The old London pea-souper fogs of the past may have been replaced by equally virulent invisible fogs of particulates which are just as damaging to our health, but the pea-souper has reappeared a long way from London Town – in the lands of Northern India, Southern Nepal, and Bangladesh.
These are populous areas which have been inhabited for millennia. Today they comprise a world quite like that of Southern England except for the weather. There is commerce, industry, many flights and plenty of trains as well as cars and buses and trucks to enable communications of the modern world to take place as the regions grow in prosperity. However economic progress is now being hampered by an increasingly poor environment especially when it comes to air quality. The number of smog affected days is growing year by year and the smog is becoming increasingly dense. Trains have been slowed due to lack of visibility and flights delayed and diverted.
The smog problem has been around for just over twenty years and there has been an increase (with yearly variations) in the past ten years so it is too soon to draw and scientific conclusion.
The area has increased its population rapidly and with the increasing in population comes more fossil fuel burning, more wood burning and more animal dung burning, all of which create ideal ingredients for smog. More and more people (in per capita terms) are suffering from chronic breathing diseases in Northern India, Bangladesh and South Nepal.
There is an element of the vicious circle in this air pollution. During winter the wind blows from the south west to the north east and this pushes the pollutants to the layer of the atmosphere that forms a boundary with the earth. These, in still conditions form smog, which cuts of sunlight and makes people colder than they normally are even in winter. So the people start burning fuel which increases the atmospheric pollution and in turn increases the density of the smog.
In India there is a National Air Quality Monitoring Programme and the Central Pollution Board analyses the data from the Programme. The Board considers that air is clean is the pollutants are half the maximum prescribed standards. 80% of Indian cities exceed the average ambient air quality standards. PM10 (Particulate Matter) levels are particularly dangerous and there seems to be an increasing trend for nitrous oxide to be found in the air at higher and higher levels due to the expansion of industrialisation. The trends in India are being repeated all over the world; the European Union is trying to clean up its air but failing to make any real progress in doing so in large cities like London; the problem is not limited to India, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Those who deny the existence of human activity induced rapid climate change may be right; there is a very small possibility that they are right, the vast body of scientific thinking holds. But if they are right and we stop all climate change reduction measures and burn fossil fuel and wood and other fuels to provide for our every increasing energy needs we will be breathing dirtier and dirtier air to which our bodies will not quickly adapt. Climate change deniers never address the issue of air quality; perhaps they don’t breathe.
Those that trouble their own house shall inherit the wind; those that pollute the air which we breathe will have no inheritance nor leave one, not even the wind.