Pollution in large cities
24 Jul 2017 by Nev Haynes
Unpopular measures or unsupportive behavior
In the Summer we cannot even remember, but in Winter we can read more frequently news about the pollution in big cities. Taking a close and familiar example, when one approaches in the distance to a large city like Madrid, one can clearly see a “beret” of brownish pollution of several hundred meters high that, as if it were a giant space ship, hovers above the heads of more than 3 million people. This meteorological phenomenon, known as thermal inversion, causes the cold and contaminated layer of air to be trapped under a layer of hot air acting as a barrier, preventing the air from being purified by wind or rain.
From the town hall, as if they were emergency vaccination campaigns, in Autumn and Winter several municipal edicts are dictated, by which during a few days the circulation of vehicles are limited drastically to reduce pollution rates, provoking the angry complaints of citizens. What is true in these apocalyptic and unpopular news? Is there demagoguery and electoral opportunism after the sound actions that disrupt the daily lives of millions of people?
It is estimated that around 92% of the world’s population lives in places where air quality levels exceed the limits set by WHO. Approximately 11% of the world’s deaths each year do so due to air pollution. 94% of these 6.5MM deaths are related to non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Ninety per cent of the deaths occur in poor or middle-income countries, affecting mainly the elderly and children. A curious fact: 3,000MM people live in homes where they burn solid fuels for heating and cooking. (Source: WHO).
It is estimated that around 92% of the world’s population lives in places where air quality levels exceed the limits set by WHO. A curious fact: 3,000MM people live in homes where they burn solid fuels for heating and cooking.
The causes of poor air quality are pollution from fossil fuels (motor vehicles and industrial areas) as well as dust in suspension caused by erosion in desert areas. It seems that in cities of the first world the levels of air pollution are not as bad as in other countries of Southeast Asia or the Western Pacific, although measures can be taken to alleviate the harmful effects of the soot in which we live and breathe daily.
It is no coincidence that in Madrid the lowest levels of carbon dioxide are captured in stations located for this purpose next to El Pardo, Retiro Park, Casa de Campo or Juan Carlos I Park. Those rates reflect the passage of cars by points with more traffic of the city. The data do not lie and the council’s performance protocols depend on these markers.
While the road traffic bans are very unpopular, they are nothing more than the tip of the iceberg of a list of actions that in many cities are already being implemented and are not so visible, but they contribute to improving the air quality that we breathe. We talk about improving energy efficiency in housing, promoting and improving public transport, creating green spaces as “urban lungs“, conditioning bike lanes and subsidizing electric vehicles and car-sharing, recycling of waste, etc.
These other rules, although they are fixed by the city council, must be fostered, respected and put into practice by all of us. Every time we throw a can into the wrong container, we do not respect the urban cyclist or abuse the air conditioning or heating we are contributing to swell that “pollution beret” that is over our heads. Other unpopular measures, demagogic or not, would not be necessary if we were all aware of how we can contribute to improving the air we breathe.