Sunday, April 6, 2014

SMOG–It wasn’t me–uh-oh (guilty look on face)

Saturday, 22nd March 2014: Quite often Saturday is when I catch up on the week’s happenings on The Archers. The everyday tale of rural life – or should that be how miserable rural life can be. 

My favourite cycling catch-up route takes me along a few byways and bridleways. Which I take because motor traffic is so flipping loud that my little MP3 player just can’t compete. I know there are those that feel that cycling with headphones is wrong – but my response is well show me the evidence. So where to look for some analytical view – why not Professor David Spiegelhalter – the Winton professor for the public understanding of risk at the University of Cambridge who is quoted in this item in the Telegraph – “Boris: don’t ban cycling with headphones. You’ll make people die younger”.

Mind you the recent attention has been on air pollution rather than noise pollution.  I remember reading concerns about the smog during the build-up to the Beijing Olympics – “Beijing losing battle against Olympic smog”. But the reports didn’t even hint at the same situation possibly occurring here in the UK.

Yet here we are suffering SMOG in the UK, at first it seems as if the “blame” was placed squarely on the dust from the Saharan desert. After all we can see the dust as it settles on our nice clean cars – however the real problem appears to be the switch many of us in the UK have made to diesel powered cars. It turns out that diesel engines emit fine particulates and nitrogen dioxide. So the problem is definitely one of our own making.

The only short-term answer is for us to cut down the amount we use our diesel-powered cars (petrol engines are worse for CO2  and so have their own issues).  I was one of those who switched from a car with a petrol-engine to one with a diesel-engine a few years ago naively assuming it would be more environmental.

The good news (well in a relative sense) is that by cycling we can not only reduce our pollution footprint but also suffer less from the pollution – Air pollution: how big a problem is it for cyclists? Being in the “open air” may mitigate the pollution for cyclists compared with say a van driver and an enclosed box apparently.

So I am trying to ensure I use my bicycle far more than I drive, for longer distances I use the train – although I don’t have much choice about some routes using diesel-powered trains.

There is an irony in the fact that lots of drivers seem to want cyclists wearing helmets, high-viz, cycling on sub-standard shared-use paths, not wearing headphones. But why? Well to make it easier for the drivers not to kill or maim us cyclists it would seem.  So given the pollution issues what’s next? Perhaps there will be a call for compulsory face masks, although they aren’t that good at filtering some of the pollutants. Or maybe it will become compulsory for cyclists to carry oxygen cylinders to protect us from nasty cars.

There is only one bottom line – we have to stop blaming everyone else and look to our own actions – we need to drive less.  According to a House of Common Audit committee report the cost of the pollution is between £6-19bn of the NHS budget. Apparently, last year (2013) 29,000 people died prematurely from air pollution in Britain. I am a little bit suspicious of the round number in that it crops up elsewhere for different dates eg. the Daily Mail published Air pollution ‘linked to 29,000 early deaths a year’. There is more background on the way the number is estimated though.

The trouble is the the SMOG doesn’t just hang around in cities – it can affect wider swathes of the countryside. Sill it must  be less harmful I would have thought.

So as a cyclist I am doing my bit to avoid the noise and air pollution by cycling along bridleways and byways.

I must have been so engrossed in The Archers that I didn’t take many pictures – just two, of a familiar scene on Low Fen Drove Way. This is close to Snout Corner looking North-East along the Pylon corridor.

Pylons and Trees – Low Fen Drove Way

Pylons and Trees – Low Fen Drove Way

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