City Air Pollution Is Now A Global Health Crisis

Beijing’s rising middle class finally cried enough of the relentless thick pall of dangerous smog choking China’s biggest city.

In a rare display of anger and unrest in the authoritarian one-party state, they took to the country’s popular social media app WeChat demanding the Government take immediate action to protect their children.

In just 24 hours, a petition calling for the installation of air filtration systems in schools gathered nearly half a million views and more than 2700 comments, reports The Washington Post.

The incendiary January campaign was quickly shut down on the heavily censored platform, but not before the beleaguered Government promised to comply with the frustrated parents’ demands.

China officials have vowed to wage “a war on pollution” for the last three years, but an increasing number of exasperated citizens are sceptical of the results.

For weeks, much of northern China has been covered in a thick deadly smog. It is one of the worst episodes of air pollution the country has ever endured, affecting 460 million people.

Recent pollution readings in Beijing were more than double the acceptable standard set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The city’s new pollution police are trying valiantly to curb the crisis, ordering 1200 factories near the Chinese capital, including a major oil refinery run by state oil giant Sinopec, to shut or cut output after authorities issued the highest possible air pollution alert, reports ABC News.

The Beijing government has also launched a programme of alternate driving days based on licence plate numbers

But many critics and environmental groups say it’s a losing battle because of China’s heavy reliance on cheap and plentiful coal, one of the biggest polluters in the world’s second biggest economy.

Despite the billions pledged for renewable energy, 200 new coal power plants will be built across the country to satisfy a demand for the fossil fuel that’s bigger than the rest of the world combined.

Although not on the same scale as China, other major cities around the world, of course, are far from immune to the pollution scourge.

Sydneysiders were recently issued with a health warning by state authorities concerned the combination of hot, still weather and pollution had put those with respiratory issues such as asthma at risk.

New South Wales Health said the unique conditions produced an excess of dangerous ozone gas, which can damage the lungs, and cause chest pain, coughing and throat irritation when inhaled.

It has been estimated that each year more than 3000 Australians die premature deaths from urban air pollution, according to a comprehensive Queensland University study, The burden of disease and injury in Australia 2003, prepared for the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.

That’s almost three times the annual road toll, and costs the nation more than $24 billion in health care costs each year.

All state governments signed on to the National Clean Air Agreement at the end of 2015, which imposed some of the toughest air pollution standards in the world.

For the first time ever, national limits were set at eight micrograms per cubic metre for PM2.5 pollution – particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less – and at 25 micrograms per cubic metre for PM10, particles with a diameter of 10 micrometres or less. Victoria and the ACT opted to implement a stricter state-specific threshold of 20 micrograms per cubic metre.

But figures released in early 2016 from the National Pollutant Inventory’s 2014-15 report showed the air quality across Australia had deteriorated to disturbing levels, with the coal industry the most culpable.

Nationally, total PM10 emissions had increased 69 per cent in one year, and 194 per cent in five years, said advocacy group Environmental Justice Australia (EJA)

EJA researcher Dr James Whelan told The Sydney Morning Herald at the time that the findings raised serious questions about the future of Australia’s air quality.

He called for tougher federal government regulation, an urgent transition from coal to renewable energy, and a National Pollution Act.

“Watching the continuing escalation of air pollution across Australia, particularly from coal mines and coal-fired power stations, is like seeing a car speed faster and faster with no police response.”

In 2015, a study by researchers at London’s Kings College found about 9500 people died each year in the city due to long-term exposure to urban pollution.

The city’s Mayor Sadiq Khan issued several recent warnings, including telling public transport passengers to stay away from bus stops when air quality plummets.

Although the pollution is not as visibly obvious as in cities such as Beijing, or Delhi, the toxic nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in some London hotspots regularly breached European Union standards in 2016.

Campaigners say London got off to has breached its annual air pollution limits just five days into 2017, a “shameful reminder of the severity of London’s air pollution”, according to campaigners.

Concerned London parent Shazia Ali-Webber became an anti-pollution campaigner for I Like Clean Air after worrying about the damage being done to her young sons’ lungs on their walk to school.

“We do know from the studies that children’s lungs are being stunted,” she says.

“And the worst thing is that stunting stays with them into their adult lives so the respiratory problems that occur will stay with them.”

Adds Rob Cawthorne, managing director of the Sydney-based Carbon Reduction Institute: “Pollution is a problem that affects all of us.”

“No matter where we are from, or who we are, we all want clean air which is safe to breath and not harmful to human health.

“As a parent, I feel for the parents of children all around the world who are suffering from respiratory illness due to the poor quality of the air they breathe. Climate change action addresses global warming while at the same time helps deal with this global public health issue.”

Diesel cars and other heavy vehicles are blamed for much of London’s air problems.

Mr Khan said he will more than double funding to clear up the capital’s dirty air, improving the quality of buses and encouraging taxi drivers to switch from the older black cabs to new ones with zero emissions.

The silver lining to Delhi’s smog is that the stigma is also forcing politicians to act. The government plans to introduce tougher regulations on vehicle makers and build a bypass around the city.

Paris is also taking dramatic steps to curtail its rising traffic pollution. Cars will soon be banned from outside the Louvre museum, which welcomes nine million visitors a year.

The city also plans to expand its already impressive cycling infrastructure, and from 2018 will launch a new ‘tram-bus’ to boost public transport options along the right bank of the Seine.

Cities like Bordeaux and Lyon are way ahead of Paris in terms of reopening access to their riverbanks and banning polluting diesel cars from the city centre, as Tokyo has done, said Christophe Najdovski, the Deputy Mayor in charge of transport.

Climate Change Threatens Future Of Australian Ski Season

Up until as recently as the late 1990s, Australian ski resorts were too embarrassed to boast about their snow-making capabilities.

You either had the real McCoy, or ran the risk of not having a viable business model at all.

Today, however, state-of-the-art snow guns working overtime to accommodate the June to October alpine season are not just a point of differentiation and comparative advantage, but essential to survival.

According to the latest CSIRO numbers, the $1.8 billion industry is on increasingly shaky ground, due to greenhouse gas emissions melting the pure white powder on higher slopes at an alarming rate.

The CSIRO’s 2015 climate change modelling predicts that under a low-risk scenario, the average snow season across Victoria and some of New South Wales will become 20 to 55 days shorter by 2050.

When worst-case projections are inputted, Australia’s traditional 112-day alpine season, is slashed anywhere from 30 to 80 days during the same period.

“If we continue to increase greenhouse gas house emissions at the current rate there will be a relatively rapid decline in snow cover and snow duration,” confirms Kevin Hennessy, the CSIRO Climate Science Centre research director.

“We are looking at a committed warming of at least one or two degrees over the next decade so an amount of change is unavoidable.

“But beyond about the 2030s, it does depend on how our greenhouse gas house emissions are managed,” he also tells ABC News.

The CSIRO first flagged its concerns to an industry – which employs an estimated 18,000 people each year – with its sobering 2003 report The Impact of Climate Change on Snow Conditions in Mainland Australia.

In it, the researchers predicted the amount of snow machines would need to increase by 100 per cent by 2020, in order to keep the industry profitable.

But by as early as 2013, Colin Hackworth, CEO of Australia Ski Areas Association, an industry body representing ski area owners and operators, told the ABC’s Bush Telegraph that the industry’s reliance on snow machines had already reached those projections.

“In the last 10 years, snow making capability has doubled,” he said at the time.

“It’s something which guarantees people a holiday. Eighty per cent of skiers tend to stick to the beginner and intermediate slopes and it’s these slopes which will continue to be snow made.”

Kevin Hennessy says higher Australian ski fields such as the Snowy Mountain’s Perisher in NSW, the largest in the southern hemisphere, would stay open longer.

But he also warns that even they are not immune to the impacts of higher greenhouse gas emissions.

“In the Kosciuszko [National Park] region, which has fairly high elevation, we expect there to be good years and bad years right through this century and not until the end of this century might we see really, really low snow levels.

“To make snow you require wet bulb temperature below minus 1 or minus 2 degrees Celsius.

“We anticipate by 2030, the opportunities for snow making might be halved with the exception of some of the high resorts where opportunities might be halved by 2040s.

“The ski industries both in Victoria and New South Wales are factoring in climate change into their projections. The question is how long is that financially viable?”

In the U.S, the effect of global warming on the ski industry has already been significant.

Between 1999 and 2010, low snowfall years cost the industry US$1 billion and up to 27,000 jobs, reports The New York Times. Oregon took the brunt on the West Coast, with 31 percent fewer skier visits during low snow years. Next was Washington at 28 percent, Utah at 14 percent and Colorado at 7.7 percent.

“It’s a bigger issue than, ‘Oh, we can’t ski,’” said Diana Madson, executive director of the non-profit Mountain Pact, a U.S. advocacy group focused on stemming the impacts of climate change on ski towns.

“It’s loss of jobs and major environmental degradation,” she told Outside.

A 2012 study done by the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in the U.S. concluded that the US$12.2 billion winter tourism industry can’t survive on snow-gun slopes, and ski resorts account for 36 percent of winter tourism-related employment.

“In order to protect winter—and the hundreds of thousands whose livelihoods depend upon a snow-filled season—we must act now to support policies that protect our climate, and in turn, our slopes,” the report said.

Closer to home, the Australian industry isn’t just sitting around and hoping the scientists have it all horribly wrong.

The Victorian Alpine Resorts 2020 Strategy, along with the Australian Keep Winter Cool Initiative area just two bodies to recognise climate change as a major threat to the future of skiing in Australia, says Traveller.
The ski fields are also doing all they can to offset carbon emissions and future proof themselves as best they can.

Mt Buller has a $3.43 million development to utilise treated wastewater for snowmaking, with up to two million litres of wastewater recycled each day.

Hotham is also run on recycled water and water from Rocky Valley Lake used for snowmaking at Falls Creek is returned to the lake due to a closed loop snowmaking operation. Falls Creek also uses hydroelectricity to power chairlifts and snowmaking.

Traveller reports that Perisher’s multi-million dollar investment over the last decade has ensured that snowmaking is now nine times more energy efficient.

Across the valley in Thredbo, the resort committed to diesel and unleaded petrol for vehicle use and planted over 2000 trees and shrubs around the village, and also offset the emissions generated by grooming and vehicle fleets.

“There’s always room for optimism,” CSIRO’s climate projection scientist Michael Grose tells ABC News.

“Things like the Paris Agreement have put it [climate change] on the agenda and set an ambitious target.

“If we can meet those targets that will certainly put us on a better trajectory than if we had a high-emission scenario going through to 2100.”

Rob Cawthorne, manager director of the Sydney-based Carbon Reduction Institute (CRI), and a dedicated snowsports lover, is confident that the necessary emission reductions can be met.

“As an avid skier, the loss of the ski season in Australia hits close to home,” says Cawthorne.

“But as a carbon management entrepreneur I know the solutions are available for government, businesses and individuals to address climate change and in doing so help save the ski season in Australia.”