Breathless is out now!
If you like what you've read on my website, I hope you'll also enjoy my new book, Breathless: Why Air Pollution Matters and How it Affects You, which is published over much of the world by Icon Books. It's an accessible and hard-hitting look at air pollution in everyday life.
From the back jacket:
Take a deep breath. You’ll do it 20,000 times a day, half a billion times during your life. You assume all this air is clean; it’s the very breath of life.
But just a few days of breathing the polluted air in Paris, London or Rome is as bad for you as puffing your way through two or three cigarettes, while in Delhi the toxic particulates in the smog are equivalent to smoking 50 a day. For the world as a whole, air pollution is now implicated in six of the top ten causes of death, including lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, and dementia.
Breathless gives us clear facts and hard-hitting statistics about air pollution in our everyday lives, looking at its causes, effects, and potential solutions. Rooted in the latest science, including real-time experiments to measure changing air quality in city streets and inside ordinary homes, it will allow you to make up your own mind about the risks and trade-offs of modern living—wherever in the world you are.
So what's inside this book?
Breathless is about 300 pages long, has 52 charts and artworks to liven things up a bit, and includes fun air-quality tests on things we all encounter as we breathe in and out each day (scented candles, dirty trains, burned toast, and more).
There are 13 chapters—and here's a taster of the kinds of things they cover:
- What's your poison?: A closer look at the air you're breathing.
- Around the world: A world atlas of air pollution.
- Caesar’s dying breath: Air pollution: the story so far.
- Natural born polluters?: Why worry about pollution if it's a perfectly natural thing?
- Going places?: In many countries, road transport is the biggest single cause of air pollution.
- Made in China?: How we cleaned our air by exporting pollution overseas.
- Safe indoors?: Why air pollution indoors can be worse than it is outside.
- Killing us softly: How air pollution harms our health.
- Down to Earth: What happens when air pollution comes back down to land?
- Scrubbing up: Can better technology solve the problem of air pollution?
- People power: Who will finally get a grip on pollution?
Although we tend to think of air pollution as a relatively recent problem, it dates all the way way back to ancient times. But why is it still a problem today?
Some of the (many) things you'll discover...
- Air pollution costs the world $5 trillion a year—almost twice the GDP of India.
- Covid-19 has killed about 2.5 million people over the last year—but air pollution has killed four times more. And it will go on doing so long after we've cracked Covid.
- Invisibly tiny amounts of air pollution do us actual harm. The WHO's guideline for particulates is like the weight of a mosquito in a volume of air the size of a large sofa. And there is no safe lower limit.
- London is one of the world's richest cities, but 99% of people living there are still breathing air dirtier than the WHO recommends.
- Air pollution costs the US up to $120 billion a year. In the UK, the cost is up to £50 billion a year—enough to build 100 hospitals, the size of Birmingham's huge Queen Elizabeth, every single year!
- SUVs produce 47% more air pollution than average cars.
- That nice "new car smell" you breathe in when you open the door in a showroom is a cocktail of over 300 different chemicals—vinyls, foams, adhesives, and much more.
- Tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals (70 of which cause cancer), including radioactive polonium-210.
- Even the cleanest, newest, most eco-friendly wood burners make up to 30 times more dangerous "particulates" (fine soot) than a diesel truck. But dirty ones can make 170 times more.
- Air pollution ends 7–10 million lives prematurely each year—and blights many more.
- Cleaning the air has massive economic and social benefits. In the USA, the Clean Air Act saves 230,000 early deaths, 5.4 million lost school days, 17 million lost work days, and 120,000 visits to A&E every single year, paying for itself 30 times over.
Breathless includes simple, real-world air tests of everyday pollution from things like burning toast, smouldering candles, diesel trains, and more. I carried the Plume Flow tester around with me for six months and measured whatever I could find.
Like to read a sample?
- Every Breath You Take—is a short extract from the book's introduction and conclusion, reprinted in iNews in March 2021.
- A Breath of Fresh Air?—is a similar introduction, based on material from the book (but not an actual extract), reprinted in Balance magazine.
- You'll find quite a meaty preview of the ebook on Google Books and the Google Play (ebooks) app. Don't click through to the new version of Google Books, because the preview doesn't yet work there (for some odd technical reason).
I've also done some interviews about the book...
- A long interview with Neil Mackay for The Herald (paywall).
- 'Ever since humans discovered fire, air pollution has been an issue': Chris Woodford—A shorter interview and excerpt from the book by Nick Smith in E&T magazine, March 2021.
What do reviewers say?
- "Breathless: Why Air Pollution Matters—and How it Affects You by Chris Woodford is one of our picks of the month #pollution."—Martin Chilton, The Independent, March 2021.
- "There are things he tells you that will absolutely appal you... it's really informative."—Jo Good Show, BBC Radio London, 4 March 2021.
- "... highly readable and entertaining (if sometimes frightening)"—Nick Smith, The Bay, March 2021.
- "... a very useful and important book."—Jeremy Williams, The Earthbound Report, March 2021.
- "This is a fascinating, insightful and eye-opening read packed with research and statistics on how pollution can negatively affect our lifespan.... Highly recommended."—Lou, Goodreads, March 2021.
- "What an amazing book, rammed full of information and facts and figures that I'd never thought of. It’s quite frightening when you read this book, what your body consumes. "—Susie F, NetGalley, March 2021.
Hard-hitting statistics—funky charts, infographics, and photos!