Memorandum submitted by Ms Joanna Guske (AQ04)

 

The current almost exclusive focus on climate change has produced a sense of public helplessness and apathy. The challenge seems too big, the dangers too far away and the effects of individual effort too small to be worth the trouble. In any case there is still some doubt about our culpability.

 

Air pollution is a different matter. Action to improve the quality of the air we breathe has the great advantage of producing immediate, measurable, perceivable results. We all benefit or suffer as a result of what we do here and now in this country.

 

However, there is a surprising lack of public awareness of the high levels of UK air pollution, its impacts on human health and the cumulative effects of individual contributions to it. We need public education and democratic involvement to tackle the problem.

 

Campaigns should make it clear that apart from contributing to climate change, and landing the UK with financial penalties for non-compliance with EU targets, air pollution is right now affecting the health of everyone (particularly our children); costing us all money (NHS); reducing our productivity (impacting on the economy). There is no doubt about the cause and the effect of air pollution, or that we, as individuals, can (and must) take action to stop it.

 

The attached suggestions address some of the elements of polluting behaviour that could be tackled with minimal legislative and life-style changes. In each case, there would be an almost immediate measurable improvement in air quality, the proposed action could be implemented relatively quickly, and would have positive spin-offs.

 

Air Quality

 

Public Responsibility: county councils, town councils, parish councils, environmental organisations, the media, universities, schools, celebrities and individual members of the public at all levels and ages must become involved.

 

Decentralisation and separation from party politics is essential, as is the inclusion of the young in schools and universities. Finding solutions and implementing strategies require individual input and affirmation. The use of local referenda on the action to be taken, as well as local penalties and financial benefits would support compliance.

 

Educational campaigns should:

 

engage individual responsibility;

raise awareness that we all contribute to air pollution, and that whatever we put into the air affects us all;

change attitudes so that polluting becomes socially unacceptable (like drink driving and smoking in public places);

promote optimistic solidarity (if we work together, we can do it).

 

Initial Action:

 

1. Reduce traffic pollution

 

general speed limit of 50mph (we did it in the 70s);

turn off engines when not moving (at traffic lights, in traffic jams, when chatting on mobile, scrapping ice off windscreens);

congestion charge for all towns and cities;

pedestrian zones in all town and city centres.

 

Enforcement: signs, fines and education; monitoring displays (see point 7).

 

Incentives: reduced road tax for cars fitted with devices to limit speed and turn off the engine when stationary; more park-and-ride facilities; buses to replace cars on the school run.

 

Incidental advantages: promotion of new technology and jobs; reduction in road casualties; increased use of (high-speed) buses and trains for longer journeys; less long-distance haulage; reduction in CO2.

 

2. Plant more trees

 

All cities, towns, gardens, car parks, schools, farms should have trees.

All planning permission for new building should include trees.

Farmers and landowners and developers should be encouraged to plant trees; conserve existing trees; avoid felling.

 

Enforcement: education, fines for unnecessary felling; monitoring displays (see point 7).

 

Incentives: financial bonuses and/or reductions in community and business charges.

 

Incidental advantages: jobs; improvements in farm animal welfare and wildlife habitats; enhanced human well-being; reduction of CO2; more oxygen.

 

3. Ban Bonfires

 

We all know that smoke kills. Smoking and stubble burning are already banned.

 

Bonfires are:

used to dispose of waste that produces toxic fumes;

used to dispose of waste that should be recycled;

wasteful of potential biomass fuel (wood, wood-chips, leaf-logs), and compost;

an increasing health hazard and public nuisance in the countryside;

the cause of thousands of complaints each year.

 

Enforcement: education; fines (culprits easily identifiable); monitoring displays (see point 7); public pressure.

 

Incidental advantages: promotion of new technology and jobs; promotion of local recycling and production of cheap (or free) compost/mulch; fewer neighbourhood disputes; enjoyment of gardens, open windows and drying washing out of doors.

 

 

4. Reduce public use of energy

 

(a) Reduce heating in public places

 

Enforcement: education; central regulation for public sector; encouragement

for private sector to set thermostats lower.

 

Incidental advantages: reduced expenditure on energy; may encourage householders to turn down the thermostat; reduction of CO2.

 

(b) Turn off street lights after mid-night (or fit movement sensors)

 

Enforcement: education; reduced expenditure on energy.

 

Incentive: reductions in community charge.

 

Incidental advantages: reduced expenditure; less light pollution, reduction of CO2.

 

5. Decentralise (clean) energy production

 

This will:

promote individual responsibility for personal energy consumption;

remove current opposition to large-scale clean energy production;

reduce consumption of fossil fuels.

 

All new buildings to provide (some of) their own clean energy:

 

photovoltaic cells;

individual wind-turbines on roofs;

large south-facing windows;

hydro-electric power linked to any nearby moving water (including down-pipes from gutters).

 

All existing buildings to be modified to do the same.

 

Enforcement: mandatory by, say, 2015 - fines thereafter.

 

Incentives: reductions in community charge; grants; better HIPS ratings.

 

Incidental advantages: Promotion of new technology and jobs; energy/money saving; small-scale units less visually and audibly intrusive; surplus production can be sold back to the grid; reduction of CO2; monitoring displays (see point 7).

 

6. Tax aviation fuel (starting with private usage)

 

Incidental advantages: income for the exchequer; promotion of new, fuel-efficient technology; jobs; reduced noise pollution; reduction of CO2.

 

7. Air pollution monitoring display-units (solar/light powered) in and around every factory, airport, motorway, city, town, village, school, hospital, etc

showing:

 

annual local targets

position in relation to targets

current emission levels

 

Enforcement: fines for failure to meet targets; local rating included in tourist information, job adverts, HIPS; local public reaction to possible loss of revenue, income and the value of real estate.

 

Incentives: awards; reduction in local taxes/community charges; increase in popularity and value of local area, amenities and real estate.

 

8 December 2009