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Living in Boulder is like living w/ a smoker for 3 months/year b/c air pollution. The Vivergy site lets residents team up to clean the air.



Environmental issues are notoriously challenging to push people to action due to their large scale, long timeframes and measurement through dense scientific principles. People's brains are wired to handle direct and local threats, which environmental issues struggle to connect to. Furthermore, the value-action gap is an established psychological phenomena that states that environmental attitudes are poor determinants of pro-environmental behavior. What is a much better determinant? The culture you are surrounded by, and the actions of friends and family.

Vivergy seeks to bring fossil fuels down to the human level by helping individuals understand that the way they use energy directly affects them, as well as loved ones and community members, on a daily basis. First, we translate Boulder air quality data (or anywhere in the United States) into an equivalent amount of secondhand smoke. The field of human exposure science has produced specific studies to equate cigarette smoke to air pollution based on measurements of particulate matter 2.5. We use these studies to translate air pollution numbers into an understandable metric: A day in Boulder is like sitting in a sealed car with a smoker for 20 minutes.

Then, the free Vivergy website allows individuals to discover their impact on local air pollution, and a path to becoming a clean air champion. through comparisons to other nearby residents, individuals can understand how large their impact is, and get customized suggestions to clean the community's air.

The big goal: produce a message that is meaningful to as large of a swath of the population as possible, and provide actionable ideas for individuals to take on air pollution together.

What actions do you propose?

Boulder residents can lower their impact on local air pollution immediately, and that is awesome, but the capabilities of our site go so much further than that. Through our Groups feature, individuals can organize in the groups that they already participate in. This includes groups like schools, faith-based groups, environmental groups, public health groups and workplaces. This is the scope that is incredibly valuable: groups that are manageable enough that individuals know the others that they are involved with, but not so small that they feel isolated. Through these groups, individuals can compete with each other, collaborate, or compete with other groups in the Boulder area.

How can the City of Boulder participate in a direct manner? Besides passing legislation that support individual actions on electric/hybrid vehicles and clean energy, the City could create a more dynamic and granular network of air quality monitors. Right now, there is only one government sponsored air quality monitor in Boulder, but this data could be much more valuable to individuals if it was even closer to their lives. The City could put monitors at schools and other community buildings to bring the data down to an even more personal level. This could be done through one of two monitors: the Elm(https://elm.perkinelmer.coma stationary monitor that examines 6 pollutants and streams data live to the web. Or, you could consider the handheld AirBeamhttp://aircasting.orgwhich streams data via Bluetooth to Android phones.

The site is meant to enable individual and group action as the primary function. Once residents create an account, they learn more about their pollution contribution and get personalized suggestions on what it will take to improve their goals. For example, how does turning off lights compare to buying LED bulbs vs. carpooling? This reports this data to individuals in an automated manner. For groups, it aggregates individual actions automatically to help each group understand its total positive impact. The site also reports local air quality data to users automatically every hour.

Who will take these actions?

Government: Support individuals by creating a distributed network of air quality monitors that empower each resident to understand air pollution in their direct vicinity or at community buildings. Provide financial incentives for clean technology adoption when possible.

Businesses: Get their employees to sign up to fight local air pollution, and compete with other businesses to see who can become the best stewards of local air. Involved the workplace building as well so that businesses can chip in to this competition through reducing their own fossil fuel use.

Community Groups: Any community group that is concerned with the air that children breathe in Boulder (should be most of them!) can sign up to total their group's impact and bring meaning to each individual's actions. This is hugely important to reinforce existing social bonds and make sure each individual understands that they are included and surrounded by others that care about the same thing.

Individuals: Stand up for their air quality and become a force for clean air. Realize the direct and relevant value that clean technologies can provide their children, and feel AMAZING once they adopt them.

What are the key challenges?

1. Getting the word out in a distinct way to a hardworking public that is largely satisfied with their efforts against climate change: People in America work a lot, especially parents. They have minimal time to consider adopting new behaviors or technology. Except Angry Birds. People have also made up their minds as to how pressing and dangerous they consider climate change: for some, it is very concerning and demands immediate action. For others, it is concerning but not enough to make it a daily priority. We need to circumvent all of this by appealing to base human priorities: maintenance of social status and care for offspring. Does any parent want to be the one that is contributing an inordinate amount to the air pollution that their children breathe on a daily basis? Most parents, especially in a place like Boulder, are predisposed against cigarette smoke, but it will take some effort to get the message out there, especially when air pollution is largely invisible. 

What are the key benefits?

Outcomes: Everybody can connect to the impacts of fossil fuels in a very emotionally understandable way. They understand that the most risky decision is to continue living with our current practices. It is socially beneficial i.e. admired to be a champion for clean air. Previously invisible actions like putting in LED bulbs are illuminated by the site, which broadcasts the positive actions of individuals and their benefit.

Environment: Tons of pollutants and carbon dioxide are averted through the actions of Boulder residents. This is easily understood and celebrated by Boulder residents, and registers measurably different values on the distributed network of air quality monitors. 

Economy/Society: Boulder pioneers a truly inclusive environmental health message that nearly everybody can get on board with and emotionally comprehend. Individual's actions create clean energy jobs in the community, and Boulder residents express their pride in their community by protecting local air. The rest of the country watches and learns as Boulder goes beyond any previous measures that could be reasonably expected.

What are the proposal’s costs?

There will likely need to be a marketing/advertising budget to get the word out about this, as well as a budget for the air quality monitors if that becomes a priority and the municipal government is unwilling to fund it. Both of these things are flexible (it's a startup, low budget is the fun challenge!) A full out marketing effort could total $10,000, and the air quality monitors could be as high as $20,000 total. Both are highly negotiable.

Time line

My brain does not extend beyond short term, so I will comment on that. Once the stakeholders decide that a concerted effort is a worthwhile endeavor, it will likely take 3 months of talking to all potential partner groups and getting as many on board as possible. The software is ready to roll. The effort to convince the municipal government to fund air quality government could take longer, but we could also seek out foundation money for that.

Related proposals

Value not set.


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Asensio, Omar I., and Magali A. Delmas. "Nonprice incentives and energy conservation." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112.6 (2015): E510-E515.

Petrovic, Nada, Jaime Madrigano, and Lisa Zaval. "Motivating mitigation: when health matters more than climate change." Climatic Change 126.1-2 (2014): 245-254.