BIRTHSTRIKE: an answer to climate change?

The planet is quickly becoming less inhabitable. When 97% of climate scientists agree that we are seeing a manmade (or anthropogenic) climate change, it is no longer debatable. Words contesting the idea are meaningless and wasted. It is time for change.

And yet, very little is being done about climate change. Especially since Brexit, Donald Trump becoming president of the United States and the rise of populism which has diverted the public’s attention to focus on more provincial matters.

Donald Trump cannot be underestimated when it comes to the battle against climate change. The man single-handedly decided to take America out of the Paris Agreement which was a unilateral effort to lower emissions whilst putting in place a former coal and fossil fuel lobbyist, Andrew R. Wheeler, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Another problem with climate change is one of scale. People are more prone to react to something that immediately changes within their surroundings whereas climate change is a gradual shift. Because of this, climate change can often go unnoticed against the background of problems that arise because of our more local differences. If London were to flood tomorrow, immediate action would be taken. But, since it is flooding incrementally, the threat feels far less urgent.

There are many things we can do to combat climate change, however, from using public transport or by walking or cycling to and from work. By choosing more environmentally friendly cars or by sourcing food locally which would have a much smaller carbon footprint. Going vegan. Plant more trees. Get better insulation for your house. Switch to a green energy provider. Vote for green initiatives. Use less plastic. Grow your own vegetables. Create or support collectives to put pressure on business to go greener. Fix your own goods. Don’t buy an Urban 4×4. Seriously, don’t. The concept makes no sense, they use diesel and they have wider tread tyres meaning that, should they actually face snow, they are more likely to be immobile. Why even call them Urban 4×4’s?

It was when listening to environmental podcast, Sustainababble that I heard of another initiative which is as much as a way to reduce environmental impact as it is a humane practice. This is done by deciding against having children. This may sound strange to some and it definitely brings with it a level of controversy but take a moment to imagine the following.

Shrinking the climate perspective, imagine the planet is your house and there is a candle burning in the living room. The wax is laced with lead, carbon monoxide, methane and diesel particulates. At the bottom of the candle, where the wick touches the base, is a pool of petrol. You have two children. Two grandparents. A dog. A cat. That flame has yet to burn through the candle but as it gets lower the air becomes harder to breathe as the nitrogen and oxygen mix we need is being replaced by carbon monoxide. The sun coming through the windows is hot and sticky because the methane is creating a greenhouse effect. Your grandparents are finding it harder and harder to string sentences together because the particulates are effecting their cognitive abilities. Children are coughing and spluttering as they develop respiratory problems.

The windows and doors won’t open. You can’t let the pollution out. It’s got nowhere to go. After all, outside the house is just a vacuum of space and you are the only house floating through that vacuum and all other houses you might be able to someday reach are uninhabitable. Too full of gas. Too hot. Too cold. No atmosphere.

The family hasn’t discussed a way that they are going to see without the candle and they have not yet come up with a way to clean the air. But there may be some answer on the horizon. In the future, perhaps. One of the family members says that they think that they want to bring another child into this house. The flame is still strong but the candle is two-thirds down. When the flame hits the petrol…
Would you want your children to grow up in the environment that I have just described?

It’s bleak and there are some people out there who might consider a mother-daughter Fury Road-esque apocalyptic landscape a fun place for themselves and their children, but most people would, I think, not want to bring a child into a future where the very air around them is toxic. To bring a child into that kind of environment would scare many of us.

This is the stance taken by Birthstrike.

Birthstrike are not a movement willing the community not to have children nor is it some kind of release-a-plague-on-the-world-Inferno/Twelve Monkeys-style activist movement. It is a group of people who have decided not to have children as not to subject them to an inhospitable environment. To do so would be to raise a child into the world who could potentially suffer.

During an interview with Sustainababble, Alice Brown makes it absolutely clear that Birthstrike is a support network. This is also echoed by Birtstrike’s founder, Blythe Pepino in the Guardian: “its aim is not to discourage people from having children, or to condemn those who have them already, but to communicate the urgency of the crisis.”

After all, the choice not to have children can be lead to a high degree of emotional damage, not only for advocates of the movement but for partners and, in some cases, the wider family unit.

Many might think the choice to not have children is extreme. But, thinking about it logically and keeping in mind current predictions for the ways in which our planet could change in the next couple of decades, rearing a child may become less sustainable. A recent prediction put before the U.N states that we have only 12 years to make dramatic changes to the way we live our lives and inhabit this planet before we move beyond the tipping point. After that time the changes in climate and weather patterns will be well and truly out of our control and we will become subjects to changes the likes of which we have never seen.

If that prediction turns out to be correct we could see countries suffering from droughts leading to potential food shortages. Storms and floods. Cuts in supplies of pharmaceuticals. Air littered with particulates which (as alluded to above) causes breathing problems, dementia and have even recently been found in placenta which means the damage could already be taking place before birth. A rise in temperature and fresh water run-off making large portions of the planet both on land and in our oceans uninhabitable.
Is this a place in which you would your child to grow?

A study correlates Birthstrike’s position by concluding that one of the most effective methods to combat climate change is, in fact, to have one fewer children. The average human has a carbon footprint of roughly 10 tonnes. The equivalent of 24 million balloons of carbon dioxide. However, other studies have pointed out that, even if the world universally adopted a one-child policy, we would still see the dramatic changes that have been predicted. What is actually needed is a vast overhaul of our infrastructure and living habits to make any realistic change.

This gives hope for potential families. For those wanting to become parents. For those wanting to raise a child in a clean and prosperous world. But it also means that we need to see those dramatic changes being made. We need to completely rethink our ways of going about our day to day lives whilst simultaneously doing everything we can to reverse the damage that has already been done.

This is what we need and it is what Birthstrikers want. For that great change to happen. But in the meantime, maybe caution is best.

Traditional Values Vol. 1: Nationalism

Never before have we seen so many advances and changes to our world as we are seeing today. Climate change, the rise of biotech and infotech. The proliferation of automation and the move toward artificial-intelligence which could either improve our wayso of life, or challenge who we are as humans. The mainstreaming of electric cars and the growing awareness of plastic pollution. Widespread movements to give previously overlooked or unrepresented factions of society equal rights. The rise of Asian economies which may soon rival our own in strength, and may even become superior which could change the ways we conduct business and alter long-standing loyalties. I was even shocked recently to find out that China even has plans to build a base on the moon and mine our little white dot in the sky for hydrogen.

This is the stuff of science-fiction!

The point is: we are in a transitional phase and are suffering the existential question of how to cope with the challenges we read about in our papers and see on our television screens and social media feeds. When faced with an uncertain future, people often look to their past. To “traditional values” to guide them through the turbulence. But what exactly are traditional values and do they offer us any guidance for the future?

Nationalism

Nationalism seems to be on the rise in the West and has led to two of the most significant changes that we have seen in our lifetimes: the U.K’s vote to leave the European Union and the vote in America for Donald Trump as President. As an answer to perceived outside threats, two major powers have turned to isolationism.

Globalisation was a worn out word by the end of the referendum of 2016. As was elites. Sometimes we heard “global elites”. The European Union, as pushed by Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and sundry others, was a product of globalisation.

Leavers pointed to levels of immigration and told the people that it was the European Union’s open border policy that was to blame. Leavers pointed out the disenfranchised peoples of towns that had been left behind when the U.K turned from a material and production economy to a service driven economy. The European Union was blamed again for moving production facilities abroad. The decline of U.K fisheries, blame the E.U. Red passports, blame the E.U. Curved bananas, blame the E.U. Hospital waiting times, blame the E.U. Rise in crime rates, blame immigration, thus blaming the E.U.

So, can the problems listed above be solved by a move toward nationalism as was what happened in 2016?
In regards to immigration, yes, technically nationalism has the potential to cut numbers of immigrants or stop them altogether.

But is that really in the national interest? Or is it in the interest of nationalist groups? For instance, whilst the cutting might benefit those who just want see less faces of colour or to hear different languages on their streets (the nationalists) the nationalist approach itself does not do much for our economy, our public services or for our reputation as “global players” which was a phrase championed by Leavers during the referendum campaign and even now.

Whilst the phrase “global player” was used extensively throughout the referendum, the truth is that the actual action of leaving the biggest and most successful trading bloc in the world was seen by many around the globe as an act of closing one’s own doors on trade.

The NHS is dependent on nurses and doctors from the E.U and further abroad but since the Brexit vote we have seen a dramatic decrease in the amount of people applying for university courses in nursing and a drop in job applications from outside the U.K. This is indicative of the trend that those from within Europe and outside the Union were no longer interested in investing in the U.K.

Nationalists might see this drop in foreign applications as a good thing as there is potential for British citizens to take the jobs. The problem however is that it takes years to train doctors and nurses and, in the meantime, care within the NHS would have plummeted. Ironically, it would be those older voters which chose leave who would suffer the most. With around 100,000 vacancies already within the NHS, this further reduction could potentially cripple certain elements of patient care.

As is being witnessed, the idea of being both nationalist and a “global player” is not compatible.

The main problem of the referendum, however, was that it focused anger outward toward the largely neutral E.U, when the truth was that the problems that the U.K faced were actually born and bred within its own borders.

Austerity due to bailing out the banks that had lead us into the financial crash of 2008. The rise in crime as a result of Conservative initiative to cut policing numbers so that there were fewer bobbies on the beat. (Remember Theresa May telling the police federation to stop “crying wolf” in 2015 regarding police cuts). Disenfranchisement of communities as the economy changed toward services and offices were centralised toward London. Those who were workers within communities who worked within extraction and production were never provided the means to retrain, and were instead left to become outdated.

A lethal combination occurred when the finger was pointed at immigrants for pushing wages down. The fact that immigrants were benign agents in the entire mess of things was rarely pointed out and the fact that it was actually exploitative practices being undertaken by business owners. Business owners have been largely left alone by the most recent governments, after all, it is good practice to be the party of business.
This goes to show that the so-called “global-elites” were actually the people within our own borders. Our very own Prime Minster of the day, David Cameron found to be putting money into offshore Panamanian accounts. For years we watched as the government refused to impose proper tax initiatives that would have seen large companies paying their fair share of tax which could have put toward social ventures for our children, thus keeping them out of gangs and preventing such a sharp increase in knife-crime. Not only were companies doing so, but the Conservatives were helping them maintain the status quo.

Britain has for years now been deeply entrenched in off-shore bank account activity that it the global master on managing assets and transferring money to keep it from the hands of nations. It is estimated that half of all global wealth could be locked up in off-shore accounts.

Image source: wikimedia

In the face of problems that originated within our own national system, people turned to nationalism to sort out the problem. That is a new one for me.

In 2013, the E.U offered to give a £22million cash injection into food banks in order to make sure that they were stocked and operational. This was turned down by David Cameron. Whilst our own government strangled the country, the E.U at least offered some kind of help. But that’s not all. The E.U has also been funnelling money into community projects including social groups and buildings, but this is rarely mentioned. The E.U is also a propagator of worker’s rights and is constantly moving to improve pay throughout its jurisdictions. When we are faced with military or cyber warfare, as we have seen from Russia during the referendum campaign and which the U.S witnessed during the presidential campaign, the E.U has close proximity to share information and make sure that each of its member states has the necessary tools to help fight back.

So, nationalism does not actually offer any real solutions to our national problems. Does it offer solutions to wider world issues? In an age of transnationalism, could countries learn from nationalist ideals?
Climate change is not an issue, it is the issue which will determine the very future of human civilisation. And climate change does not recognise borders drawn by man. A tropical storm does not stop when it hits the American coast. It ploughs through and wreaks untold damage. Plastic does not stop at the English Channel. It sweeps in and becomes part of our ecosystem. Just as much as melted ice does not stay in the Arctic Circle but raises water levels around the world.

And when islands start submerging and already challenged countries face drought and famine, we are going to see mass exodus unlike anything witnessed in documented history.
Unfortunately, nationalist interests have often disregard climate change in order to focus on more provincial initiatives such as kick-starting coal mining operations or doubling down on fuel extraction efforts. In the United States, nationalism is often synonymous with climate change denial as is evidential with Donald Trump’s repeated claims that climate change is a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese.

In regards to solutions to the climate crisis, nationalist approaches fall short. If nationalists really wanted to make a difference, they would join the global effort to battle climate change which would in turn mean that they are less likely to experience such a high influx of immigrants to their borders. Instead of becoming isolationist, it is within nationalist’s best interests to take part in a multi-national approach in order to combat the effects of climate change.

But then what would be the point in being nationalist when all we are going to do is have to work with countries around the globe and put measures in place which, whether we like it or not, would see the adoption of plans to take in refugees fleeing the effects of an unstable and changing climate?

Throughout history, civilisations have moved and shifted as the cattle migrates or as the living conditions change. After all, if the U.K were to become a dessert wasteland, would we not seek refuge in other countries? But we are the beginning of the catastrophic change where the decisions we make today will effect the next generation. We have the ability to make positive differences to the ways we tackle this threat. But are we capable of doing this as nationalists? Surely we are better prepared against the challenges if we work on an international scale?

Capitalist Dystopia

Is capitalist-dystopia its own genre?

Dystopian works feature many end-of-the-world themes. Nuclear fallout, volcanic eruptions, solar flares, the heating of Earth’s core (because of solar flares), the slowing down of Earth’s liquid magma, the uprising of machines, asteroids, alien invasion, climate change. And of course, my favourite: zombie virus.

Last year I read Paulo Bacigalupi’s, The Water Knife. A novel based (as the name would suggest) on corporate interests battling for water rights in a world which has been ravaged by climate crises, and is now facing drought.

The whole way through Bacigalupi’s novel I found my mouth parched by descriptions of dry and arid lands, of characters longing for drink and the constant awareness of rationing what little water is available. But more than anything, I was intrigued and appalled by the depictions of corporate greed and consequential foul-play.

Is this the kind of future with which we should become accustomed?

Spurred by The Water Knife, I read Bacigalupi’s other dystopian masterpiece, The Windup Girl. In this novel, Bacigalupi creates a world bashed and beaten by corporate espionage which takes form in the poisoning of crops, (leading to something horrendous called “blister rust”) outperforming one another by creating genetically modified food and by using money to influence politics.

In both novels (and throughout the Ship Breaker series), the planet has essentially been ruined for financial gain. That ol’ bird, Capitalism. Not the kind of capitalism that frees the shackles from the poor mind you, more the neo-liberal, unchecked-market kind of capitalism.

George Orwell showed us a world ruled by Communism and it could be said that Ray Bradbury introduced us to the world of rampant capitalism with the focus on fast rides and fun times, but the works of more modern writers feels less like a prophecy for the not too distant future and more like something that could take place with the signing of a few pieces of trade legislature.

For example, Catherine Webb/Clare North’s 84K shows a Britain at the whim of mass production and insurance companies who dictate what level of existence is given to people judged by how much money they earn or how much money they owe. Need I say more?

A more comic approach to rampant capitalist-dystopia is Max Barry’s Jennifer Government. Neo-liberalism has won and the world is split between corporations to the extent that all life is split between corporations to the extent that to be employed is to take the corporate name, for example; Hack Nike. The government and police, on the other-hand, have become something that more resembles charity than any real form of leadership. If people want crimes investigated, they must pay.

Science-fiction and dystopian-fiction does the wonderful thing of attempting prophecy. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is more relevant now more than when it was written, especially given the advances in biotech taking us ever closer toward designer human beings. With that in mind, are we much removed from the capitalist dystopias as portrayed by so many other dystopia fiction novelists?
Motor insurance companies monitor drivers through apps in order to gain data. This is done with the premise of decreasing insurance costs depending on how you accelerate, decelerate, how sharply you brake and your average speed. We already allow devices to count our steps and monitor our sleeping habits in order to improve our overall health. Are we really that far from allowing insurance companies to monitor our health so that they can determine our general health habits? And how would that effect our insurance costs? And what other information can be garnered from such apps?

When it comes to corporate influence, are we that far removed from the landscapes of Bacigalupi and Barry when we already witness the political might of the NRA and oil conglomerates over presidential candidates in the United States? What is to stop such forces from gaining more momentum under Trump?

Capitalist-dystopia is so effective because it allows us to entertain the future possibilities of an ideology with which we are already attached. These novels should have the same kind of resounding clout as George Orwell’s warning of Communism faced by the world post World War 2.

#fiction #dystopia

Why has the mood shifted on immigration?

One of the leading factors in the Brexit debate was that of immigration.

Be it Nigel Farage standing in front of a poster showing a line of refugees or those elusive rumours that Turkey would join the European Union and that we would see more a heavy influx of migrants, the people were bombarded with the idea of outside forces influencing and blanketing the U.K.

Due to this kind of tabloid journalism many people believed that migrants were the cause of their woes and that immigration was causing a national identity crisis.

Since the Brexit vote, however, the mood toward immigration has rather quickly swung in the opposite direction. As Professor Rob Ford, researcher of immigration trends at the University of Manchester has mentioned, this trend may be down to three predominant factors.

1. The people believe that the immigration issue has been “dealt with”.

2. National debate drew attention to how much immigration contributes to the U.K.

3. The culture shock of immigration of Eastern Europe has dissipated.

With this in mind, how would the vote swing if another referendum were to take place?

Regressive Energy Politics

Is the slashing of 4,500 jobs by Jaguar Land Rover evidence that the U.K is aiming for a greener future?

It was made public last week that Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) are in the process of slashing 4,500 jobs due to uncertainty brought around by a waning of the Chinese market, Brexit, and of course the tax rise on diesel vehicles.

So, is JLR’s decision symptomatic of a change toward a greener future? The answer is convoluted to say the least.
In a typically capitalist society, two determining factors generate change: markets and the government. In the wake of the so-called ‘Dieselgate Scandal’ which exposed Volkswagen as bodging emissions results, the market reacted with reluctance to purchase diesel vehicles until they could get assurance that the vehicle they were buying was not in violation of the law. In response to Dieselgate and the call to lower air pollution levels, the government raised tax on diesel vehicles. In the past, this kind of response only made money whilst other people continued to suffer deleteriously on the streets.

The drop in demand for diesel vehicles is a positive step when it comes to clearing our air of harmful particulates, and it may even signify a shift toward electric or hybrid vehicles. But the decision to increase tax was a reactionary move and its effect on the diesel industry was more accident than anything else.

Ultimately it can be said that, yes, the loss of jobs at JLR is a signifier that the country is heading in a greener direction but it is more the market driven than through government initiative. At this point in time, it is government initiatives to tackle pollution and environmental damage that we need. But they are unwilling.

An example of their unwillingness is the motion for cars to go entirely electric by 2040 whilst other parties are pushing for the year 2032. Not great but an improvement. Now put this against the background of Volvo’s pledge to make only electric cars by 2025.

It was made apparent to me by Tom Bawden (‘i’ weekend: 12-13 January 2019) that forty five incinerators have been approved and a further 40 to be signed off which will help burn up not only the 800,000 tonnes of waste that we can no longer send to China, but all other plastic waste that the U.K produces. Incinerators produce high levels of pollution ad are hugely contested by the general public. The incinerators gain approval, however, by producing electricity, using the heat from the incineration process.

The fact that these incinerators are being planned and built highlights a drastic flaw in our system, or rather, the flaw that is our system. And that is this strange desire to keep things how they are, or else go backward. What I term: Regressive Planning.

There are many different avenues that can be taken when it comes to dealing with plastic. It can be melted down and repurposed for oils broken down and used as mix for new plastic roads, the likes of which we have seen produced in Enfield. The plastic has more flexibility and more strength than conventional methods i.e. tarma,c and is currently being developed on this side of the Atlantic by Plastic Road.

But why would you look to the future, bring in a plan of recycling and manufacturing that could develop an entirely new and fruitful economic model that would make us glide along with our European counterparts when we could just throw a match on the lot and burn it all? Ta-da!

Cough. Cough.

Sorry kids.

The plan to burn plastic for power is rudimentary at best and disastrously neglectful at worst. These are not the plans of a dynamic and forward reaching government but those of a party lacking imagination and hope for future generations.

Instead of believing that we are killing two birds with one stone by burning off all that waste and keeping our lights on, why don’t we revel in the fact that we could kill two birds with one stone by getting rid of plastic waste by finally creating a road system that doesn’t fall apart every time it is hit by frost?

I have wandered a little off track. The thing is, the only thing that government has put into place is a tax scheme designed to hit drivers of diesel vehicles. If the Conservatives wanted to move the country forward into a prosperous future, they would do more than make dissolvable promises.

We are in an age where innovative solutions are available. Some better than others, but most better than incinerator plants that have a tendency to run over budget, wasting taxpayers money, as was the case in Stroud, before poisoning them.
Incineration accounts for 42% of all waste disposal. That 42% could potentially be the starting place for a green energy revolution as much as the aiming away from diesel cars could be the start of a revolution within road transport. The green energy market is one of the fastest growing in the world and it genuinely baffles me as to why we are not making a future by entwining ourselves within it.

Pollution, pregnancy & false data

“Air pollution passes from pregnant women to placenta” – Peter Stubley, i, 17th September, 2018.

My last blog post was dedicated to the effects of pollution on people’s health – dementia in the older generation and early deaths predominantly in children, but also in adults. Well, not too long after this study was released I was shocked to read the latest update.

In an article by Peter Stubley in the i, he claims: “Evidence that air pollution passes from pregnant women’s lungs to the placenta has been found for the first time” before going on to say: “Previous research has indicated links between pregnant mothers’ exposure to air pollution and premature birth, low birth weight, infant mortality and childhood respiratory problems.”

For example on the 1st September, 2008 the Society for the Study of Reproduction (SSR) published a paper giving evidence that they had tested on mice and concluded that “In humans, adverse pregnancy outcomes (low birth weight, prematurity, and intrauterine growth retardation) are associated with exposure to urban air pollution.”

This is, however, the first time that definitive evidence has been gathered from placentas from Caesarean section births and confirmed the thesis. “Researchers detected what they believe are tiny particles of carbon, typically created by burning fossil fuels, after five non-smoking mothers living in London…”
The idea that children might be born into this world with a running chance has now been extinguished. Particulates are so dangerous that they effect children before birth. This news was on page 13.

I read that article and sped off to research the issue. This morning before I stepped out of my house to do my morning tasks, I heard something else on the radio that made me stop in my tracks. This news was that executives from Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW have now been known to have meetings with the agenda to deliberately avoid competition. The result: instead of trying to come up with innovative engine designs that would effectively reduce emissions, they held off such advances in order to sell their backlog of diesel and petrol cars.

This is an additional finding in what is currently being called Dieselgate, the scandal broken in 2015 in which Volkswagen was found to be taking part in emissions manipulation. This was done during the testing phase in which the emissions numbers were tampered with in order to make selected cars seem greener. More recent information (as published on 18th September, 2018 by Benjamin Wehrmann on cleanenergywire.org) has brought to light that Volkswagen CEO, Herbert Deiss, knew about his company’s emission fraud software long before he had originally conceded when the story was first broken.

Diesel emissions as we know are among the worst offenders when it comes to pollution. In London the primary culprits are delivery vans, hire vehicles (that are not subject to the toxicity charge, or T-Charge as it is better known) and congestion created by cycle lanes and lack of infrastructure. The city has suffered from illegal levels of particulates since 2010 and is close to Delhi and Beijing in level of toxicity according to an article by Leslie Hook and Steven Bernard and published in the Financial Times on 21st August, 2018.

The problem is that whilst the congestion charge and T-charge seem like an understandable way to deter people from driving into the city centre, business still needs to continue as usual and therefore the charges will be paid in order for trade and traders to access the city. Charges simply do not dampen the effects of what Defra called “the largest environmental health risk in the U.K”. Make no mistake, this claim is not limited to the U.K’s metropolis.

When you first click on to the Airlabs homepage, a company mentioned in Pollution & Dementia (5th September, 2018) you are met with a startling statistic. “92% of the world’s population are exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution”. If you doubt the sincerity of this claim maybe take into consideration the Financial Times finding that Airlabs founder, Sophie Power, has deemed the threat of particulates so severe that she has installed an air filter inside her child’s pram. And with good reason.

Another worrying piece of information provided by Airlabs is that pollution hotspots are “places with a high density of people, high emissions and long dwell time. Hotspots in cities usually occur at transport hubs, in parks and playgrounds close to roads, outdoor eating/drinking areas and inside ground floor shops along high streets.”

So, pretty much everywhere we like to go.

Now, consider that particulates are causing dementia, early deaths, and now entering the bloodstream from the lungs and effecting unborn children, the case for change is more evidential and urgent than ever.

Links:

Peter Stubley

i

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/air-pollution-pregnant-women-london-study-placenta-first-evidence-a8539861.html

Airlabs

http://airlabs.com/

@air_labs

Financial Times

https://www.ft.com/content/9c2b9d92-a45b-11e8-8ecf-a7ae1beff35b

Leslie Hook: @lesliehook

Steven Bernard: @sdbernard

cleanenergywire.org

https://www.cleanenergywire.org/factsheets/dieselgate-timeline-germanys-car-emissions-fraud-scandal

Benjamin Wehrmann: @BenJoWe

Pollution & Dementia

When 97% of climate change scientists agree that humankind is damaging the planet, it is time to listen. More importantly it is time to act. And, due to recent findings, we need to act now.

Last year an article grabbed my attention. The article was by Katie Forster and published in the Independent, 4th January, 2017. The claim in the article was that living near major roads can “increase the risk of dementia”, particularly when you live within fifty metres of a major road. This was from a study in Ontario, Canada. Having spent twenty-nine of my thirty years living by the side of one of my town’s major roads, I wanted to know more.

Because of the noise emitted from major roads sleep can often be fitful and it is proven that failure to reach R.E.M sleep (or prolonged R.E.M sleep) can lead to memory problems. After all, R.E.M sleep aids “memory consolidation” (the process by which we turn short-term memory into long-term memory) and also boosts capacity for problem-solving skills and aids creativity. So, while noise pollution was a factor in the rise of dementia, another factor was raised but shrugged away. That factor was whether emissions had anything to do with the increase in dementia.

That story in 2017 died down rather quickly and I had not heard much more about it, until a week ago. It was Tom Bawden’s article, written on behalf of the ‘i’ newspaper (28th August) which looked at new research that shows pollution is in fact a contributor to cognitive ability.

“Living in highly polluted areas over long periods of time could hit your verbal and mathematical abilities in later life”. This was the title of Bawden’s article and this time the study was undertaken in China, one of the world’s leading polluters. Lead author of the study Xin Zhang is quoted in the article as saying: “We find that long term exposure to air pollution impedes cognitive performance in verbal and maths tests. The effect of this air pollution becomes more pronounced as people age.”

Cities are by far more prone to the effects of carbon monoxide but the inhabitants see it as a price to pay in order to be surrounded by work and culture. But is it really a price worth paying? Schools in London are advised to keep children indoors during playtime when congestion and lack of circulatory weather patterns creates dense clouds of pollution. To put it into perspective of just how congested London’s air is, Bonnie Christian of Wired released a piece on 2nd February of this year that just one month into 2018 London reached and surpassed its legal pollution limit for the entire year. The title of the article – “How to breathe cleaner in London’s pollution-filled air” – highlights very well the mind-frame adopted by London’s inhabitants. I raised my eyebrows at this title. After all the only time people need a survival “how to” is when they are entering a hostile environment.

Emissions are the cause of “early deaths” – death that occurs before the average age of death in a certain population – “contributed to by PM2.5 (which is particulates in the air that are smaller than 2.5 micrometres)”. In 2009 the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution (COMEAP) put the deaths caused by PM2.5 as 29,000. In 2015 nitrogen dioxide was reported to have been responsible for 23,500 deaths according to Defra.

The information above is provided for their respective years. If these numbers of deaths are happening year on year it is clearly a problem of pandemic magnitude. Why is this not splashed on the front page of every newspaper? Why are there no emergency meetings being held in which the government divert sources and funding to help combat the toxification of the air we breathe?

The evidence proving that greenhouse gas emissions are getting worse is exponential. Satellite footage from NASA, NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) as well as research undertaken by scientists from all over the world have proven with myriad statistics that levels of nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide and methane are on the rise. This is reflected by the rise in global temperatures, major depletion of Arctic ice as well as landlocked ice in Greenland.

Pollution poses a threat in our streets, but it does not stop there. Studies have also suggested that the level of C02 in the air is causing “key crops” to wield less nutrients. As many as “half a million Britons could become deficient in protein” as well as suffer from a depletion in sufficient levels in zinc. The study by Harvard University (funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) states that “the populations of 18 countries may lose more than 5% of their dietary protein by 2050 due to a decline in nutritional value of rice, wheat, and other staple crops”.

Globally, 76% of the population derives most of their daily protein from plants. Zinc and protein are much needed throughout pregnancy, infancy and childhood in order for children to be able to properly develop both physically and mentally.

Pollution is seen as a distant nuisance. A wrong that will be righted by future generations. We believe, or choose to believe, that someone will come up with a new piece of technology that will clean the oceans. Another piece of technology that will bring back the trees and another that will clean the air. The truth is technologies exist but not on the scale that we need in order to see the vast degree of change needed.

The study from China is a game changer. It highlights the fact that pollution is no longer a layer thickening the atmosphere far above our heads and far from our conscious. Pollution is at street level and pressing up against our doors. Particulates stick in our lungs. Our children breathe them in on their ways to and from school and when they go outside in the playground. The eldest members of our society lose their mental faculties and slip away.

The question is: how are we going to deal with that danger at our door?

There is some good news on this front. Start-up company, Airlabs, has trialled pollution traps around bus stops in heavy-traffic areas which, according to Bonnie Christian’s article, filtered “97 percent of nitrogen-oxide from the air so commuters could breathe easy while waiting for the bus.” Christian’s article was one of the most informative in highlighting solutions to the pollution issus (link below). Christian mentions Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde designing and creating the solar-powered Smog Free Tower which has the “capacity to suck up 30,000 cubic metres of polluted air per hour, cleaning it at a nano-level and releasing the clean air back into the city.’ These are now being used in Tianjin, Dalian and Beijing as well as Rotterdam.

This is a great step in the right direction, but we need more initiatives. Pollution traps at every bus stop and street corner. Every city should introduce Smog Free Towers and aid in the cultivation of plant life. The problem is that, although these technologies are a fantastic move forward in combating air pollution, they are reactive. The very infrastructure that we use and rely on is fossil-fuel dependent. Be it the cars and buses that congest our streets or the container vessels chugging across our oceans, it would be a herculean undertaking to make the transition to green power, but not at all impossible. Naomi Klein in her bestselling book –This Changes Everything, makes a brilliant case of how the green energy movement would create a new global economy.

This kind of change needs to happen soon. Early deaths through respiratory illnesses and early onset dementia simply can no longer be justifiable when we have the potential for change at our feet.

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/dementia-develop-living-near-major-main-road-study-mental-disorder-lancet-a7507616.html

https://inews.co.uk/news/environment/how-air-pollution-can-reduce-your-verbal-and-maths-skills/

https://www.wired.co.uk/article/london-pollution-toxic-levels-2018