Sunday, 17 April 2016

Clean air and the Chinese Dragon

We have heard an awful lot from the 'Out' campaign about the impact of environmental legislation on our steel industry. One gets the impression that if we did not have European legislation we would be on an even footing with the Chinese in terms of fuel costs. Would we? And, is it really EU legislation that is crippling UK industry?

There are two issues that we might want to focus on. Firstly, legislation to make sure that our atmosphere is breathable; and, secondly, measures that have been established to respond to climate change. Lets leave climate change to another day, and concentrate on clean air.

Who remembers 'pea soupers'? This readership will probably not remember them. They were just before my time or at least my memory. My parents certainly remembered them and described them. Thick yellow smogs that caused respiratory problems and a great deal of ill-health amongst the populations of major cities. I've seen similar effects in Mexico City and there is plenty in the news about air pollution in China. Developing countries are certainly subjecting their citizens to the same torture as we allowed until the 1956 Clean Air Act was passed.

That is right, our own Government took action and not the EU. I'll bet the knock-on effects on industry were profound: all that additional cost and no economic advantage to our industry. Maybe we even lost jobs to the Act? Doubtless other jobs were created as new solutions were found. But the effect has been remarkable.

When I was growing up in south London the roofs were almost devoid of lichens, as were the branches of trees and gravestones. Today, I never cease to marvel at the branches smothered in lichens and the level of lichen growth on the roof of our house and adjoining properties. That is all down to the initial brave move to address atmospheric pollution.
Lichen and moss-covered ridge tiles on the Morris family home roof in Mitcham, South London. The level of coverage today is astounding.

Meanwhile, the Chinese show signs of getting concerned because their cities are plagued by poor air. Of course they have the economic advantage of dirty technology that keeps prices down. What is worse, we happily buy Chinese products that are made under such conditions so we can claim no moral high ground. Perhaps we should reverse the clean air act, build more coal-fired power stations and deal with the human consequences? Major respiratory problems, early deaths and a high cost to the NHS might ensue but we would be more competitive. Do the Chinese have a health service that does what ours does? I rather doubt it, so if we want to be competitive we should surely reduce health care too, so that industry is not burdened by the cost.

Yet we do indeed have European legislation that has a bearing on air pollution. The Air Quality Directive that sets limits for a wide variety of atmospheric pollutants, not least NOx, Ozone and particulate matter. Do we need it? Perhaps not if we are content for the air of our cities to be dangerous to human health? Unlike the 'pea soupers', this pollution is unseen but it is not invisible. Its effects are manifested in the rise in the numbers of people with breathing difficulties who require medical attention.

So, my question of the day for the Out campaign is: 'will you repeal this stifling  strangulation of British Industry by European air quality legislation'? If not, why not? After all it is costing industry and making it uncompetitive with China. If the answer is no, then surely it is worth establishing a level playing field with our European competitors and setting common standards? This is not an issue of Sovereignty but of human welfare. I won't bother with the wider environmental issues as those are of little interest to anybody apart from the few million that actually care about nature conservation.

1 comment:

  1. Very good Roger, well said, like yours my parents and grand parents talked of the pea soupers. I do recall just one occasion late 60's or early 70's when my grandfather had hired a mini bus to take the family for a run out, I think we were somewhere in Cheshire, wherever it was we passed a paint factory, one of the workforce was outside for a smoke, overalls and bare skin, i.e., hands and face all colours with paint. The air for quite an area around was a peculiar coloured fog, awful.