The Observer, 9 September 2018:
There is a tacky interface between industry and government when it comes to public health or the environment, and it is abundantly clear that Brexit is fatally shifting the balance towards deregulation (“Green watchdog will lack bite after Brexit”, News).
It is no coincidence that the most prominent Brexiters are also climate change deniers because they perceive climate change legislation as a major threat to industrial profit. This is the reason that the Department of Energy and Climate Change was dissolved, the reason that climate change has been omitted from the remit of the government’s new green watchdog, and the reason that Brexiters fulminate against the Climate Change Act.
The ruinous aspect of their delusion is that climate change offers huge opportunities to UK businesses that invest in energy efficiency, clean energy or ultra-low emission transport, as these new technologies can then be exported, something that Brexiters are apparently keen to promote. Instead, the government has scrapped zero-carbon buildings, abandoned the tidal barrage in Swansea Bay and frozen the fuel escalator, thus encouraging the rapid growth of diesel vehicles.
The chancellor boasted that this had saved motorists £47bn over the past seven years. Unfortunately, air pollution has cost the NHS £140bn over the same period and 280,000 premature deaths. How tragic that Brexit generates politicians of such limited vision who can only look backwards.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Chair, Help Rescue the Planet
Financial Times, 5 September 2018:
It’s a bit rich for car manufacturers and their suppliers to complain about Birmingham’s pollution charge when those same car manufacturers lobbied European governments to promote diesel and then rigged laboratory tests (“Birmingham businesses hit at pollution charge”, September 3).
Evidence of the harmful effects of air pollution is accumulating rapidly with a recent study from China showing cognitive deficits in adults exposed to high levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulates. Even more disturbing is a study from New York of non-smoking women where exposure to particulates during pregnancy was associated with mental health problems.
Birmingham residents, including car workers, should be grateful to their council for addressing an urgent public health issue on which the national Government has abdicated responsibility.
Former chair, Campaign for Lead Free Air, Marlow, Bucks, UK
The Guardian, 1 September 2018:
The link between cognitive performance and air pollution is very worrying but not surprising (High pollution levels ‘causing huge reduction in intelligence’, 28 August). The report by the Royal College of Physicians in 2016 drew a link between air pollution and dementia in the elderly and reduced cognitive performance in children. This recent study from China indicates that teenagers and adults are also affected.
We don’t know how these effects are mediated, but with neurotoxins such as lead the most critical period of exposure is likely to be during pregnancy. A study undertaken in New York of non-smoking mothers showed strong associations with foetal exposure to particulates and subsequent mental health problems in those children at primary school age. These problems included anxiety, depression and ADHD. This has momentous implications for public health. We are suffering an epidemic of mental health problems among British schoolchildren which the medical profession is unable to explain. There is an urgent need for further research in this area, but I am not aware of any study in the UK that addresses this problem.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Former chair, Campaign for Lead Free Air
The Observer, 5 August 2018:
Global warming is not that complex and many of the solutions are readily available (“Our scorched Earth needs voters to put more heat on their politicians”, Andrew Rawnsley, Comment). The problem is scientifically illiterate politicians who assume that decisions can be postponed indefinitely.
They are now engaged in a deadly folie à deux with car manufacturers or energy company executives who argue that they cannot make the necessary investments in green technology without the right signals from government, while politicians argue that matters can be left to the free market, a position that is formulated after intensive lobbying by those same companies.
The media are guilty of the same self-defeating logic. Little attention is devoted to air pollution or climate change on the grounds that the public appears uninterested in environmental issues.
Journalists should recall that the Greens achieved 15% of the vote in the EU elections of 1989 when ozone depletion hit the headlines. The dangers from climate change are immeasurably worse and it is time the media got their act together.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones, chair, Help Rescue the Planet
The Guardian, 28 March 2018:
Michael McCarthy is absolutely right to underline how little attention has been paid to the catastrophic loss of insect populations and farmland birds over the past 50 years, but this is part of a general trend that is accelerating.
The three main factors driving species loss are climate change, loss of habitat, and the introduction of alien species into vulnerable populations. The rate of loss for all species is currently 1,000 times higher than normal, with half of all amphibians, a third of all corals, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all plant species and a sixth of birds under threat of extinction.
Of course Homo sapiens is just another species that will disappear along with all the rest. If we lack the intelligence or the motivation to stop this process, we probably don’t deserve the description of sapiens.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Chair, Help Rescue The Planet
Financial Times, 23 February 2018:
Sir, George Whitesides (Letters February 21) states that the “Blue
Marble” image of Earth, taken from space in 1972, gave rise to the
modern environmental movement. This overlooks the campaign by
Stewart Brand in 1966 to force Nasa to release a rumoured colour photo
of Earth. The image was subsequently used on the covers of Brand’s
seminal Whole Earth Catalog that offered tools for ecological living and
was published from 1969 to 1972. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth
were founded in 1971. The great value of space access is that it is now
possible, using hyperspectral technology, to measure from space the
carbon flux on areas of Earth. This will make global carbon pricing and
trading viable as it brings scientific integrity to carbon sequestration
claims. Carbon markets have failed previously due to political
intervention and inaccurate measurement. Soil and forests, as carbon
sinks, are our main hope for reducing atmospheric greenhouse gas levels.
Satellites can help.
Hastings, E Sussex, UK
Financial Times, 21 February 2018:
Robin Russell-Jones (Letters, February 16) is right to assert that solving
climate change will involve a variety of Earth-bound commitments. He is
wrong though to dismiss the improvement of access to space by private
companies as pointless and harmful. The relevance of space-based
technologies to climate change mitigation has been self-evident since the
“Blue Marble” image of Earth, taken in 1972 by the crew of Apollo 17,
helped give rise to the modern environmental movement. Since then our
knowledge and understanding of the causes and effects of climate change
on the planet, as well as how to better manage the consequences for its
inhabitants, have been immeasurably improved because of our presence
in space. The new commercial space companies such as Virgin Galactic
aim to bring space transportation into the 21st century with reusable
space craft, cutting the cost and environmental impact of launch and so
permitting innovative space-based solutions to a host of Earth-based
challenges — including that of climate change.
Chief Executive, Virgin Galactic
Financial Times, 15 February 2018:
Elon Musk’s ambition to populate the world with electric vehicles
running on solar-powered batteries is a vision we can admire, but
pretending that Mars provides some insurance policy against fouling up
our planet is delusional (Opinion, Feb 10). Richard Branson is another
entrepreneur whose obsession with space travel is combined with concern
about climate change; but not every problem is amenable to planetary
The solution to climate change is closer to home and requires a huge
investment in renewables and energy conservation, combined with a
carbon tax that reflects the damage that fossil fuels impose on human
health and our environment. Virgin Galactic or building colonies on Mars
are vainglorious projects with little purpose and a huge carbon footprint.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Chair, Help Rescue the Planet,
The Times, 22 November 2017:
Sir, It is disingenuous to argue against a tax on diesel fuel merely because some of the latest models have lower nitrogen oxide emissions than cheaper petrol-driven vehicles. The main threat to health from the combustion of fossil fuels is small particulates, and historically diesel vehicles have produced far more of these than petrol-driven engines. The purpose of a diesel tax is to limit the use of the most polluting vehicles, but we still need a new Clean Air Act whose aim should be the replacement of all fossil fuel-dependent vehicles with clean methods of transport. Furthermore, this needs to happen well before the government’s proposed starting date of 2040.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Former chairman, Campaign for Lead-Free Air