Just how bad is it?
In historic terms, UK air quality is much better than it was back in the days when everyone had a coal fire leading to terrible smogs. In 1952, The Great Smog of London led to an estimated 12,000 people dying. Ultimately, the event led to the Clean Air Act of 1956. Even so, there was another smog reaching across much of the country during the big freeze winter of 1962. Looking at the graph we can see how pollution has declined.
Air quality is better, so what’s the problem?
Even as air pollution has decreased, our knowledge of the harm air quality plays in our lives has increased. Fossil fuel pollution is now responsible for an astonishing 1 in 5 of all deaths worldwide. 9,400 deaths in London are attributable to air pollution. The role that Particulate Matter (PM) plays has become starkly clearer. The tragic death of Ella Kissi Debrah was the first to be directly attributed to air quality. As the science has become better, our knowledge of what the effects has increased: Children are highly affected by air pollution.
Exposure to air pollution is linked to respiratory disease, cancers and cognitive impairment in infants, children and adolescents. Dementia is now being linked to fossil fuel use. The good news is that reducing air pollution can cut the risk of Alzheimers.
What are the causes of Air pollution?
There are numerous causes, 50% is attributed to road transport but diving in to the numbers and types of pollution makes the truth much more complex. The week after lockdown for example, we saw a spike in air pollution NOx even though there were very few cars on the roads. There was a sudden cold snap and with so many people at home the obvious happened: Experts put this down to central heating.
How can we reduce Air Pollution?
There is no single answer to this. We need to act from a number of angles; stop cutting down mature trees, plant hedges, go car free like Amsterdam did 40 years ago when it was choked with traffic. However there are vested interests in stopping this: developers chop down mature trees as soon as they can instead of working with them, people want ‘tidy’ hedges and have no time to trim them, £2 Bn is spent just digitally on trying to persuade us that an SUV is how to get around in a city. One of the most effective solutions therefore is addressing heating emissions and with gas prices set to soar it is the most cost effective.
Heat pumps are an answer but certainly not for everybody. Even with that it can be made better by using something like Hydromx in your heating system. This is the most cost effective solution out there beyond wearing extra layers, this cuts up to 30% off heating emissions and will pay for itself in a few short years. Adding smart thermostat valves can make this an even better investment.
In the meantime, get planting!