There is no smoke without fire.
Pollution is seen as an inevitable consequence of growth, modernized economies and improved living standards (desirability for luxuries; cars, energy consuming products and so forth).
You see the air we breathe is taken for granted. You can’t see it but it is an obvious life sustaining gas. We accept air deep into our bodies (think food, water etc) and the heart instinctively pumps it around every part of our body. Air pollution – What it does to our bodies. *1# Would you eat poisoned food or contaminated water? Nope.
I ask. Have you ever been sat in traffic and just tasted the air you are breathing, or walked alongside a busy road alongside standing traffic? Live next to a main road and concerned – you should be.
Humans often come up with reactive measures. Electric cars for example, great idea with some flaws. Energy to produce the car in the first place. Weight of the car impacting on other air pollutant particles from brakes and tyres. Travelling up hills consuming lots more energy to power. Tyre contact with the road and air pollutants. *2 – it has a role to play but has drawbacks. We can’t always engineer ourselves out of a hole without tackling the root cause.
Then there are the other health consequences of car usage, or should that be overuse. We stay sat down for 9 hours plus a day the only moving about a lot of us do from using the toilet and walking down the drive to the car. A lot of our work-lives are desk based. Whatever your viewpoint on physical activity we simply don’t do enough. We essentially don’t do what the body was designed to do – move, helping to stave off or reduce chances of a plethora of health conditions linked to inactivity.
It’s interesting to see how large-scale behavior change programs have fared in the past. Most recently the war on plastic has snowballed due to multiple factors. The Blue Planet documentary and sky news coverage combined with a credible figure Sir David Attenborough narrating the visible damage to the World’s oceans seen due to plastic. Powerful.
The unforgettable images of marine life maimed by our collective consumption of plastic and marine young feeding on poisoned milk that inevitably killed them. Watching that who wouldn’t feel a level of guilt. Looking around your house and seeing the plastic products and questioning your use of them.
However, what about this image – invoke any concerns?
Business quickly responded to the trend for reducing plastic with their own ethical and social marketing strategies. Riding the crest of a wave of public opinion. A strong message that consuming our products will limit damage to ecosystems and animal life.
. Public opinion can and does mould system change.
As a business miss that narrative and you risk serious consequences of losing your target market. Business seeking investment: suddenly investors request information on your CSR and environmental impact. Bidding for tenders and you are asked way more than just your ability to deliver a contract. Employee welfare, wellbeing, environment policies community work and so on.
However, the car is much more embedded into our lives. It offers convenience (questionable), personalized journeys (that’s true to a point), load capacity (a lot more difficult to transport without a motorized car). Then there is desirability. A new car is a statement. A mobile symbol of success years gone by. Has that changed? I still know people who will drive 500 meters, nothing to carry just habit. Then spend the rest of the time trying to park.
The bus user, cyclist and walker. I don’t want to say this but let’s be honest. If you used this form of transport you were seen as a bit of failure in life not long ago (maybe in some quarters of society still true). Didn’t have a driving license? There must be a reason why you catch the bus/train or walk – why wouldn’t you have a car? It didn’t make sense not to have a car.
It is changing. I see quite a lot of people me included with formal business wear with trainers on at the train station – change of shoes in the rucksack. Statement? Absolutely.
I question every journey I make. Is it necessary? Of course, work and family commitments absolutely.
My second question is how I get there – what are the options. Do I need to be there for work (skype etc). Sometimes you need face to face its personable and bodes well for business so travel sustainably. Some jobs vehicles are necessary. Realistic.
Where I live I have train, bus and active travel routes – I think nothing of jumping on my bike and cycling the 20-mile round trip, or even 50 mile round trip to coach run groups on an evening or my day job. Of course the big impact comes from small changes (few miles cycle route etc). Not all of us live in areas well connected with public transport – granted. Lots of us live in Cities and large towns, do we carry more responsibility to use the car less than those with less public transport options – absolutely.
The cycle / walk network. Lots of us have lost the art of navigation. We don’t know our areas too well. When I coach run groups on an evening, I barely have to take people half a mile from where they live and they are lost. We follow sat navs and road signs as the arteries of our towns. We disconnect from the environment (think mindfulness and mental health).
When I take run, walk or cycle groups out people are usually surprised to see the countryside and tranquility of what is on their doorstep. How different viewpoints make even your local area look so different than from a roadside. Connected to nature.
The Trans pennine trail is a great example of this, a network I use to navigate the 25 miles from Doncaster to Sheffield via Barnsley to work. It splits off and connects other villages and urban areas (Wentworth, Wombwell, Harley etc.) and connects to the Tinsley canal for the last leg to Sheffield City Centre – a wonderful green route.
Journeys into town. I live 2 miles from town. I walk with family there and choose a slightly longer green route (hedges and greenery offer a screen and sponge to reduce the impact of bad air) *3.
I do a job on a weekend (once a every 2 months) where I carry a lot of equipment with a trailer – I share the vehicle with people who work for me. I set off early when the traffic is light and the fuel I am using keeps me moving not stood still pumping pollutants out. However 80% of my journeys are without the car – including weekends now.
I use the bus from Barnsley To Doncaster a lot. The facilities on board are much improved from your last journey (I know people that haven’t been on a bus for 20 years). WIFI (do business on the move), card payments and bus lanes speed up progress into urban areas. Yes buses do contribute to air pollution but if 50 seats were filled, and that bus is running anyway – can you leave the car at home?
Sheffield Stagecoach – plush interior / WIFI and enhanced onboard facilities / extra legroom and efficient engines.
New Trans pennine express due in operation shortly.
I am saying we have to be more resourceful with what we have. Change the way we do things. Think and form new habits. The way we get around is key to this. Drive to the gym? Walk/cycle/run combine bus/train and integrate that exercise into your day – saves time in the long run.
The air we breathe is an amazing resource in itself. Just because we can’t see pollution (unless its that image of a smog) like we can plastic and we don’t have marine animals on television suffering from the consequences doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take it seriously. It is a public health risk and priority.
We should be concerned. Air pollution particles creep into our homes. Air is everywhere – we rely on it live. Stating the obvious here. Question your own journey. Note that if you made some changes and minimized (not got rid of) the car it would help on mass. Next stage do you need a car? Small changes big impact.
The cost of a car is enough to make your eyes water. How much better would the streets look without the cluttering of vehicles. How much more enjoyable would streets be to socialize and play? Once you change a part of your life it really does become easier and you see a different perspective.
So rather than an attack on car drivers – this is not – it is a plea to just question parts of your lives where car use can be minimized. Embracing different ways of working (mix office / remote working), work commutes by alternative modes, family travel – what are the other options?
To conclude could we see the air pollution been the next plastic. Cars been the next plastic bag. Who knows but one thing is for sure we cannot carry on or sustain our demand for energy the way we do right now – reflected in the latest climate reports and links to emissions and Global temperature rise.
Accessed 21.05.2019 – emissions impact on health – https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/air-pollution-in-europe-is-reducing-the-average-lifespan-by-2-years
*1 Accessed 21.05.2019 – which particles what damage to health from transport https://qz.com/1440724/smallest-unit-of-air-pollution-a-big-problem-for-human-health/
*2 Accessed 20.5.2019 – brake and tyre emissions report http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC89231/jrc89231-online%20final%20version%202.pdf
*3 Accessed 20.5.2019 – Hedges as a screen for pollutants https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/01/190104103948.htm
Health and wellbeing consultant