Dieselgate and the unintended consequences of anti-idling drive

theGuardian

The Guardian, 25 March 2019:

In the US, the Dieselgate scandal has resulted in prosecutions against VW personnel and multibillion dollar fines (Where’s there’s smoke…, 22 March). In Europe, no one has been charged and nobody has gone to jail, though the EU commission has threatened action against the UK government for failing to prosecute VW.

Defeat devices result in higher emissions of nitrogen dioxide, but the real danger from a health perspective are small particulates, notably the ultra-fine nanoparticles that can penetrate tissue, reach a placenta and cross the blood-brain barrier. These are largely present in exhaust emissions, so while all vehicles generate particulates from tyres and brakes, researchers have demonstrated that medical effects such as low birth weight are tied more closely to exhaust particulates than to friction particulates. This is important as the government likes to pretend that all particulates are equivalent, regardless of the source. Thus its clean air strategy emphasises the contribution of secondary particulates generated from agriculture etc, even though these contain little in the way of ultra-fine particles. It is disheartening that the UK government seems more anxious to protect the interests of car manufacturers than the health of its own citizens, but this situation is likely to worsen post-Brexit.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones Scientific adviser

Geraint Davies MP Chair, All-party parliamentary group on air pollution

Dirty air and babies

the-times-logo

The Times, 15 March 2019:

Sir, One neglected aspect of air pollution is its effect on birth weight (“Air pollution kills more people than boasting about freezing the fuel smoking”, Mar 13). A meta-analysis of 32 studies linking birth outcomes with the level of small particulates (PM2.5) concluded that each increase of 10g/m3 in PM2.5 lowers birthweight by 16 grams. Living in central London while pregnant is thus equivalent to smoking one cigarette a day.

In 2017 researchers from King’s College London showed that reductions in birth weight were tied more closely to exhaust emissions than to other types of particulates generated by traffic (eg, wear and tear on brakes and tyres) and not at all to noise pollution. During the Olympic Sir, Alice Thomson (Comment, Mar Games in 2008, the Chinese government made every effort to reduce pollution levels in Beijing, and birth weight increased. The maximum benefit was for women in the eighth month of pregnancy, a period of maximum foetal growth.

Low birth weight is important because it is linked to a host of adverse outcomes in later life, including lower IQ. The British government could do far more to mitigate these effects. Instead of boasting about freezing the fue escalator for the past nine years, the chancellor should increase the tax on diesel, introduce a diesel scrappage scheme and bring forward the phase-out date for fossil fuel vehicles from 2040 to 2030.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones, FRCP, FRCPath, scientific adviser to the all-party parliamentary group on air pollution

Geraint Davies, MP
chairman, APPG on air pollution

Gas strategy in the UK is wrongheaded

theGuardian

The Guardian, 12 March 2019:

It is no surprise that the government’s strategy on fracking has been deemed unlawful (Fracking guidance illegally ignores climate change, 7 March). Gas may be more fuel efficient than coal when burnt, but shale gas is 95% methane, and methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. According to the IPCC it has a global warming potential (GWP) 85 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe. Misleadingly, HMG have relied on an obsolete figure of 36 for the GWP of methane, dating back to 2013.

Methane levels plateaued in the late 1990s, but have started to increase again over the past decade and have now reached 1,900 parts per billion, against a pre-industrial level of 700. Fracking is the obvious culprit. Satellite data over the US has shown that methane leakage exceeds 5% of shale gas production, an observation that fits with more recent studies by Nasa showing that fossil fuels are the major contributor to the continuing rise in atmospheric methane.

Despite this evidence, the government’s energy strategy is to forge ahead with fracking while reducing environmental safeguards and providing tax incentives for its development. The government claim that gas is better than coal from a climate change perspective is only sustainable if fugitive emissions of methane are ignored. Let us hope that the high court judgment means that fracking will be abandoned in the UK as it has been elsewhere in Europe.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones Scientific adviser to the all-party parliamentary group on air pollution (APPG)
Geraint Davies MP Chair, APPG

 

More renewables please

theObserver

The Observer, 27 January 2019:

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy must take most of the blame for our terminally confused energy policy (“The Hitachi fiasco confirms that our energy policy now lies in ruins”, Leader). In February 2018, the government stated in its 25-year plan for the environment: “We will take all possible action to mitigate climate change while adapting to reduce its impact”, while the BEIS was promoting the use of fossil fuels through the development of a domestic shale gas industry.

The government has also scrapped its carbon capture research programme and abandoned zero-carbon homes. Since February last year, Claire Perry, the minister responsible for renewables, has ditched the tidal barrage in Swansea Bay, discontinued the feed-in tariff for solar power and reduced the subsidy for electric vehicles.

Your leader doubts the ability of renewables to power the UK, but that is precisely what is required by the Paris agreement and our 2008 Climate Change Act. Decarbonisation would happen much quicker if the government removed the obstacles it has placed in the way of onshore wind and reversed its current energy policy.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones, chair, Help Rescue the Planet
Marlow, Bucks

Nuclear energy is key to our future

theGuardian

The Guardian, 18 November 2018:

Opposition to nuclear power in the UK has largely focused on the risks of an accident and the enormous cost of waste disposal, officially running at more than £100bn. Also, high-quality uranium ore is in short supply, and can only supply the world’s existing reactors for another 50 years. After that the energy required to extract fissile material from low-quality ore will exceed the energy produced, at which point the technology becomes unsustainable.

Recently, the chancellor admitted that he had delayed crucial legislation under pressure from the gambling industry. The only way to rationalise the UK’s chaotic energy policy is to accept that the nuclear and fracking industries have better lobbyists than the renewable sector.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones, chair, Help Rescue the Planet
Marlow, Buckinghamshire

India has no strategy for improving air quality

financialTimes

Financial Times, 15 November 2018:

Air pollution in India illustrates the consequences of unregulated growth (“ How to power India”, The Big Read, November 5). Of the 20 most polluted cities in the world, 14 are located in India. In Delhi the level of small particulates (PM2.5) averages 143 microgrammes per cubic metre of air (the annual World Health Organization limit is 10). At this time of year, stubble burning by farmers produces peak levels up to 1000, equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes a day. Such levels render Indian cities unfit for human habitation and particularly dangerous for pregnant women. Studies in Delhi have demonstrated that each 10 microgramme increase in the level of PM 2.5 decreases birth weight by 4 grams. As with smoking low birth weight results in lower IQ.

The tragedy is that no one wishes to accept responsibility. Unlike China, politicians in India have no strategy for improving air quality, and local politicians have no interest. In September the Ramphal Commonwealth Institute organised an international conference on Toxic Air and Megacities, but no delegate from the State of Delhi was willing to participate.

India seems equally oblivious to the dangers of climate change. Why would a country with up to 3000 hours of sunshine annually continue to rely on fossil fuels for 90 per cent of its energy? Prime minister Narendra Modi’s version of nationalism does not seem to include any concern for the health of the population, nor for the prospects of future generations.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Marlow, Bucks, UK, Former Chair, Campaign for Lead Free Air

Frack and ruin

theObserver

The Observer, 14 October 2018:

Why is it so difficult for the Observer to make up its mind about fracking (“Fracking fissures obscure the need to embrace green technologies”, leader)? Shale gas is a climate-changing fossil fuel, yet you claim the environmental impact of fracking is “unproved”.

It is true that gas produces less carbon dioxide per unit of energy than coal, but this is offset by the rapid rise in atmospheric methane largely attributable to increased gas production globally and the cavalier attitude to fracking in North America.

The second problem is timing. It has taken seven years for Cuadrilla to resume drilling and it will probably take another 10 to 15 before gas is being produced in commercial quantities and even that will depend on government support. So shale gas will come on stream at the same time as the UK is scheduled to decarbonise its electricity supply; in other words it will be displacing renewables, not replacing coal.

Fracking is being foisted on local communities by a business-friendly, environmentally illiterate government.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Chair, Help Rescue the Planet
Marlow, Bucks

Climate change and the true cost of economic growth

theGuardian

The Guardian, 1 October 2018:

George Monbiot is right. It takes a peculiar form of obstinacy for news channels such as the BBC to consistently not mention climate change. Last week, for example, Jeremy Corbyn committed the Labour party to a huge investment in green technology coupled, to zero carbon emissions by 2050. This was ignored in favour of yet more pointless debates about Brexit.

Future generations will look back on the present era with a profound sense of disbelief that the Kardashians command 200 times more airtime than climate change does; and that the media’s obsession with Brexit resembles a pack of vultures fighting over a dead carcass from which every item of interest has long since been stripped bare.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Chair, Help Rescue the Planet

Role of shale gas as a bridge fuel is overstated

financialTimes

Financial Times, 27 September 2018:

Your article on fracking claims that “natural gas is seen as a bridge between high polluting coal and cleaner energy sources led by renewables” (“ Cuadrilla prepares for start of commercial fracking”, September 26). First, no bridge is needed. Coal-fired plants are being phased out anyway under the terms of the EU Large Combustion Plant Directive, so by the time shale gas comes on stream it will be displacing renewables, not replacing coal.

Second, it is disingenuous to argue that shale gas is cleaner than coal in terms of climate change. Certainly it produces less carbon dioxide per unit of energy when burnt, but this benefit is cancelled out by upstream releases of methane during the exploration, extraction, storage and distribution stages. The rise in atmospheric methane that has occurred over the past decade can be attributed to the significant increase in gas production worldwide and the cavalier approach to fracking in North America.

Finally, fracking in the UK is confined to England, and is only possible because the government has assumed responsibility for planning permission in defiance of local democracy.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones Chair, Help Rescue the Planet,
Marlow, Bucks, UK