Thursday, July 14, 2011

Move Over Climate Change: Air Pollution is the New Issue in Town (The Guardian)

The article below was published in the Guardian on July 13th, 2011, discussing the growing importance on the air pollution related issues in London and all of UK. With London gearing up to host the XXX Olympic Games in 2012, the discussions on the impacts of air pollution on human health is gaining momentum. The problem in London is not as bad as the one discussed in Beijing during the Olympic Games in 2008, but for the European standards, 29,000 premature deaths a year in UK is not a negligible number.

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Move Over Climate Change: Air Pollution is the New Issue in Town.
The Guardian, July 13th, 2011

Watch out! Air pollution is rising up the agenda after years of inactivity, when many people were convinced that climate change was the only issue in town. More than 500 London street-signs were "subvertised" on Sunday night with slogans warning people of dangerous air and tonight – provided the police do not prevent it – direct action group Climate Rush will stage a "die-in" on a busy London road. They plan to hold the space for 29 minutes, symbolic they say of the 29,000 premature deaths attributed to poor air quality in the UK every year.

On top of that you have leading environment and health groups joining the timely Healthy Air campaign, groups of MPs angry at government inaction, powerful films by young artists, and a growing awareness of the role of shipping and aviation. Elsewhere, new research in the US has suggested that $12 trillion could be saved by 2020 if $20bn was invested in eliminating air pollution.

So why the new interest in an issue that most people think was sorted out years ago? I have come up with a few ideas, but you could probably add more:

1. New cast-iron evidence of the health effects. People have been shocked to discover that air pollution is now almost as bad as it was 50 years ago. The official figures are now around 4,000 deaths in London a year, 29,000 in Britain and two years or more off the lives of around 200,000 people a year. The recent report by the government's own Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants is devastating.

2. Outrage at official cynicism. Air quality is not even in the business plan of the environment department because, says environment minister Lord Henley, it can could only focus on "certain things." The truth is that both this and the previous government has done all it can to avoid meeting EU legal minimum targets, preferring to plead for more time. This week the European commission scandalously wiped clean the slate on London's bad air record from January 2005 until now, and no EU action will be taken over the past six years of non-compliance. In short, we are all having our lives shortened by air pollution, but the government is deliberately not trying to address it.

3. A growing understanding that air quality problems are a major contributor to climate change, global food shortages and ill health. A UN Enviroment Programme report launched last month found that that short-lived "forcers", like black carbon, methane and emissions from cooking fires contribute as much as 25-30% to climate change emissions and kill up to 2.5 million people a year.

4. A strong desire by people to act. While climate change is a vast issue, billed mostly to take place in the future, air pollution is local and killing and shortening lives right now. No argument.

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