spokesperson could explain to viewers what was done to clean up vicinity air and maybe accompanying such information could be supporting displayed-on-screen statistics; as an example, prior pollutant levels versus what exists today given what representative changes were made, to better help drive the point home.

Whether I could locate just such a place or not, time permitting, of course, I would show items like a renewable-energy-powered electric lightrail-transit train; a battery-electric motor vehicle; a non-polluting locomotive doing switching (shunting) chores in a freight (railway) yard; a big rig whose motive power source happens to consist of fuel-cells; as well as a zero-emissions, solar-panel-outfitted passenger train (such a train actually exists in Australia); all shown in operation, the purpose of which is to demonstrate that one and all of these items do not need to burn fossil fuels to function and that by employing these transportation vehicles, such provide viable and productive ways to spare the air while at the same time be less negatively impacting to the environment and human health – the human health aspect possibly represented visually with the on-screen displaying of two lungs positioned side-by-side one another – one an air-pollution-damaged lung, the other a healthy one.

All this in conjunction with voice accompaniment, the off- or on-screen speaker (depending) begging something on the order of: “Which of the two lungs shown looks more like yours?” This followed by a final vocal declaration admonishing: “Make the choice and the move to healthy (or healthier) air today. Clean air is possible with everyone doing their part.”

This would be the content of my 60-second PSA.

Image above: Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA Library via Wikimedia Commons

This post was last revised on May 7, 2020 @ 7:02 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

– Alan Kandel