Skies Over UK Not So Clear Nor the Air Clean

Thousands of deaths each year result from the UK’s failure to keep air pollutants – especially from traffic – at safe levels, the Guardian reports. And half of the UK’s population cannot see many stars because the night skies are still “saturated” with light pollution, campaigners have warned, reports the BBC. Read More

Tim Yeo in the Guardian (22 March 2012):

Snow brought London’s roads to a halt this winter. But back in 1952 when I was a young boy, London’s transport was paralysed by rather different conditions. For five days that December a thick cloud of pollution gathered over the city as the smoke from hundreds of thousands of coal fires was trapped by an anti-cyclone that was pushing air down over the region.

The Great Smog, as it later became known, was so thick that people couldn’t see more than a couple of metres in front of them. Driving became difficult and public transport ground to a standstill. It was so bad that even the ambulance service stopped running. This wasn’t the only impact it had on public health. Some 12,000 people are thought to have died because of the smog and one of Britain’s first examples of environmental legislation – the Clean Air Act of 1956, was introduced as a result.

Pea-soupers may be a thing of the past, but Londoners are still dying from air pollution in 2010. These days it’s not sulphur dioxide from coal fires that’s the main problem, but tiny airborne particles produced by cars, trucks and lorries, which are too small to see.

Coal still plays a part nationally, through dirty power stations such as Drax and Kingsnorth, but the biggest culprit is traffic pollution in our cities. Although vehicles are getting cleaner, there has been a huge growth in traffic levels in the last 20 years, causing pollution levels to plateau. Consequently the UK is failing to keep pollution levels below safe levels set by the EU.

Since 2005 the UK has consistently been breaching safety levels on one of the worst pollutants, particulate matter, known as PM10. And the EU could land UK taxpayers with heavy fines if the government doesn’t get to grips with this soon.

In some of the worst-affected areas – often in the poorest parts of our cities – this invisible killer could be taking up to nine years off the lives of people most at risk, such as those with asthma, heart disease and respiratory illnesses.

According to government statistics up to 24,000 people die before their time in the UK every year as a result of air pollution. However, evidence taken by the Environmental Audit Committee suggests that the government may be underestimating the number of deaths poor air quality is contributing to – and that the real figure could be double that.

If this is true, air pollution could be causing more deaths than passive smoking, traffic accidents or obesity. Yet the issue still receives very little attention from government or the media. Defra officials have calculated that poor air quality could be costing the economy as much as £20bn a year. But compared with efforts to tackle smoking, alcohol misuse or poor diet – which inflict comparable costs on society – next to nothing is being spent or done to reduce air pollution levels or raise awareness about its dangers.

The government is spending £75m on its Change4Life campaign to promote healthier eating and exercise and £12m on advertising to warn people of the dangers of alcohol misuse. And rightly so. But we need to make clean air a priority as well. The fact that tens thousands of people are dying in our cities in 2010 because of air pollution is a national disgrace.

The report published today by myself and my colleagues on the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee is urging the government to commit the resources necessary to save lives and reduce the enormous burden air pollution places on the NHS. Pollution from road vehicles causes the most damage to health and we must generate the political will for a dramatic shift in transport policy if air quality is to be improved. This means removing the most polluting car and lorries from the road, cleaning up the vehicles that remain and encouraging smarter choices about transport. If we can do that, we will all be able to breathe more easily.



BBC News ( 11 April 2012):

Light pollution ‘saturates’ UK’s night skies

Half of the UK’s population cannot see many stars because the night skies are still “saturated” with light pollution, campaigners have warned.

Some 53% of those who joined a recent star count failed to see more than 10 stars in the Orion constellation.

That had decreased only very slightly from 54% since 2007, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the Campaign for Dark Skies said.

The problem remained despite attempts to curb street lighting, they said.

They said that in 2010, local authorities collectively spent more than £500m on street lighting, accounting for 5% to 10% of each council’s carbon emissions.

A number of councils have tested schemes to switch off or dim street lights when they are not needed, although the trials have often proved controversial with residents.

Sleeping patterns

The information was gathered as part of the annual Star Count survey, which was held across two weeks in January and February this year.

Almost 1,000 people in different locations around the country took part.

Participants were instructed to pick a clear night to count the number of stars in the constellation of Orion.

Many children growing up today will never see the Milky Way; never see the unimaginable glory of billions of visible stars shining above them.

Campaign for Dark Skies

Fewer than one in 10 said they could see between 21 and 30 stars, and just 2% of people had truly dark skies, seeing 31 or more stars.

Emma Marrington, a rural policy campaigner for the CPRE, says: “When we saturate the night sky with unnecessary light, it damages the character of the countryside and blurs the distinction between town and country.

“But this isn’t just about a spectacular view of the stars; light pollution can also disrupt wildlife and affect people’s sleeping patterns.”

‘Glaring lights’

Bob Mizon of the CfDS believes light pollution is a disaster for anyone trying to study the stars.

“It’s like a veil of light is being drawn across the night sky, denying many people the beauty of a truly starry night.

“Many children growing up today will never see the Milky Way; never see the unimaginable glory of billions of visible stars shining above them,” he said.

For the first time, national guidance has been issued by the government, to encourage local planning authorities to reduce light pollution through design improvements.

The National Planning Policy Framework, published at the end of March, states that by encouraging good design, planning policies and decisions “should limit the impact of light pollution from artificial light on local amenity, intrinsically dark landscapes and nature conservation”.

There is also a role for businesses to play in ensuring glaring lights and neon signs that light up the night sky are not left on unnecessarily”

Local Government Association

Ms Marrington from the CPRE welcomed the move, saying poor excuses for bad or excessive lighting were heard too often.

“Of course we need the right, well-designed lighting in the right places – and some areas need to be lit for safety reasons – but there should not be a blanket assumption that glaring lights are needed.

“The evidence gathered during this year’s Star Count Week shows that we need to take action now to roll back the spread of light pollution.”

The Local Government Association, which represents councils, said local authorities were “well ahead of the game on this issue”.

“Over the past two years scores of local authorities up and down the country have been trialling the switching off and dimming of street lights late at night in quieter areas,” it said.

However, it added, public safety had to come first and councils would not cut lighting if a large number of people were strongly opposed to the idea and there were genuine safety concerns.

It added: “There is also a role for businesses to play in ensuring glaring lights and neon signs that light up the night sky are not left on unnecessarily.”


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