In Defence of the Air We Breathe
The politicisation of atmospheric science over the last decade or so has somehow led to “climate change” being boiled (heh) down to nothing more than hot summers, and allegedly “economy bustingly” expensive electricity.
Pro-coal politicians argue that any cut Australia makes to our CO emissions won’t even 2 be noticed on the world stage, and the cost of moving a whole country from fossil-fuel power to wind and solar just isn’t worth it.
While TV panel shows and parliamentary enquiries are yelling about CO -this and 2 degrees-above-average that, somewhere out in the corridor all the other atmospheric scientists are yelling “Hey! What about us?!” Because the human e ect on our atmosphere is about more than just CO and 2 other greenhouse gases. Remember how in the 1970s and 1980s we used to talk about “pollution”? Remember “acid rain” and “dioxides” and other nasties in the air (and in the soil, and in the water)?
CO is the bogeyman right now, but that 2 doesn’t mean there aren’t far nastier monsters lurking in the exhaust gasses of our everincreasing industrial activity.
Just for a light sampling, consider: There are the sulphur oxides, which can form acid rain. There’s nitrogen dioxide, which can cause constricted breathing and immune system problems. Carbon monoxide we know, but how about “ground level ozone”? It’s a friend high in the atmosphere where it gets its own layer, but a room full of the stu is deadly.
Then there are the volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Methane is another greenhouse gas that’s much more e ective than CO at trapping 2 heat, but worse for you personally are benzene, toluene, and xylene, which are all carcinogens that cause leukaemia. Or so studies suggest.
All of these and many more forms of pollution still exist, and we ignore them at our peril.
Populist governments call for the dismantling of environmental protections and the deregulation of industry. It’s their view that “the market” will somehow sort all this out, since people won’t want to buy an iPhone if... they think the factory in Chain is very dirty? Not sure I get it.
But China - specifically Beijing - is a good example of what happens when you massively ramp up industrial output and don’t fuss too much about environmental rules and regulations.
As our feature on page 36 explains, cleaning up the smog over Beijing and bringing back the blue sky is a major challenge.
But it’s not as if this kind of thing hasn’t happened before. As recently as 1952, the Great Smog of London shut down the city for four days and killed a confirmed 4,000 people, but possibly as many as 12,000. A week of weird weather trapped a thick smog made of coal particles and sulphur dioxide, along with car exhaust and especially exhaust from the unfiltered diesel engines of the 50s, right on top of the city.
It was thick enough to be visible inside, and it stung the eyes. Eventually the wind picked up and blew the smog away, but it must have been hell for those four days.
To the stoic Brits though, this was merely a particularly bad “pea-souper”. After all, London had su ered bad air events on and o since the 13th century!
Climate change is bad. But smog is immediately terrible, and it’s a big part of why we have pollution laws at all.
Cheap, reliable electricity is important. But if I have to choose between that and the air I breathe, I know which box I’ll be ticking.