Archives for category: Pollution

Connectivity, though identified as such in the Midlands Connect strategy report,  is not the greatest transport problem

The Midlands Connect Partnership and the Department for Transport have developed a transport strategy that identifies the major infrastructure projects needed to improve the connectivity of the region’s key locations and drive economic growth, but it omits any reference to waterway passenger and freight potential. 

Its ‘Final Strategy’ paper (left, March) has no canal or waterway references, 12 to congestion and only one to air pollution.

Sir John Peace, the current Chair of Standard Chartered plc and Burberry Group plc, has been appointed as Chair of the Midlands Engine and will continue to chair Midlands Connect. As his experience is in financial services and retailing, he needs to draw on the wealth of experience in organisations such as Freight for London, the Commercial Boat Operators Association (CBOA) and the Canals and River Trust (CRT). Though employment opportunities abound in the inland waterway transport sectors in India, Uganda, South Sudan and continental Europe, according to online advertisements, Midlands Connect appears to be unaware of the transport potential of waterways. 

Jonathan Guthrie, Financial Times Enterprise Editor, reported years ago that canals could regain their role as conduits for trade because of gridlock on the motorways according to a new study for West Midlands councils, the Highways Agency and British Waterways, which found “considerable potential for the reintroduction of freight on the canals”. What has changed?

He added that the findings will resonate with any driver who has ever watched narrowboats putter past on nearby canals while stuck on a motorway. A canal freight shuttle service between the Black Country and Birmingham could move 175,000 tonnes annually and save 61,750 urban lorry miles, the study found. All valid points today. 

The CRT report, Transport energy, planning for inland waterways freight, records evidence given to the House of Commons Environment, Transport and Rural Affairs Committee (ETRAC) 38 suggesting that there is significant traffic potential. One barge company claimed that, “without trying at all”, there was half a million tonnes of freight that could be transferred from road transport and that the Aire & Calder Navigation could quite easily take 2,000 lorries a day off local roads.

To create a more comprehensive strategy, Sir John Peace and the partnership could co-opt a number of people with the right expertise. One of many is Tim West of Robert Wynn and Sons Ltd. He was consulted about low bridges restricting the ability of the inland waterways to accommodate some cargo on certain stretches and replied that his firm has been able to carry large abnormal loads to locations such as Worcester, Leeds, Nottingham, Rotherham, York, Preston and Manchester. The Inland Navigator (above) sailed down the River Ouse carrying a transformer to Drax power station, avoiding a possible 15 mile tailback on the motorways.

London’s River Bus Express (above) run by Transport for London offers the public a regular service which is described in detail here – a model for other towns and cities. The city is also moving large amounts of water and construction materials by water.

The CRT report points out that it is Government policy to promote alternatives to road transport for both passenger and freight movements, partly to reduce congestion and partly to reduce the environmental impact of road transport.  

Inland waterways have the potential to assist in both these objectives.

 

 

 

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A scientist recently asked in a private email message: “Just how much of a scientific rationalist is Jeremy Corbyn? As far as I know he has never distanced himself publicly from his climate-denialist brother Piers”. He was recommended to read Corbyn’s reports Protecting our Planet & Environment and Energy and to see his video (snapshot right):

It has welcome input from the excellent Alan Simpson, a former Nottingham MP, about the Robin Hood energy co-operative.

More recently Kate Aronoff in the Guardian sees hope for real progress on climate change lying in its appeal to the interests of the 99% (our term, replacing her use of ‘populism’).  

It’s one of history’s greatest “us v them” scenarios, pitting a handful of oligarchs and profit-hungry fossil fuel CEOs against the rest of humanity”.

She continues: “The brand of climate denial that informs Trump and the Republican party line is the result of one of the global elite’s most effective projects yet. It’s been multinational corporations funding the campaign to cast doubt on scientific consensus. ExxonMobil, for instance, has poured at least $33m into such efforts since the Kyoto protocol was launched in 1997”.

Despite this long-running disinformation campaign, Kate notes that the majority of voters in every state support the United States’ participation in the agreement” and today we read about the critical response from some major industrialists and about several US states deciding to ‘go it alone’ after the president refused to be part of the Paris accord. Representatives of American cities, states and companies are preparing to submit a plan to the United Nations pledging to meet the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions targets under the Paris climate accord, despite President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement. The group (to date) includes 30 mayors, three governors, more than 80 university presidents and more than 100 businesses. Read more in the New York Times.

Kate points out – as Hines, Green New Deal convenor has long asserted, that any reasonable solution to climate change will require massive amounts of job creation, putting people to work doing everything from installing solar panels to insulating houses to updating the country’s electric grid to nursing and teaching, jobs in two of the country’s already low-carbon sectors.

She quotes climate scientist Kevin Anderson, who said earlier this year that shifting to a low-carbon society within the timeframe we have is an absolute agenda for jobs, “You are guaranteeing full employment for 30 years if we think climate change is a serious issue. If we don’t, we can carry on with structural unemployment.”

Her tactical advice: “Don’t chide Trump and the rest of his party for denying climate change when they pull out of the Paris agreement. Chide them for denying millions of Americans the well-paying jobs and stable future they deserve”.

Corbyn summarises: “A Labour government, under my leadership, will deliver an energy policy for the 60 million, not the Big 6 energy companies, championing community-owned renewable energy”.

 

 

 

Deeply troubling? Is this democracy? Is this sovereignty? 

Should not political decisions be taken in the interests of the 99% ?

The Guardian article refers to troubling revelations by Carole Cadwalladr in the Observer and notes that the Electoral Commission is now investigating the role played by US billionaire Robert Mercer in our EU referendum – adding ruefully, “But if it discovers any breaches of the rules, the penalties are feeble”.

Journalist George Monbiot goes on to highlight the use of ’dark’ money that does not seek to influence elections directly, but to change the broader political landscape.  

He explains that dark money is funding used, without public knowledge, by front groups and some thinktanks which resemble ‘covertly funded lobbyists’. The research group Transparify ranks these “thinktanks” by their openness about their funding and the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the Adam Smith Institute and Policy Exchange are rated as “highly opaque”. But though they refuse to reveal their sponsors, they are often invited to speak by the BBC – in the Today programme, Question Time, (IEA’s Jamie Whyte on 5-Live today) and other media.

Monbiot cites the tobacco industry, which has sponsored the IEA since 1963 – a fact only revealed when a legal settlement forced open its archives. Last week the IEA published a report critical of the UK’s smoking ban and tobacco packaging law which was covered in the media, but with no reference to the institute’s funding-related bias.

Though the Conservative Party manifesto outlines a plan to “lead international action against climate change”, it also pledges to ensure oil and gas plays a “critical role” in UK energy provision. 

Ben Chapman in The Independent points out that the Electoral Commission files show oil and gas corporates’ donors to the May government including:

  • Ayman Asfari, the chief executive of Jersey-registered oil and gas firm, Petrofac, who gave £90,000 in December.
  • Ian Taylor, chief executive of the world’s largest oil trader, Vitol. He has personally given the Conservatives £47,000 since Ms May won the party leadership in July last year, adding to hundreds of thousands he had previously donated.
  • Former Vitol partner Matthew Ferrey has also given £124,000 to the Tories since last July. He has now set up his own investment company which invests in the sector.
  • Alexander Temerko, Ukrainian-born former deputy chairman of the Russian Yukos Oil Company, who has donated £63,800.
  • Amjad Bseisu, the Palestinian-born boss of energy company EnQuest who previously worked for Petrofac has given £28,500 to the Tories under Ms May, while
  • Abdul-Majid Jafar, chief executive of United Arab Emirates-based Crescent Petroleum, gave £28,000 in December.

The Independent article records accusations made against some of those listed, a legal case pending and a conviction and Monbiot ends:

“Why has there been no effective action on climate change? Why are we choking on air pollution? Why is the junk food industry able to exploit our children? Because governments and their agencies have rolled over and let such people make a mockery of informed consent. Now the whole democratic system is sliding, and the Electoral Commission is neither equipped nor willing to stop it. There’s an urgent, unmet need for new laws to defend democracy”.

 

 

 

 

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An emboldened Conservative government would indeed be good news for ‘Strong and Stable’ funeral directors, as:

  • air pollution continues unabated,
  • the health service deteriorates,
  • the incidence of adult depression and mental illness in children grows apace
  • ‘moral fibre’ rots: latest indication:10,000 Britons signed up to one of the world’s largest paedophile internet networks
  • and others are debt-ridden due to the daily onslaught of consumerist advertising,
  • sedated by inane, often BBC-provided TV quiz shows
  • or led astray by a violent TV/online diet.

Tom Young says May’s ‘Strong and Stable Government’: (is) More Than a Tagline – indeed it is and a Conservative stabilisation unit would, in future, see an increasingly  heavy workload.

New claimants with a disability have just been hit by a £30 a week cut in benefits to save the government £1bn over four years even though their living costs are higher because of the need for assisted travel, hospital appointments, extra heating, etc., and they are likely to take far longer to find a job.

A Hall Green friend who intends to vote Labour writes of his issue with the Labour message: “it remains too rooted in struggle and injustice, and not enough in giving people a reason to vote if they don’t suffer or struggle”.

But many well-placed voters are deeply concerned when seeing others in difficulties. And a far larger swathe of the population is struggling than he seems to think:

  • graduates in formerly secure jobs are being made redundant,
  • people in their twenties and twenties now see no option but to live with their parents,
  • many people are suffering from urban air pollution and miserable traffic congestion,
  • education cuts will affect their children as the Public Accounts Committee has warned,
  • in some areas people in need of healthcare are affected by a declining NHS service.
  • mental illness, no doubt in part due to one of more of these factors, is rising rapidly in both children and adults.

Professor Prem Sikka sees the positive, constructive Labour message; U.K. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn plans:

  • to raise corporation tax by more than a third over the next three years and plough the £6bn proceeds into schools and universities,
  • restore maintenance grants for the poorest students,
  • abolish university tuition fees
  • guarantee that five, six and seven-year olds will not be taught in classes of more than 30.
  • creating a National Education Service to equip Britain’s workers for the post-Brexit economy,
  • extend free adult education to allow workers to upgrade their skills,
  • raise the cap on NHS wages, and
  • to build up to a million new homes, many of them council houses.

If ‘the sums don’t add up’, a standard Conservative knee-jerk reaction:

Withdraw subsidies from fossil fuel & nuclear companies and arms exporters, jettison HS2 and redirect investment to improving rail and waterway transport links.

Sikka rightly ends: People are our biggest asset and only they can build a nation. We have a choice: Tax cuts for the rich or investment in our future to enable people to realise their potential.

 

 

 

 

 

The air we breathe is a hugely important issue for Birmingham – in fact, around 900 premature deaths a year in the city can be attributed to poor air quality.

Izzy Knowles, Chair of the Moseley Forum, writes about a meeting on Tuesday 28th March – 7.30PM at the Moseley Exchange, 149-153 Alcester Road, Moseley Birmingham, B13 8JP

Anne Shaw, Assistant Director for Transportation and Connectivity will be this year’s guest speaker at the Moseley Forum Annual General Meeting. She will reflect upon the work Birmingham City Council is doing towards introducing a Clean Air Zone as well as the implications of a High Court ruling regarding the Government’s air quality plans.

Izzy continues:

We will be exploring:

  • What are the main sources of air pollution in Moseley
  • What we can do to help reduce air pollution levels
  • What can be done specifically in Moseley

If you have any questions on air pollution in Moseley, please send us an email in advance to moseleyforum@gmail.com or come prepared on the day.

We hope that you can join us and help shape the future of air quality in Moseley.

 

 

 

Birmingham traffic

George Monbiot looked for a summary – in clear and simple language – of the damage that traffic pollution can do to children, but he could not find one. Nor could the transport campaigns he consulted. So he wrote this short factsheet for a local school suffering high levels of air pollution, caused in part by the parents, sometimes driving their children just 100 metres up the road. Part of the problem is that many people are unaware of the link between pollution and health issues.

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What Traffic Fumes Do to Our Children

Every year, we discover more about the harm being done to our children by the fumes that cars and other vehicles produce.

The more we learn, the worse it looks. In polluted places, the damage to their health can be very serious.

By driving them to school and by sitting in our cars with the engines idling, we are helping to poison our own children.

Here is what we now know about the harm that traffic pollution can do to children:

-It can damage the growth of their lungs. This means that the lungs of children who have been affected don’t work so well. The damage can last for the rest of their lives.

-It raises the risk of asthma and allergies. For children who already have asthma, pollution can make it worse.

-It can damage the development of their brains. Air pollution can reduce children’s intelligence, making it harder for them to learn.

-It can change their behaviour and reduce their happiness. Air pollution has been linked to anxiety, depression and Attention Deficit Disorder.

-It raises the risk of heart disease later in their lives.

-It can cause cancer, both in children and when they become adults.

-Unborn children can also be affected by the pollution their mothers breathe. Air pollution is linked to babies being born prematurely and small.

-Pollution inside your car can be much worse than pollution outside, because the fumes are concentrated in the small space.

We don’t mean to do this to our children. But once we know how much we are hurting them, we can stop it, by changing the way we travel. Walking and cycling are ideal. And promoted c 2000:

Together we can sort this out, and protect our children from harm.

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The information sources for this factsheet can be found at https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/wp-content/uploads/advpub/2016/6/EHP299.acco.pdf, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26825441, http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1001792 and https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/feb/05/the-truth-about-londons-air-pollution

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The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and the leaders of Derby, Nottingham, Leeds, Birmingham and Southampton have written to Theresa May urgently calling for:

  • making vehicle manufacturers more accountable for emissions – with a zero-tolerance approach to malpractice, following the recent Volkswagen scandal;
  • national minimum emissions standards for private hire vehicles to ensure local requirements are not undermined;
  • greater regulation powers over the use of diesel generators;
  • a new 21st century Clean Air Act which will update existing legislation;
  • enshrining the ‘right to clean air’ in law after the UK leaves the European Union; and
  • unlocking new powers for local authorities, particularly regarding limiting construction and river emissions.

The letter describes the government’s current £3 million fund for local authorities to clean up their air as “woefully inadequate” and criticises the uncertainty around funding for transport schemes for preventing accurate and detailed planning in the long-term. It explains that:

“Local authorities need government to devolve powerful fiscal incentives such as Vehicle Excise Duty and create a national diesel vehicle scrappage fund”.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “As city leaders, we are doing what we can to tackle this problem, but the fact is we are fighting with one arm tied behind our backs and lasting progress will only be made if national government matches the ambitious action we are taking. The time for urgent action is now.”

Councillor John Clancy, Leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “Air pollution is now a public health crisis in this country and we need real leadership from the Government. Our towns and cities are keen to tackle this issue but we must be given the tools and funding needed to secure the future health of our citizens. The time for action is now.”

Following the recent High Court ruling against the government previous plan, a consultation on a new national air quality plan to meet legal limits for nitrogen dioxide as soon as possible.

 

 

 

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Jeremy Corbyn’s Energy and Environment manifesto acknowledges that 29,000 people die early every year because of polluted air and one of his eight campaign proposals is for “Cleaner air – tackling the air pollution crisis in our big cities and committing to full   independent public inquiry into levels of air pollution”.

The government has agreed to improve their plan to curb emissions after a High Court ruling. Documents revealed during the case showed the Treasury had blocked plans to charge diesel cars to enter towns and cities blighted by air pollution, concerned about the political impact of angering motorists.

Following December’s review of the high incidence of ill-health and premature death in Birmingham and other cities, The Times today reports that nitrogen oxides from diesel engines are one of the main pollutants, inflaming the lungs, causing respiratory diseases such as asthma and are linked to a raised risk of heart attacks, strokes and cancer. Data from King’s College London showed that Brixton Road in south London breached nitrogen dioxide pollution limits for the entire year in the first five days of 2017.

Pollution also increases the risk of dementia for those living near a busy road, according to a study published this week.

Research published in the Lancet followed ‘emerging evidence’ which suggested that living near major roads might adversely affect mental activity. As little is known about its relationship with the incidence of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis, Health Canada, the Federal department responsible for helping Canadians maintain and improve their health, funded research investigating this association. It involved nearly two million people in the Canadian province of Ontario, between 2001 and 2012. The abstract (link above) describes the method used and gives the information that 243,611 cases of dementia were diagnosed during that time, but the risk was greatest in those living closest to major roads. Compared with those living 300m away from a major road the risk was:

  • 7% higher within 50m
  • 4% higher between 50-100m
  • 2% higher between 101-200m

No association was found with Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis.

As the BBC website reported, the Canadian analysis suggests 7-11% of dementia cases within 50m of a major road could be caused by traffic. It added that the researchers adjusted the data to account for other risk factors like poverty, obesity, education levels and smoking.

Whilst celebrating Birmingham City Council’s award which will be used to provide ‘state-of-the-art’ hydrogen fuel cell buses, more rapid and effective political action will be taken only when public awareness rises. To this end, a few references to the region’s research into cleaner modes of transport by road, rail and water follow:

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West Midlands is in breach of legal air pollution limits causing over 1000 deaths each year.

The Mail quotes a statement by Public Health England that almost 1,500 people in the West Midlands are dying from pollution each year: 520 excess deaths in Birmingham, 168 in Coventry, 173 in Dudley, 198 in Sandwell, 107 in Solihull, 155 in Walsall and 139 in Wolverhampton.

anne-shawAnne Shaw, assistant director for transportation and connectivity, reflects on items in the press over the past week about how the Government is responding to air quality issues. She writes:

The air we breathe is a hugely important issue for Birmingham – in fact, around 900 premature deaths a year in the city can be attributed to poor air quality. Transport is by far the biggest contributor to air quality problems in Birmingham and taking action to address this issue is a priority for the council. If we are to make a positive difference to the people who live in, work in and visit this city, we cannot afford to stand by and do nothing.

Birmingham is one of five cities required by the Government to implement a Clean Air Zone by 2020 to ensure compliance with UK and EU air quality legislation. Post-Brexit, the EU 2008 Directive will be enshrined in UK law so the legal requirement to comply will still exist.

The High Court ruling, however, has stated that cities should be compliant in the shortest possible time, rather than setting a deadline, effectively reinforcing the importance of addressing this issue. This ruling effectively reinforces the importance of addressing the issue of air quality and that action is required sooner rather than later.

We will continue with the work we are currently doing to understand how a Clean Air Zone in Birmingham will operate, while taking into account any changes which may arise as Defra’s plans are updated in the coming weeks as a result of the ruling. We are also looking at a package of wider measures that will assist with improving air quality to accelerate outcomes. A motion passed by the council last week made clear that any decision about what sort of Clean Air Zone is required for Birmingham should be based on evidence and we are undertaking a feasibility study to produce this.

The most important thing will be to ensure that this will meet the desired health benefits for the city, as well as support for small and medium-sized businesses, and specifically taxi and private hire businesses, as we work towards a Clean Air Zone. Once this study is completed, and we also know the results of Defra’s consultation and details of its updated plans, we will be able to put forward our own specific proposals for Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone, as well as carrying out a full public consultation.

Our congested city

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It was reported yesterday that Parisians can use public transport free of charge for the second day running due to a spike in air pollution and some cars have been barred from the roads.

Next post: some action being taken in the region’s universities and industry to reduce transport-based pollution.

 

 

 

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A study by Public Health England has warned that outdoor air pollution is responsible for an estimated 520 deaths a year in Birmingham alone (Birmingham Mail).

Nationwide it is contributing to about 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK, according to the Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Paediatrics and Child Health.

The Financial Times reports findings that air pollution is bad for the lungs and that new research suggests it is also causing more car accidents.

In one area covering west London, as many as four extra traffic accidents a day could be triggered by a spike in dirty air levels, according to a working paper which may be read here. Research by the author, Lutz Sager, an environmental economist who works in the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics, suggests that even a small rise in the average concentration of nitrogen dioxide — just 1 microgramme per cubic metre — is enough to increase the average number of accidents each day by 2%, with cities suffering the biggest effects.

One area with some of the highest levels of pollution, covering west London, has an average of 86 car accidents a day. Mr Sager said his research showed that a 30% rise in nitrogen dioxide from average levels led to another four accidents a day. He cites research showing that students do worse on tests when there are higher amounts of air pollution in the room. He suspects that such students and also drivers in highly polluted areas “feel more tired or are less focused, or have a slower reaction time.”

A 1999 European Union directive set legal limits for nitrogen dioxide levels, which came into force in 2010. Six years later, these limits are still being exceeded in many places across Europe. Europe’s cities have some of the highest NO2 levels in the world, because a much higher proportion of cars run on diesel than in most other countries.

The British government has not acted on rulings by the UK Supreme Court and the European Court of Justice

In the UK, 37 out of 43 zones breach the limits. The European Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that national courts can and should ensure that governments act to get air pollution below legal limits “as soon as possible”. The case then went back to the UK’s Supreme Court, which in April 2015 ordered the UK’s environment minister to take “immediate action” by preparing and consulting the public on an air quality action plan in the shortest possible time. Despite this ruling, the New Scientist reports that the British government proposals published in December did not envisage compliance in the worst affected areas until 2025.

In a case which began this week, a group of lawyers from ClientEarth is asking the High Court to order ministers to produce a better plan for improving air quality.

The case concerns levels of nitrogen dioxide, an invisible gas produced mainly by road traffic; high levels of nitrogen dioxide shorten lives, by increasing the risk of heart attacks, strokes and respiratory disorders.

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 How many will die before government enforces the law?

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