Air Unfit for Purpose

London has the worst air quality of any European capital, to our shame. It air is contaminated by diesel particulates, nitrous oxide, in some places heavy concentrations of carbon dioxide and all sorts of other pollution caused by burning. Londoners burn fuel to power their vehicles, gas to provide heat and hot water, and coal and gas to provide the electricity that the city uses. Considering that there are no power stations in London, no heavy industry in London and very little light industry in London it is astonishing just how much the air quality is made bad by what is basically a city where most of the working inhabitants are providing services of one kind or another, rather than being manufacturing workers.

There seems to be a strange reluctance by the national or local government to do anything to improve London’s air quality. The United Kingdom is bound by European legislation to keep air quality within certain limits and the regulations that have created these limits have been in force for many years. It is not just London that suffers from poor air quality; the UK government has applied for exemptions from complying with the air quality regulations for Aberdeen and north-east Scotland, Belfast, Birkenhead, Brighton, Bristol, Liverpool, Preston, Sheffield, South-West England; South Wales, Swansea and Tyneside and the exemptions have all been refused by the European Commission.

The refusal to do anything substantive about air quality except apply for exemptions will mean that in addition to bearing the £20 billion a year additional health costs caused or contributed to by poor air quality, the UK taxpayer will have to cough up substantial fines for the Government’s failures on air quality. It is a lose-lose situation. Everyone loses except the European Commission which will gain some fines and no doubt use the fines as purposefully as it uses its other income.

The health care costs are significant. Some years ago I was asked to umpire a cricket match played by twelve year olds in South Wales. I was astonished when four of the children came up to me before the start of the match and ask me to look after their inhaler devices for asthma. I had not understood that air quality was affecting the very young so badly.

There are three main government measures about London’s air quality and the air quality of the nation:-

1. The Clean Air Acts, brought into being in the early 1950s which prohibit the burning of coal and smoke type fuels

2. The Low Emission Zones, under which polluting vehicles are charged because they pollute, but not prohibited from being on the road because they pollute beyond levels that are acceptable.

3. Subsidies for electric cars, which simply displace the emissions and pollution from the city to the power stations.

To improve air quality we have to change people’s behaviour. My suggestions are:-

1. Free public transport, which will take many cars off the road

2. Improved public transport which will take even more cars off the road

3. More solar water heating which will reduce particulates from burning natural gas

4. Tighter smoke washing controls on fuel burning power stations.

These measures will be costly, but we can pay for the costs out of the savings of health expenditure and out of taxation. After all the air is free, but there is a cost to keeping it clean. The air we breathe must be rendered fit for its purpose.

 

Achieving Zero

Brenda Boardman is at the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford. I have always found that she has interesting things to say about climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in buildings. She has now written a report “Achieving Zero” which you can read in full at http://www.eci.ox.ac.uk/research/energy/achievingzero/achieving-zero-text.pdf or in summary at http://www.eci.ox.ac.uk/research/energy/achievingzero/achievingzero-execsum.pdf which sets out some findings and ideas about reducing greenhouse egas emissions from buildings. This is a difficult problem in the United Kingdom where there are more than 26 million buildings the vast majority of which were built to designs and specifications when green house gas emissions and fuel costs were not a concern. Continue reading

Cough it up: No relief from Air Pollution

Air is all around us. If you pollute one part of it the pollution moves to another part or spreads itself thinly over the whole world. In places air pollution is particularly bad. One of the most polluted places in London is the Euston Road, which runs on the north central part of the city. The East India Dock Road is also heavy with air pollution. We ought to control air pollution but we are not controlling it. The pollution arises from two sources – production of energy and transport. Both sources can be controlled to some extent but it is more expensive to control them properly and while we seek to control air pollution we permit technologies which will inevitably add to air pollution but will be hard to control, like biomass power stations and wood burning heating systems. Continue reading

Answering Questions on the Renewable Heat Incentive

The long awaited, long overdue Renewable Heat Incentive finally looks as though it will be launched. The Department of Energy and Climate Change Minsiter, Greg Barker and I have been having some indirect correspondence through my MP, Mike Freer, in an effort to persuade DECC to get their act together and get the RHI up and running. Continue reading

Climate Change Deniers – why am I wrong?

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,Newtontold us. With climate change writingNewton’s law does not invariably apply. I know that sometimes when I post some ideas about climate change, someone else posts on this blog some ideas which are opposite, but not necessarily equal. That is the fine thing about climate change writing. The opposite views are not necessarily equal. Continue reading

The air that I breathe…

“Sometimes, all I need is the air we breathe and to love you” the Hollies sang, but although we need a bit more than air, we do need air to be clean, free from pollution and of high quality. In the United Kingdom, in the face of the fresh westerly winds that gather moisture and discharge moisture and particulates into the Atlantic Ocean, we should have cleaner air than many places, but our air quality is declining and our people are increasingly suffering from disease and mortality caused by poor air quality. Continue reading

Giving the EPA more powers does not threaten the Constitution

Some folks in the United States of America are getting upset about measures which are proposed to give the Environmental Protection Agency (the EPA) more authority to grant permits and regulation greenhouse gas emissions. It is claimed that not only would these measures bring an end to economic activity as we know it, but that they would also threaten the constitutional separation of powers. Continue reading