Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Something in the Air

Something in the Air

Call out the instigators
Because there's something in the air
We've got to get together sooner or later
Because the revolution's here, and you know it's right
And you know that it's right.

Songwriters: John Keen
Something in the Air lyrics © T.R.O. Inc., Abkco Music, Inc, Spirit Music Group

The lyrics to this well-known song resonated with me when I decided to write this blog about the increasingly noxious air that we are forced to breathe today across our land. The urge in the song ‘to get together sooner or later’ is if anything too tame for me, as I believe we need to act now, today, each and every one of us, if we are to avoid millions of premature deaths caused by air pollution.

This problem is not a recent one, it has plagued society since the wheels of the industrial revolution started to turn, but it remains a major challenge to the health of all of us thanks to the way we live today. There is a good deal we can do both individually and collectively, but it seems that as with many things, we wait until it is too pressing to ignore before we commit to any action.

One of the chief causes of the current air crisis is the pollution caused by traffic on our roads. This has worsened each and every year as the level of vehicle ownership has increased. There are simply more cars than ever on the roads, and not just in this country but across the world as economies prosper and people become more affluent.
I recently heard some alarming statistics about Malta, a small archipelago in the Mediterranean. A staggering 329,053 motor vehicles are currently licensed in Malta, 58,000 more than were licensed ten years ago. 252,000 of these are passenger vehicles, so with a population of 431,000, there is a car for well over half of the population! In the UK, it’s a little less than half of the population with 456 cars per 1000 people (Source: Index Mundi Get the data).

From an environmental standpoint, the picture is not great. There are still only relatively few hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles, and battery-operated vehicles on our roads compared to standard petrol and diesel cars. As we now know, diesel engines cause significant pollution compared to other engine types owing to the particulates in their emissions. Whilst we know this, there has still been no specific course of action set out to deal with this. One of the reasons for this is surely the powerful car manufacturing and dealer lobby which has an obvious vested interest in this.

 So, faced with this reality, what can we do individually to steer things in a different direction?
One way we can effect change is to make different choices. Whether we run a car or not, how often and for what purpose is down to choice. If it had been suggested to me 2 years ago that I would now be living without a car, I would have been very dubious and would have invented all sorts of reasons as to why I needed a car. Nevertheless, it is now more than a year since I took the decision to sell my car and opted instead for trains, trams, my bike and most frequently my own two feet instead. The decision has been unimaginably liberating, more than I could ever have imagined. The stress levels I used to suffer when stuck in traffic have been replaced by a sense of freedom and satisfaction in the knowledge that I am doing something that is kinder to me and to the environment. It’s difficult to suffer from road rage when you’re sitting on a train or walking along a footpath, unless of course you get soaked by an inconsiderate driver ploughing through a puddle as it passes by!

Another change I have noticed, and perhaps the one for which I am most grateful, is the fact I have become more aware of what is around me. On a walk, it may be the simple beauty of a tree or bird song, or the sight of green fields stretching to the horizon under an azure sky (ok, let’s get real, grey sky!). It is also the conversations and focus you are able to bring to bear when you are unencumbered by other distractions.

I do not intend or wish to demonise cars or those that use them, that would be needlessly hypocritical as I do occasionally borrow or rent a car where circumstances dictate. My main reason for writing this blog is to say earnestly that I think we can change things for the better if we are willing to make different choices and become more conscious of the sometimes negative impact our everyday choices can have on others and on our beautiful world.

So, if you are the driver of a car, perhaps give it some thought the next time you are planning a journey to the shops; is it really necessary to use the car or could you walk or cycle instead? If you need to travel further afield, might it be possible to take the train? When you’re waiting at the roadside or in a supermarket car park, is it really necessary to leave the engine idling? Yes, actually, why is that?? I used to do it, I’m not even sure why, I guess I wasn’t really aware of it, it seemed like just one more thing to do and it interrupted my concentration on something more enticing like my phone. I’ve now noticed it happens everywhere, every day….so perhaps this is one of the small, easy things everyone could do to make our air just a little cleaner, so how about giving it a try?  

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