Thursday, 21 January 2016

Pollution merchants.

There are one or more motifs quite close to my increasingly blackened lungs, that i might have mentioned from time to time. Pollution, check. Particulates, check. Noise, check…. So much so that i quite often feel like a broken record, and a particularly annoying one at that.

But you reach a stage when something has to be done, once your friends start to look increasingly askance at you, subtly implying the issue must surely have being resolved by now? I'm sure those people bent over the pollution desk at who, probably feel the same way too. And if they don't, then why bloody not?

It's odd really.  On current form humanity is turning out to be just like those science experiments so many of us undertook in our more formative years, and many of those who are currently in their formative years still do, of bacteria growing in a petri-dish. Finite resources, finite energy, only so many hospitable places to live without over running and dying off.  But unlike the bacteria we know what potential pitfalls are awaiting us, if we continue down the path that's been taken. Yet so many are still quite happy to put on blinkers waiting to
be whisked away in a funnel, or drowned wondering why you can bring a snowball indoors.

It wasn't that long ago that more people started living in, than out of urban environments.  All those cars, vans, lorries, buses, aeroplanes, motorcycles, tankers, ships, warships, fighter jets, rockets, bombs, rpg's, satellite launches, mining, pigs, cows, gas burning, electricity production and usage, production of food, transporting food, processing all the waste, waste of food, sewage systems, and fracking are all producing their own bits of pollution, every second of every day, by the thousands, millions, hundreds of millions. So when someone says that humanity's not having any impact, just remember that little list, pick one item, and use it to beat them around the head with.

Back to who. Before the new figures on air quality land on the desks of concerned citizenry everywhere (at least for those living in the 2,000 or so cities that'll be classified as perilous hell-holes for human habitation), who director (dr maria neira) of the department of public health, environmental and social determinants of health basically said, if i can condense her comments into a couple of words, we're fucked!

Imagine if all the conflicts around the world were concentrated into one large-ish area and 7 million people on the losing side were summarily executed in a day? There'd be an outcry. Coalitions coalesce, jihads would be screamed from the tallest minarets. Allies and axis' would form, and before you realised it trillions would be spent as the world beat with one, or probably four, calls to end it – naturally both sides would be given advantageous bank lending rates – until it became crystalline clear which side was going to win, then they'd call the debts in. Currently, however, as with many things which take place and who they mainly impact (baring global extreme calamity), the vast majority of the potential dead and dying will be concentrated amongst the marginalised poor. Those who have to work for employers whose only concerns are about how many filters they can crank out before they're carried out in just a larger box. The skivers. The enemies within, daring to look towards houses filled with filters made of gold; whether in delhi, beijing, new york, or london,

According to the eu public health portal, the annual number of deaths in the region from smoking is approx 700,000. The who's eu estimate on premature deaths from all the other crap we're cheerfully chucking up in the air? That will be 600,000. Of course, it doesn't say if all of those people were lifelong non-smokers; but, that's plenty of citizens who don't put cancer sticks (as an ex-smoker i claim my right to the word use) in their mouths, who prematurely die every year from the rubbish being purposefully dumped into the atmosphere. That's roughly 578,000 more people than are killed in the usa each year, and that's with their particular fondness of guns with everything.

More than half the worlds human population live in urban settings. By 2030, or in 5,095 days time, the global urban pollution will swell to 5 billion from the current 4 billion (a very rough estimate). So just think of your own current sprawling city, or town, and plop in a quarter more people – again roughly. How would your transportation system, health, education systems cope? How will you cope? Smaller places, longer queues, those long thought dystopian idylls of shoe-boxes for homes? If our city air's crap and killing us now, what will it be like in 14 years?

For example, as i sit here (not quite furiously tapping away), at any one time over 21 hours a day there are a number of buses each weighing 11+ tons, anywhere from 9 to 30 ft away. The drivers leave their vehicles engines in one of the following phases – in order of popularity: running, idling revving, off. The drivers (oh you have no idea how much i'm looking forward to driver-less buses) can remain at the stand for anything from a couple of minutes to 20 minutes, and that's 21 hours a day, every day.  Of course with a mixture of buses from helicopter-bus-ships, to hybrid-noise-storms there's no end to the delights this little stretch of road dishes out on a regular basis.

I still assert that earlier buses were designed by someone, or a group of someones, who's experience of a bus ended, when they finally grew out of their favourite tonka toy collection phase. But surely after the buses were built, did no one deem it necessary to test them on roads and streets where people actually lived? At least then, the possibility of listening to a bloody bus sounding more like a helicopter parked 9ft from a window, followed by drivers revving their engines and bibbing their horns, slamming doors and emergency exits in faux maintenance walks, would hopefully have created some sort of a spark in someone with a few more spare brain-cells than the average, and caused them to ponder "just how will people react with all that noise and racket at 2am, or 5am, or any other times the things are in close proximity to them? Hm, i wonder!"

From my interactions with tfl, i've come to the conclusion they view the bus department as more of an annoyance.  A horrid burden they have to endure, over the wonderful grandiose delights offered by running the tube network; with those glorious sweeping entrances, arched halls, and historic stations.

It probably went like this. At some stage the bus department failed to get the attention the other departments had managed to seize; and so when it came to procuring new buses they grumbled, grudgingly and said “yea, they'll do,” and so the helicopters which drivers think are good fun not to switch off, and tfl would rather not think about, or act on, were born.  And in time they spread far and wide, throughout the residential land. Causing grief to anyone unfortunate to think that double or triple-glazing would surely be enough to keep the offending noise away from delicate ears.

A long example i know.  But just imagine for a moment imagine, across london there are thousands of the red buggers all at it; despite tfl saying “they shouldn't be doing that. It will be stopped… They will be disciplined… They don't do it, it has been stopped… Is it still going on?"  

If tfl, an authority so vaunting of its green credentials and respect for neighbourhoods, fails so dismally, and is incapable of policing it's own operators and drivers, then how will humanity, in any significant number do anything in time to ensure there's a world fit to live in? And don't forget the new watered down aim of cop 21 is to limit any temperature rise to 2 degrees celsius, but aspire to keep any rise to under 1.5.  It'll be lucky if the rise remains under double figures.  

You might just wonder why i'm somewhat skeptical of our ability to really knuckle down, and forge our way out of this slowly unfurling disaster.  Apart from the attitude of tfl, people in general.  A few months ago, over food and drinks, conversation with friends turned to money spent on shopping and where to shop.  I brought up a shop called the 99p store, which I frequent for household cleaning materials. For those who don't know, it was a retail outlet  where most things were going for 99 pence, more often than not for less - until it was acquired by their more aggressive competitors, the £1 shop (otherwise known as poundland). So we argued about the relative merits, until the nugget was boiled down to an issue of pride.  Simply put, they would rather travel somewhere and pay £3 for an item instead of 99p at the store, as the 99p store was just far too down-market for them.  If you multiply that and similar attitudes across the billions of inhabitants, then where do you see things heading?

As dr maria neira might well possibly say in an unguarded private moment, “we're fucked!”

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