Air pollution is a problem for other places, for example, Beijing, where all those dirty factories churn out the products we buy... or is it?
London has been found to be one of the most polluted places in Europe. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images Exhaust blows
Air pollution is a problem for other places, for example, Beijing, where all those dirty factories churn out the products we buy. And air pollution is awful in Iraq and Lagos near the oil refineries that process our fuel. And air pollution chokes pretty much every mega-city of the developing world, crammed full of ancient cars that spew out toxic particulate matter that lodges deep in your bronchioles, leaching carcinogenic free radicals, that finally erupt as malignant neoplasms choking you to a painful early death. Or is it?
It may be surprising to find out that even here in London we can be exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is up to three times the recommended level for health and particulate matter (PM10 and 2.5) regularly breaches EU limits. This has a significant impact on health, with up to 8,000 premature deaths in London each year attributed to it. Fine particles have the greatest impact on health; young children and the elderly are most susceptible. The major sources of air pollution are from combustion as a direct result of transportation and heating within the city bounds.
Every boiler in London releases pollution into the air and (nearly) every vehicle is a mobile pollution source. With the right conditions (e.g. low wind and congested roads) this smog increases in density until it is dangerous and the official advice is to stay indoors. All this would be deeply troubling were it not for the fact that we understand, very clearly, what the solutions are. The means and technology exist and are ready for action; all we need to do is implement. So what are we waiting for?
Instead of having millions of little boilers spread all around London we should have combined heat and power plants that deliver both electricity and heat to homes. The plants can be outside the city limits so the pollution isn’t near densely populated habitations. This is far less polluting and up to 75% more efficient so why doesn’t the government back this rather than CCS or nuclear; both of which still just spew ‘waste’ heat into the atmosphere (more on this in This is not a chimney)?
Instead of filling our gorgeous, bustling metropolis with heavy, metal machines which release poison gas, and crush you if you get in their way, we could have… space. Space claimed back from the minority of Londoners who own cars and given to the majority who have grown used to having to squeeze past them and breathe their fumes.
By removing 98% of private cars we could have city farms and play areas and markets and pedestrian hang outs and bike lanes and trees and clean air… suddenly the city is looking way healthier, way more sustainable and way more fun.
What starts as a toxic time bomb, a new worry for us all, can become the impetus to boldly move towards the clean, sustainable future we all want. Why do we allow our cities to be full of cars? It doesn’t make sense.
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