Google’s Nest Hub to Offer Air Quality Information

By putting local air quality information at their fingertips, the popular smart display will help consumers adapt to climate change.

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In a stark report published this month, the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) declared that many of the impacts of climate change are “irreversible for centuries to millennia.” As it grapples with how to respond, it’s therefore clear that humanity must channel as many resources into adapting to climate change as it does into mitigating it.

Adaptation might mean building sea walls to keep rising seas at bay, strengthening levees to protect cities from hurricanes, developing drought-resistant food crops, or building public cooling centers that provide relief for vulnerable populations during extreme heatwaves. Or, it might mean making “smart homes” smart enough to help their occupants manage climate-related health risks.

That’s what Google is doing with the next generation of its Nest Hub smart displays. Announced this month, Nest Hubs in “select markets” will soon feature air quality information that allows users to keep tabs on air pollution in their local community—including smoke from wildfires, which are becoming more frequent and more intense as a result of climate change, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES). In the last 30 years, it says, the number of wildfires in the western United States has doubled, the impact of which is not only billions of dollars in state and federal spending to suppress them but also “weeks-long periods of unhealthy air quality levels for millions of people” every time a wildfire rages.

“Between wildfire season and recent increased efforts to reduce air pollution, it’s more important than ever to know about the air quality in your area,” Google said in a note to the Google Nest community, members of which will be able to see air quality information at a glance on the “Ambient” screen of their Nest Hubs, as part of the displays’ clock/weather widget.

Specifically, users will see a badge based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Air Quality Index (AQI), which rates air quality on a scale from zero to 500—higher values mean greater air pollution—and expresses current conditions according to an easy-to-learn color scheme: green is good air quality, yellow is moderate, orange is unhealthy for sensitive groups, red is unhealthy, purple is very unhealthy, and maroon is hazardous.

Air quality data will come from the EPA’s vast network of air quality monitors, a map of which is available at the EPA’s website.

Along with AQI badges, Google is rolling out voice commands and notifications: Users will be able to ask their Nest Hub, “What’s the air quality near me” and will be able to program their Hub to send alerts when the air quality drops to orange or red levels.

Armed with knowledge about the air quality outside, Nest Hub users will be empowered to take protective health measures like staying indoors or wearing an N95 mask to filter out harmful pollution when they go outside. With climate change bearing down upon them, and policymakers unable or unwilling to act big enough or fast enough, taking proactive measures based on real-time information is one small but significant thing consumers can do to cope with the climate crisis in their daily lives.

Summer 2020 spotlighted how widespread the effects of wildfires could be. Smoke from major wildfires burning in the U.S. west caused hazy skies and deteriorating air quality in American and Canadian cities in the east like New York City, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Pittsburgh, and Toronto.

View Article Sources
  1. "Wildfires and Climate Change." Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.