Monday, 6 April 2020

Environment Monday - It only took us two weeks to get clean air in London when we had to

I had a look at the London air quality map this morning. It seems that at 10am today, the air quality across London is universally good.
Click to access latest readings
Had you clicked on this three weeks ago, it would have looked completely different. In January, The Evening Standard reported that 3,800 people a year in London were dying due to poor air quality. Theoretically, the lockdown will save over 220 people in three weeks, assuming all of these figures are true. However I suspect that this figure is actually horribly out of date. You see, one of the groups of people decimated by Corona virus is people with respiratory disorders. The years of pollution have meant tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Londoners are highly susceptible. The lungs of many people in London of 50 are metabolically up to 25 years older, due to this pollution. Hearing the terrible news of Boris Johnson being taken to hospital due to corona virus made me wonder whether all the years of cycling, breathing diesel fumes has taken a far heavier toll than any of us realised.

CNN reported
"The study found that for each additional 5 micrograms per cubic meter of particle pollution a person was exposed to on average annually, the lungs showed an equivalent of two years of aging, and a real reduction in lung function."

What does this mean. The Mail reported last year

Britain’s worst pollution hotspots was outside Earls Court tube station in Kensington and Chelsea borough in London where the annual average of 129.5 micrograms per cubic metre of air was triple that of the World Health Organization's 40 mcg limit.

As you can see, this is highly dangerous, even more so in these times.

But now, Earls Court is a completely safe location, should you fancy a stroll. Sadly, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea have not chosen to participate in the London Air Quality map. Does it surprise you that the Borough that gave us the Grenfell Tower disaster shows such disdain for transparency and public health. Sadly, Barnet Council is another not participating. Mill Hill Broadway bus station has notoriously poor air quality. Clearly Barnet Council is none to keen on us being able to find this out easily.

We are now in different times. One TV announcement from Boris and air quality disappeared almost over night. Under the new rules, we can only use a car if we need to in London, for essential journeys. London has one of the worlds best public transport networks. Just suppose we took this onboard and only used cars for essential journeys. I wonder when all this is done, how many firms will see they can save money on office space by making working from home the norm? I worry about TFL's finances, but if more people are working from home, maybe we should be making more people leave the car at home?

When we emerge from our homes and try and get back to normal, many will be financially stretched. The money we spend on luxuries and leisure will be hard to come by for many. We desperately need to keep our city functioning, but I expect many businesses to fold and so normality may not be an option. Planning for the end of lockdown should include proactive plans to keep some of the gains in air quality we've made. My hope that this doesn't come by default as millions of jobs disappear. I hope that the govt and the Mayor will actively promote the message that pollution kills and so unnecessary journeys are not socially commendable or safe.

Public transport is the way forward. Sadly it is something that short sighted politicians have always seen as something that can be starved of cash when money is tight. That is why we have had such a problem with pollution. 3,800 deaths in London per year can never be acceptable. We now have seen that there is a way out of it, it's simple, don't drive, use public transport.

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