Identifying the culprits behind river pollution



The Guardian, 17 August 2020:

The failure of the government to protect our rivers extends beyond the Environment Agency (The government is looking the other way while Britain’s rivers die before our eyes, 12 August).
Defra’s Clean Air Strategy 2019 focused on the need to control emissions from agriculture, notably ammonia, which is a precursor for small particulates (PM2.5). Ammonia is released from nitrogen-containing fertilisers, and manure/slurry spread on to fields, particularly during the spring. Releases of ammonia can be reduced significantly by choosing the right sort of fertiliser, and injecting the manure into the soil. This would also protect rivers.
Yet the list of financial incentives offered to farmers in the government’s current agriculture bill does not include air pollution. This is a glaring omission, as the government’s own data shows that the UK is set to breach the EU National Emissions Ceiling Directive for both ammonia and PM2.5.
The government’s solution to this dilemma is to leave the EU and create its own green watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection, which will doubtless prove as toothless as the Environment Agency, and other similar government-funded organisations.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Marlow, Buckinghamshire

Facts behind the UK’s ‘green’ recovery



The Guardian, 30 July 2020:

The investments made by the UK government in the transport and energy sectors as a result of the pandemic can usefully be compared with France and Germany using data from (The Guardian view on the green recovery: Britain is being left behind, 28 July).

Overall subsidies are £11bn in the UK, £38.1bn in France, and £44.6bn in Germany, which includes their £9bn hydrogen strategy. All three countries are supporting airlines, but in the UK there is no requirement to improve fuel efficiency. The total investment in “green” energy and transport is £8.5bn in the UK, £19.1bn in France and £21.5bn in Germany. So the UK contribution is smaller and only 25% is targeted, compared with 97% in France and 92% in Germany.

An example of an unconditional subsidy is the £3bn allocated by the UK government towards improving the thermal efficiency of buildings. No details have been provided as to how this will work, and most of the £3bn appears to be recycled monies.

A targeted subsidy would be the £1.6bn bailout of Transport for London, but bailing out fossil-fuel dependent industries such as airlines without imposing any climate change obligations is bad policy, particularly in the run-up to Cop26.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Chair, Help Rescue the Planet
Dave Faulkner
Founder, Marlow CAN

Getting to grips with the climate crisis


The Guardian, 27 July 2019:

Our political system has been hijacked by a cabal of ideologically driven free marketeers with no democratic mandate. Air pollution and climate change, the two most urgent issues confronting society, are nowhere mentioned in the bubbles of bombastic rhetoric generated by our new prime minister. Boris Johnson’s main contribution to air quality as mayor of London was to cancel the western extension of the congestion zone. As for climate change, he presided over a 60% reduction in climate attaches as foreign secretary and subsequently accepted an expenses-paid trip to the US courtesy of the American Enterprise Institute, a fossil-fuel supporting free-market thinktank partially funded by the Koch brothers. I no longer recognise our leadership as embodying British values. I feel I’m living in a foreign dictatorship consumed by profit and self-interest.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Chair, Help Rescue the Planet

Air pollution, ill health and the need for a 21st-century Model T Ford


The Guardian, 23 May 2019:

The harmful effects of air pollution during early life deserve greater attention (Air pollution damages ‘every organ in the body’, 18 May). Ongoing research in the US has reported that exposure during pregnancy to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a constituent of diesel exhaust, is linked to developmental delay at three years, an IQ reduction of 4-5 points at five years, increased anxiety, depression and inattention at six to seven years, a reduction in surface white matter in the brain at eight years, and delayed self-regulatory behaviour which became most significant at 11 years. These data are “preliminary” only in the sense that they have not yet been replicated. Benzo-a-pyrene (BaP) is the only PAH routinely monitored by the EU. Due to the rapid growth in the sale of diesel vehicles since 2000, levels of BaP at traffic-monitoring sites has increased by 52%.

These findings have huge implications for public health, educational attainment and the high level of mental health problems currently afflicting schoolchildren in the UK. It is beyond belief that the government’s only response is a vague commitment to halve the number of people exposed to levels above the WHO limit for small particulates by 2025. This is not even a target; it is an aspiration that is legally unenforceable.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones Scientific adviser

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

Can we humans save ourselves from self-destruction?


The Guardian, 8 May 2019:

There is a strong case for dating the start of the Anthropocene to 1950, since which time a million species have become threatened; 1950 coincides with the growth of international travel, leading to the introduction of alien species into vulnerable populations which then collapse. Back in 1950, world population was one-third of its current level. A combination of antibiotics, vaccination programmes and ineffective family planning have seen human numbers rocket past 7 billion, and they are still rising. Finally the demands of humanity have led to deforestation and widespread loss of habitat in every part of the globe.

It is entirely appropriate that the UN and other institutions produce reports documenting the disappearance and decline of most species on Earth. But they will have no impact at all unless they are accompanied by measures to limit human numbers.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Chair, Help Rescue the Planet


Dieselgate and the unintended consequences of anti-idling drive


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

Gas strategy in the UK is wrongheaded


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


Nuclear energy is key to our future


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

Climate change and the true cost of economic growth


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

Battle to clean up the air we breathe


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