Back On The Agenda: Acting Locally and Thinking Globally to Achieve Clean Air

The majority of us now live in cities.

While urban living provides benefits with regard to mobility, accessibility and community, it has come with a cost to the air we breathe. An estimated 92% of the world’s population now living in areas where air quality exceeds World Health Organization limits causing as many as 3 million deaths a year.

In particular, many developing world cities are grappling with the combined pressures of urbanization, motorization and industrialization and climate-related weather events which are overwhelming the natural resilience of urban ecosystems.

Given these multiple challenges what action can cities take to achieve clean air, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, implement the New Urban Agenda and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals?

Recognizing the Problem

Air pollution is a silent killer.

It is the deadliest form of pollution and the fourth leading risk factor for premature deaths worldwide with both indoor and outdoor air pollution responsible for an estimated 6.5 million deaths (11.6% of all global deaths). Nearly 90% of air-pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, with nearly 2 out of 3 occurring in WHO’s South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions.

It is often the poor and socially marginalized that suffer disproportionately from the effects of deteriorating air quality with around 300 million Children currently exposed to toxic air that exceeds internationally limits by at least six times.

300 million Children are currently exposed to toxic air.

It is easy to read such figures with a detached concern. However, if just one of these faceless air-pollution-related deaths was our mother, brother, sister, daughter or son we would soon feel the devastating emotional and personal impact caused by air pollution.

If that was not enough, air pollution also comes with an economic price tag. The World Bank estimate air pollution related deaths cost the global economy about US$225 billion in lost labour income in 2013. The OECD predict that global air pollution-related healthcare costs will increase from USD 21 billion in 2015 to USD 176 billion 2005 in 2060. By 2060, the annual number of lost working days, which affect labour productivity, are projected to reach 3.7 billion (currently around 1.2 billion) at the global level.

While reductions may be achieved for certain pollutants others are becoming more difficult to address due to the absence of a well-developed infrastructure, integrated planning and financial resources to restore environmental quality. Therefore ambitious action is required to achieve reductions in the human and economic cost of air pollution.

 Cities For All

In recognition of an increasingly urban world and the need to achieve sustainable development in practice two UN global agendas have been adopted which sets out a pathway to a more sustainable future for all.

The 2016 UN-Habitat’s New Urban Agenda acknowledges the challenges of an increasingly urban world and sets out a road map for building cities that can serve as engines of prosperity and centres of cultural and social well-being while protecting the environment. It aims to:

  • Provide basic services for all citizens
  •  Ensure that all citizens have access to equal opportunities and face no discrimination
  •  Promote measures that support cleaner cities
  • Strengthen resilience in cities to reduce the risk and the impact of disasters
  • Take action to address climate change by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions
  • Fully respect the rights of refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons regardless of their migration status
  • Improve connectivity and support innovative and green initiatives
  • Promote safe, accessible and green public spaces.

The 2015 New Urban Agenda is seen as an extension of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that outlined 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) needed to make the transition towards a low carbon society.

The New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals provide the road map to a Sustainable Future

Although air pollution is included in both the New Urban Agenda and the SDGs, it is not necessarily prominent. Yet many of the local actions taken to improve urban air quality can have multiple social, environmental and economic co-benefits.

Acting Locally, Thinking Globally

Although the exact origin of the phrase, Acting Locally, Thinking Globally, is disputed, it is often associated with the environmental movement which used it to urge individuals to consider the health of the entire planet and to take action in their own communities and cities.

Like many slogans it had its prominence only to go out of fashion. Yet, given the air pollution and climate change challenges we face it is more relevant now than ever.

The notion of Act Locally, Think Globally is more relevant than ever given the challenge of poor air quality and climate change

Major sources of air pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions (e.g. nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and lead) include inefficient modes of transport, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants, and industrial activities.

The majority of these activities are undertaken at the city level which are responsible for around 70 per cent of global greenhouse gases. Equally, we have seen climate-related weather events such as storms; floods and heatwaves impact on the urban populations and disrupt services.

While carbon dioxide has warming influences on the climate in the long-term; short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon, a primary component of particulate matter, methane and ozone have warming influences in the near-term.

Taking action on these pollutants have the potential to improve air quality and reduce the effects of climate change. Local measures such as reducing car use, improving public transport, increasing energy efficiency and adopting low emission technologies can result in health, environmental and social co-benefits.

 Role of the Citizen

It is easy to seen urban dwellers simply as casualties of poor air quality but they are also contributors to the problem. Therefore the attitudes and behaivour of citizens are important to instilling change and ensuring local policy-makers take the necessary action.

Citizens have a role to play in monitoring air quality.

Public participation in all matters related to the urban environment is becoming an important issue. The talents and support from different sectors of society is needed if we are to improve the air the breathe, tackle climate change and ensure a sustainable development. Goal 16 of the SDGs acknowledges this by calling for responsive, inclusive, participatory, and representative decision-making at all levels.

Citizens have a role to play in monitoring environmental change as well as being agents of change in their community. There are many examples of citizen-led air quality monitoring schemes such as the UK Friends of the Earth which are encouraging citizens to take action to monitor air quality where they live.

The World Health Organization and Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Breathe Life campaign aims to mobilize cities and individuals around the world to protect human health and environment from the effects of air pollution

However, raising awareness does not always translate into sustained behaviour change and a improvement in air quality. We are complex beings fraught with contradictions. While we like the idea of a clean and green environment that is fine as long as it does not inconvenience us by requiring a change in the way we live.

Selling the Sizzle

If cities are to achieve better air quality then we require setting out a vision that inspires citizen action. To some extent this is a marketing job which requires selling the sizzle of a clean and green city.

US Marketeer, Elmer Wheeler, coined the term “Don’t Sell The Steak – Sell The Sizzle” to inspire people to buy a product. Selling the steak is boring but selling the smell, taste and associated lifestyle inspires consumers and catches the imagination.

We need to set out a vision for citizen action on air pollution.

The same principles are relevant for achieving cleaner cities. If we talk simply about action to reduce emissions such as banning cars or creating low emission zones these are the ‘Steak’ and are far less appealing than the sizzle of a safe, clean and accessible city for all.

Both the New Urban Agenda and the 2030 SDG Agenda set out that vision, it is now down the cities to harness citizen power to make this vision a reality. A guiding principle must be act locally, think globally as this will lead us closer to  greener inclusive cities where we all can breathe clean air.

 

The Carbon Cost of Christmas

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Christmas time is accompanied by seasonal increases in our level of consumption. But what is the environmental impact of Christmas?

From eating and drinking to giving and receiving, it is the time of the year when we do things to excess. Unfortunately, it also means we are likely to have a greater impact on the environment.

A number of studies have attempted to calculate the carbon footprint of Christmas.

So, let’s start with the Christmas tree. When it comes to the use of an artificial versus a natural Christmas tree, one study found that when compared on an annual basis, the artificial tree (6 yrs life span) has three times more impact on climate change and resource depletion than the natural tree. The natural tree contributes significantly less carbon dioxide emission (39%) than the artificial tree.

As for Christmas dinner, it has been estimated that a British style Christmas dinner is equivalent to 20kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) emission – 60 per cent related to life cycle of turkey. Total equivalent emissions for UK Christmas dinners is 51,000 tonnes – or 148 million miles travelled in a car. Cranberry sauce is the worst offender for transport-related carbon emissions.

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Even Santa Claus is not excluded from scrutiny. With  another study suggesting that Santa’s 133 million mile trip around the world is responsible for emitting about 70 million tons of CO2!

However, if we look at the total consumption and spending on food, travel, lighting and gifts over three days of festivities (Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day). Then this could result in as much as 650 kg of CO2 emissions per person – equivalent to the weight of 1,000 Christmas puddings!

Such studies will vary in their assumptions, data sets and methodologies and may not necessarily be comparable. However, we don’t need any study to tell us what we already know –  that our consumption peaks at this time of the year.

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But we can still have a good Christmas and be kind to the planet?

With a bit of thought we can limit the impact we have on the environment this Christmas and still have a great time. There are a number of actions we can all take which can reduce our CO2 emissions.

Food
• Support your local economy and try buying from local organic suppliers.

• Compost your vegetable peelings after you’ve finished cooking to make sure that this extra organic waste doesn’t head straight to landfill.
• Plan your meal carefully to reduce the amount of uneaten food thrown away – check who likes Brussels sprouts!
Travel
• Plan your Christmas travel to reduce the distance travelled and try and use environmentally friendly modes of transport or car share.
Lighting
• Less is more when it come Christmas lighting! Opt for a small tasteful lighting display and turn the fairy lights off before bed and save both money and carbon.

Shopping

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• When it comes to Christmas presents buy quality not quantity. Well-made goods last longer and will not have to be replaced in the New Year.
• A good Christmas gift doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive.
Think about giving alternative gifts such as a charity or environmentally friendly gift, an experience or giving your time.
• Give your unwanted gifts to charity or to local hospitals or hospices.

In this time of seasonal goodwill, we should all spare a thought for the planet!

A Merry Christmas to you all, everyone!

How Can We Protect An Ageing Population From The Effects of Environmental Change?

sri-lanka-flood-older-man-carried_246x211By 2050 there will be an unprecedented increase in the number of people aged 55-plus representing nearly a quarter of the global population.

The rise in the numbers of older people is happening more rapidly in developing countries where 60 per cent of the world’s older people currently live, particularly in Asia and Africa.

An ageing population has wide-ranging implications for environment, economy and society. Changes in age structure together with an expanding population, rapid urbanisation and levels of consumption are all placing pressure on the global environment.

This presents challenges in eradicating poverty, ensuring environmental justice and achieving an environmentally sustainable development, especially in the least developed countries of the world.

Acceleration of Global Ageing

The interaction between an ageing population and the environment poses significant challenges and opportunities for public policy.

However, policy makers at the international level have given little attention to the effects global environmental change will have on this demographic group.

Older people are a diverse group. Some are educated, fit, active and wealthy, have access to most of the goods and services they need and desire and play a key role in caring for themselves and other family members including grandchildren. In contrast, others are poor, frail and require care and financial support.

There are major regional differences, with poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia resulting in many older people in these areas lacking access to clean water, sanitation, nutrition and basic health care, making them highly vulnerable to environmental threats.

A study by the Stockholm Environment Institute reviews the key issues relevant to global ageing and environmental change. It examines older people not only in terms of their vulnerability to environmental threats but as potential contributors to environmental sustainability. The study recommend three areas for action if we are protect older people from future environmental change.

REDUCING THE ENVIRONMENTAL FOOTPRINT OF AN AGEING POPULATION

Elderly woman with social care assistant

Promoting greener attitudes and behaviours and influencing individual lifestyle choices across the life course are measures that can and should be used to reduce the future and current environmental footprint of older people.

This is particularly important at a time when many rapidly developing countries are seeing an increase in a high-consuming middle-class group who will eventually grow older.

There is an equally important need to engage older people using appropriate approaches such as peer-to-peer approaches which could provide more credibility.

Targeted engagement of older people not only fosters greener behaviours but also responds to their perceived lack of opportunities for social involvement and inter¬action.

Recent studies undertaken on direct interaction with the older age sector on climate change have demonstrated that, used in the appropriate way, it is a headline topic that stimulates lively discussion and debate on many issues related to environment and sustainability

Appropriate infrastructure and incentives that encourages greener behaviours in later life will also be needed. Since there will be a high number of urban seniors, achieving age-friendly cities will be important. In particular, older people require supportive and enabling living environments to compensate for physical and social changes associated with ageing.

These include walkable outdoor space and accessible public buildings, accessible and affordable public transport, appropriately designed, affordable and energy efficient housing with access to local services, opportunities for social participation and social inclusion, civic participation and employment.

PROTECTING OLDER PEOPLE FROM ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE

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We need policies that reduce the environmental vulnerability of older people and that focus on each part of the dynamic process that creates vulnerability.

These include policies that ensure people reach later life with sufficient reserves (e.g. coping skills, strong family and social ties and savings and assets), reducing the challenges they face in later life, and providing adequate health and social protection.

These factors will be different for older people in the developed and developing world. In developing countries, lack of basic infrastructure such as clean water and sanitation and health and social care combined with poverty and malnutrition make them vulnerable to environmental threats.

HelpAge International has discussed the need for climate and development strategies to be responsive to the realities of the ageing population and climate change. They suggest without age appropriate action, the effectiveness and success of climate adaption and national development and resilience strategies could be significantly compromised.

HelpAge International outlines ten strategies to coping with an ageing population in a changing climate .

In addition, Help the Aged identified ten basic requirements to make developed world communities better for older people.

These requirements included: adapting new and existing accommodation to suit people of all ages; transport options that meet the needs of all older people; keeping pavements in good repair; provision of public toilets; public seating; good street lighting and clean streets with a police presence; access to shops and services; places to socialise; information and advice; and ensuring older people’s voices are heard on issues from social care to volunteering opportunities.

If we are going to better protect individual countries need to be adopted. Policies that provide social protection, encouraging healthy life¬styles, acquisition of coping skills, strong family and social ties, active interests and, of course, savings and assets, will be important. All will assist in ensuring that people’s reserves are, and remain, strong in later life.

MOBILISING OLDER PEOPLE IN ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION

volunteerSeniors’ knowledge of the local environment, its vulnerabilities and how the community responds allows them to play a key role in reducing the environmental impact of disasters. In particular, their knowledge of socio-ecological system and coping mechanisms can in some contexts be critical when developing local disaster risk reduction and adaptation plans .

Growing old in the twenty-first century will bring with it the unique challenge of a changing global environment with variable climate and weather patterns which will impact on all aspects of life. Policies therefore need to be ‘age proofed’ so that they can support older people through their life course.

If we are to prevent and minimise the negative impact of environmental change on older people, there is an urgent need to better understand the interaction between global ageing and the environment. We need to harness the contribution older people can make to addressing environmental threats, while reducing their vulnerability.

Time for Greens to Return to the Grassroots

The past five decades have seen groups such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) successfully campaign to raise awareness of environmental issues.

The green movement has promoted a way of speaking and thinking about the environment that was not possible or imaginable decades ago.

Today green issues are a feature of the modern world that that everyone now recognises. As the green movement reaches middle age, it is coming under increasing criticism for being bureaucratic, ineffective, out of touch and set in its ways.

THE past five decades have seen groups such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) successfully campaign to raise awareness of environmental issues.

The green movement has promoted a way of speaking and thinking about the environment that was not possible or imaginable decades ago.

Today green issues are a feature of the modern world that that everyone now recognises. As the green movement reaches middle age, it is coming under increasing criticism for being bureaucratic, ineffective, out of touch and set in its ways.

Environmental concern initially focused on the protection of selected species and habitats, reducing polluting emissions to air, water and soil and improving the control and management of waste and hazardous substances.

As society became increasingly globalised, industrialised and interconnected, environmental issues changed in their complexity and geographical scope.

With the recognition of acid rain, the hole in the ozone layer and climate change as environmental problems, the focus moved from the local to the regional and global scale.

Efforts are now being made to control greenhouse gases and specific pollutants from sectors such as energy and transport. This has involved improving the efficiency of resource use and adopting cleaner technology.

While progress has been made in improving the state of the environment, human activity continues to drive environmental problems such as climate change, deforestation, depletion of natural resources and loss of biodiversity.

Despite many achievements the green movement has failed to win the hearts and minds of a large part of the electorate. The urgency of reducing greenhouse gases, the slow progress made in achieving a binding international climate change agreement, the style of campaigning and the rise in climate scepticism have caused fractions within the green movement.

Jonathon Porritt, a former director of Friends of the Earth, accused the movement of betraying the public by not supporting the grassroots campaign to stop the sell-off of England’s forests.

Porritt claimed the green movement was either too concerned about its relationship with the Department of the Environment to criticise the sell-off or that they hoped to gain from it.

More recently, the movement has been criticised for its opposition to the role of technology in addressing environmental issues such as nuclear power and genetically modified (GM) crops.

US environmentalist Stewart Brand believes the failure to embrace technologies has hindered environmental and social progress. He suggests we will be saved from global warming by densely populated cities, nuclear energy, GM food and planet-wide geo-engineering to manipulate the Earth’s climate to counteract climate change.

Mark Lynas accuses the green movement of having helped cause climate change through their opposition to nuclear power.

In contrast, Porritt warns of the dangers of being seduced by nuclear and argues that a 100 per cent renewable supply strategy for the UK is feasible by 2050, assuming that total UK energy consumption can be reduced by at least 40 per cent by 2030. This could be achieved by massive investment in energy efficiency.

As the world enters a new age of natural resource scarcity and climate change, food and energy insecurity will the affect the way of life of many communities. Therefore a renewed green movement will be required for a new age of global challenges. This will require agreement on the different technologies it supports.

There has been a tendency for green groups to scare people into change. There is now recognition of the need to provide a positive agenda.

A greater focus on “green localism” could re-engage an often suspicious and uninterested public by taking action within their immediate sphere of influence. Working in partnership with local authorities and businesses, local groups could contribute to build stronger communities able to fight climate change, improve health and wellbeing and secure a healthy natural environment.

The green movement has the potential to evolve through a network of grassroots groups that contribute to national and international campaigns using social media. It remains to be seen how the environmental idea can be captured and shaped by new generations in an age of new challenges. What is certain we will have to develop ways to respond to the effects future environmental change will have on our current way of life.

This article is based on the book Environmentalism Since 1945 by Gary Haq and Alistair Paul, published by Routledge in September 2011.

© Gary Haq 2011

Our Green History

oday environmentalism influences the language and decisions of government, corporations and individuals to an extent that was not possible a century ago.

The belief that the environment should be protected has become widely held throughout society as the global speed and scale of resource use and environmental destruction has been recognised and understood.

As western standards of living have increased, basic material needs have been met, and people have demanded higher standards of environmental quality. But beyond the basic belief that the environment should be protected, there is no agreement on why this is important or how this should be done. There is no unifying set of environmental ideas that society subscribes to nor a single environmental movement united behind a shared cause.

Environmentalism has evolved in complex and sometimes contradictory ways to span conservative, reformist and radical ideas about what the world should look like, as well as how change should be brought about. Each strand of modern environmental thinking brings its own set of ideas about how humanity should organise itself and interact with its environment.

Today environmentalism influences the language and decisions of government, corporations and individuals to an extent that was not possible a century ago.

The belief that the environment should be protected has become widely held throughout society as the global speed and scale of resource use and environmental destruction has been recognised and understood.

As western standards of living have increased, basic material needs have been met, and people have demanded higher standards of environmental quality. But beyond the basic belief that the environment should be protected, there is no agreement on why this is important or how this should be done. There is no unifying set of environmental ideas that society subscribes to nor a single environmental movement united behind a shared cause.

Environmentalism has evolved in complex and sometimes contradictory ways to span conservative, reformist and radical ideas about what the world should look like, as well as how change should be brought about. Each strand of modern environmental thinking brings its own set of ideas about how humanity should organise itself and interact with its environment.

Over the last 60 years these have evolved with each new environmental cause from nuclear power and pesticide use in the 1960s, to acid rain and the depletion of the ozone layer in the 1970s and 1980s and biodiversity loss and climate change in the 1990s and 2000s. Often these causes have taken hold in different countries at different times, each prompted by particular historical circumstances. For this reason environmentalism has been taken up in many forms across generations and the continents of the world.

The explosion of environmental activity in the 1960s did not represent the creation of an entirely new set of ideas. In 1885 German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) wrote: “It would never occur to me to regard the enjoyment of nature as the invention of the modern age.” The same can be said for modern day interest in the environment.

The fact that modern environmental concern spread following atomic bomb tests and to the backdrop of the Vietnam War is a point much referred to by historians and environmentalists. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring (1962) was amongst the first to link the dangers of the atomic bomb to the misuse of pesticides, emphasising humanity’s capacity to destroy nature and itself.

Over the next ten years a number of publications followed suit, Tragedy of the Commons (1968), and Limits to Growth (1972), raised wider anxieties about the future of the planet, whilst Blueprint for Survival (1972), and Small is Beautiful (1973) sketched out green alternatives. Almost half a century later the anxieties expressed in each of these books are still at the centre of many environmental concerns today.

Media coverage of dramatic pollution events has been instrumental in raising environmental concerns over the last half century.The first major oil spill in Britain occurred when the super tanker Torrey Canyon struck a reef between the UK mainland and the Isles of Scilly in March 1967.

The resulting oil slick covered 120 miles of Cornish coast, killing tens of thousands of birds. Two years later an explosion on the Union Oil Company oil platform, six miles off the coast of Santa Barbara in California, resulted in the release of hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil.

These highly visible examples of humanity’s impact on the environment occurred as the age of colour television began and broadcasters discovered that major pollution events made visually dramatic news stories. Each decade since has witnessed at least one massive oil spill from a super tanker or oil platform, these serve as timely reminders that environmental issues have not gone away.

The history of contemporary environmentalism has been marked by the establishment of new institutions. Campaigns on issues such as pesticide use and nuclear testing led to the development of a new breed of professional campaign groups which have become the public face of environmentalism.

At the same time governments have responded to public concerns about the environment by establishing environmental institutions of their own. Agencies, scientific programmes, international agreements, laws and regulations have been established to support environmental goals.

All this has helped give environmentalism a permanence that has transcended the decades.

This article is based on the book Environmentalism Since 1945 by Gary Haq and Alistair Paul, published by Routledge in September 2011.

© Gary Haq 2011

Valuing The Precious Commodity of Water

FOR a long time we have enjoyed the luxury of a plentiful supply of water. So much so we have taken its availability for granted.

FOR a long time we have enjoyed the luxury of a plentiful supply of water. So much so we have taken its availability for granted.

How many of us are guilty of leaving the tap on while brushing our teeth, over filling the kettle or spending too much time in the shower?

Each person in the UK uses an estimated 150 litres of water a day which is equivalent to 264 pints of milk.

By the time water reaches our tap it has already been cleaned, treated and pumped from reservoirs, rivers and aquifers with much of it being leaked from pipes.

It is only in times of drought such as that experienced in parts of the UK are we forced to rethink how we value and use water.

Water is a crucial element for human existence as clearly demonstrated by the devastating effects of the severe drought in East Africa.

Safe water is necessary to avoid death from dehydration, reduce the risk of water-related disease and provide for domestic use.

It is estimated that each person needs about 20 litres of water each day to drink, cook and wash.

Everyone has a right to sufficient, safe, acceptable and affordable water. Unfortunately, these days fresh clean water is becoming a precious commodity.

A European Environment Agency report on water resources across Europe shows that southern Europe continues to experience the greatest water scarcity problems. However, water stress is growing in parts of northern Europe.

Drought is a feature of the UK’s variable climate, with dry spells possible at any time of the year. According to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), this year England suffered its driest spring in a century, leaving fields parched and many rivers at a record low.

This is in contrast to Scotland that had one of the wettest springs on record and areas of Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, parts of Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, and western Norfolk which are in drought.

The dry weather affected navigation on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal with restrictions on boat movements. While recent rain and unsettled weather has helped the environment, farmers and water companies and eased canal navigation, this does not mean the drought or risk of drought is over. Damage to crops caused by the dry spring is now likely to be irreversible.

More dry weather will place further pressure on water resources. The Environment Agency believes this could result in drought conditions spreading into central England and further east.

This would impact livestock farmers, affecting the cost and availability of animal feed and bedding for next winter. while at the same time restricting arable farmers from spray irrigating their crops.

Public water supply can cope easily with a few months of dry weather, but prolonged droughts require careful management. The Yorkshire region experienced it worst drought in March 1995. Reservoirs in the upland Pennines hills were at capacity following a very wet period.

However, by the August, reservoirs in some areas were below 20 per cent capacity. This resulted in a severe water problem in the region and required emergency drinking water being tankered in from Kielder reservoir in Northumberland to West Yorkshire to help resolve the situation.

By 2020, the national demand for water in the UK could rise by as much as five per cent due to an increase in population and housing. This would mean finding an extra 800 million litres of water each day.

In particular, hot water used in the home is responsible for approximately 35 million tonnes of greenhouse gases a year due to reheating and water treatment processes.

Our abuse of water is due to the fact that majority of us do not have to pay for the amount we use. We do not provide electric sockets allowing people to use as much electricity as they want then why should we do it with water?

If we are to meet the UK national target to reduce our water use by 20 litres a day by 2020 then we will all have to become more “water wise”. Water metering is considered the fairest way to pay for water.

It also provides an incentive to use less water which is beneficial for the environment. A water meter is estimated to reduce household water consumption by about 10 per cent. However, this could result in the poorest households facing higher bills

We currently face the prospect of further water stress due to the combined effects of climate change, water intensive lifestyles and pressures of land use changes.

If we are to continue and enjoy high standards of water, we need to reduce demand, minimise the amount of water that we are extracting and increase the efficiency of its use.

This requires everyone doing their bit including water companies, farmers and consumers in addressing how we use and value water.

© Gary Haq 2011

Is Speed Reduction a Solution to the Oil Crisis?

The Middle East crisis forces up prices at the pumps, Spain has lowered its national speed limit to achieve a 15 per cent saving in fuel use. This has been seen as an exceptional measure for an exceptional situation. But will it work, and should Britain do the same?

AS the Middle East crisis forces up prices at the pumps, Spain has lowered its national speed limit to achieve a 15 per cent saving in fuel use.

This has been seen as an exceptional measure for an exceptional situation. But will it work, and should other countries do the same?

The Spanish government has reduced the speed limit on main roads from 75mph (120 km/h) to 68mph (110 km/h) in an attempt to reduce fuel use. This has been in response to the unrest in Libya and concern that it will spread elsewhere in the Arab world. Spain is dependent on imported oil, with about 13 per cent coming from Libya.

The reduction in the speed limit is part of a wider package of measures to reduce energy use. As people spend more money on foreign fuel, they have less to spend on buying products made in Spain which could slow the recovery of the Spanish economy.

However, critics see lowering the speed limit as a desperate measure and are sceptical it will achieve the savings the Spanish government claims.

US President Richard Nixon took similar action in 1973 in response to the oil crisis then. He introduced a speed limit of 55mph (90 km/h) in 1974 in a bid to reduce fuel consumption by 2.2 per cent.

The measure only achieved a fuel saving of about 0.5 per cent but had the additional benefit of reducing road deaths. In contrast, France tested the strict enforcement of speed limits on main motorways in 2004 and achieved a 19 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

In the UK, petrol now costs on average about £6 a gallon. However, rather than reducing the speed limit, the Conservative-led coalition has actually talked about increasing it. Recently, the UK Transport Secretary Philip Hammond was reported to have suggested increasing motorway speeds to 80mph in an attempt to shorten journey times and help the economy.

This is despite the UK Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety claiming that raising the speed limit to 80mph would increase motorway casualties by between five and 10 per cent.

Lowering the speed limit will be a challenge, as many petrolheads will perceive it as an infringement of their human rights and another attack in the “war on the motorist”. According to a 2008 UK Department for Transport study on speed, drivers can be divided into three groups: speed limit compliant, moderate or excessive speeders. Excessive speeders tend to be young, male, risky drivers who are often involved in accidents.

The UK study also found that a substantial number of drivers report that they regularly break speed limits of 30, 60 and 70 mph.

At speeds of 50mph and above, drivers tend to over-estimate the time gained by going faster and the time lost by going slower. In order to encourage people to drive at lower speeds, this “speed-time fallacy” will need to be addressed.

Reducing speed is seen as a quick hit as it relatively easy to implement. It requires little legislative and capital investment and can achieve rapid savings in fuel consumption as well as cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

A lower speed limit will, of course, increase travel time, which will further depend on road conditions, weather, traffic congestion and roadworks. Despite this, limiting the speed at which we drive offers a number of social and environmental benefits.

The exact fuel and carbon dioxide savings of reducing the speed limit are influenced by vehicle weight, engine and fuel type, driving style and traffic flow conditions. Increasingly, optional extras such as air conditioning have increased the average fuel use of a car.

According to the UK Energy Research Centre, introducing and enforcing a 60mph speed limit could reduce carbon dioxide emission on average by about two million tonnes each year.

In addition, becoming a “smarter driver” and being conscious of how to drive efficiently has the additional benefits of reducing annual fuel bills, wear and tear on the vehicle and can result in safer and less stressful journeys.

By 2030, global oil production is expected to decline as demand increases. The exact timing of the tipping point when oil availability begins to decline, and the ensuing rate of that decline is debateable.

However, there is increasing recognition that the “peak oil” phenomenon is real. National and local governments have all already begun designing policies to cope with the lack of cheap oil – with Sweden committing to be oil free by 2020.

Reducing the speed limit will be the least of our problems as we will be forced to make more fundamental changes to our energy intensive lifestyles in order to adapt to a world of increasing energy insecurity.

© Gary Haq 2011