Human Dimensions of Air Quality

1Chris Zajchowski, 2Joerg Koenigstorfer and 3Mary Mostafanezhad

1 Old Dominion University | Norfolk, Virginia, USA
2 Technical University of Munich | Munich, Bavaria, Germany
3 University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa | Honolulu, Hawaiʻi, USA


Poor ambient air quality affects 92 percent of the global population and is responsible for one out of every nine deaths on the planet (WHO 2020), posing one of today’s greatest environmental risks to global human health and wellbeing (Bazyar et al. 2019; Ebenstein et al. 2017).

Anthropogenic air pollution from mobile, area, and point source emissions, along with prescribed and wildland fire smoke and dust transport from land use and land cover change, degrades air quality in remote wilderness (Zajchowski, DeSocio and Lackey 2019) and urban settings (Zhu et al. 2019). Resultant cascading ecological health impacts from local, regional, and transboundary emissions are well documented (c.f. Rosseland 2020), as are human health impacts (c.f. Butt et al. 2020). However, comparatively less scholarship has focused on the human dimensions of air quality or the myriad ways in which individuals, groups, and societies experience, interact with and make decisions about collective air resources (Cupples 2007, 2009; Lu 2020; Mostafanezhad and Evrard 2020).

This special issue focuses on interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research involving social science that integrates and expands current understandings of the complex affective, cognitive, and behavioral relationships humans have with air quality. Within protected area contexts, the management of air resources continues to evolve due to shifting policy mandates, social, cultural, and economic practices (Clifford 2020; Parsons and Daniel 1988; Zajchowski, Lackey and McNay 2019). This is despite the value visitors place on clean air and scenic views (Kulesza et al. 2013) and the impacts of degraded air quality in protected area contexts (Keiser, Lade and Rudick, 2018). In urban, exurban, and rural settings, emerging work on the “political-economic geography of air” (Choy 2012 p. 27) examines how air quality is differently understood, experienced and governed (Adey 2014; Bickerstaff 2004; Cupples 2007; DuPuis 2004; Ramirez et al. 2017). Human geographer, Julie Cupples (2009: 208) demonstrates how air pollution is as much a cultural issue “as it is a question of the amount of harmful particulate matter in the environment.” Thus, across settings, knowledge of the underlying social, cultural, and psychological drivers and barriers to individuals’ decisions to promote and access good air quality remains deserving of further inquiry and synthesis.

Social scientists continue to raise new questions about how differential access to air resources shape social relations, especially across demographics, such as race, religion and gender (Collins and Grinski 2019) and socio-economic status (Choy 2012; Wong et al, 2008). Political ecologists examine the materiality of air pollution and its unequal distribution across several spatial scales and temporalities (Graham 2015; Mostafanezhad 2020). Political and behavioral economists outline the willingness-to-pay for air resources (Boyle et al. 2016) and the purchase and use behavior across commodities (Bayer, Keohane and Timmins 2009; Boso, Oltra and Hofflinger 2020; Guo et al. 2020; Li and Kamargianni 2017). Geographers have addressed the role of diverse air quality measurements, standards and techniques in reinforcing and/or challenging socio-economic inequality (Graham, 2015). Additionally, norms (Zajchowski et al. 2019), risk perceptions (Mao et al. 2020), risk communication (Koenigstorfer 2018), values (Dunlap et al. 2000), and decision-making automaticity (Verplanken and Wood 2006) are useful lenses from social and cognitive psychology through which to approach questions surrounding human production, consumption, and governance of air resources. Such scholarship raises new questions regarding how the revaluing of air quality as a resource triggers new socio-ecological relations.

For this special issue, Human Dimensions of Air Quality, we invite submissions that advance understandings and offer explanatory potential for how individuals, groups, and societies create, interact with, and respond to varying levels of air quality. We also seek papers that critically address how and with what socio-ecological implications air quality comes to be understood as a resource to be protected. Social science contributions from diverse disciplines that provide conceptual, empirical, mixed methods and applied research related to the theme will be considered. Potential submission topics include but are not limited to:

  • Public health messaging through air quality advisories
  • Community responses to wildfire smoke and prescribed burning
  • Air quality and social relations at the wildland-urban interface
  • Policy for air resource management in parks and protected areas
  • Political ecologies of air pollution
  • Social-ecological systems modeling of human-airshed interactions
  • Politics of uncertainty surrounding the causes and effects of air pollution
  • Traditional ecological knowledge and air quality
  • Air pollution and Covid-19
  • Collective memory and shifting baselines of air quality
  • Visibility, scenic views, and restorative environments
  • Indigenous communities and air resources
  • Access to healthy outdoor leisure and recreation opportunities
  • Economic impacts of variable air indexes
  • Destination image and air pollution in tourism localities
  • Air quality and mobilities
  • Materiality of air pollution
  • Exposure and experience of air pollution across race, class, and gender
  • Air quality education for sustainable development


Submission Instructions:

Prospective authors are encouraged to contact the guest editors regarding topics of interest or with questions regarding the special issue. Abstract submission of 150 words should be e-mailed as MS word attachment file by June 1, 2021, to [email protected],

 [email protected], and [email protected]. Guest editors will invite selected authors by July 1, 2021.

*Important Dates:

  • SNR Publishes Call for Abstracts: March 1, 2021
  • Abstract Submission to Guest Editors: June 1, 2021
  • Invitation to Contributors to Submit Full Papers: July 1, 2021
  • Full Paper Submission: January 1, 2022

*Dates related to the Special Issue are subject to change at the discretion of SNR Editors.



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