DIE Sels

Not so very long ago on my website – I wrote a blog called: “Give me some air”. At the time – the stand on air pollution in one pocket of the UK seemed to be a piece of localised government administrational madness. However – since then – it appears that the problem is most certainly real in cities – and guess what? Another piece of administrational madness helped create that too.


The issue? Our beloved ‘cheap to run’ personal diesel vehicles. Now – this is the UK – we like to hold onto our money. Can’t blame folks – hit in the wallet with every stealth fine and tax in the Christendom et al. However, saving money nearly always comes at a price – and the good old diesel engine is no exception. It might use less fuel – and it might attract a lower CO2 cost on the ‘soon to be abolished’ paper road fund licence disc – but it’s choking our cities and a big contributor to the 9% of UK residents who die early due to the effects of air pollution.


I wasn’t around in 1955 – so I don’t remember great London smog – but older family members do. It forced the (then) government of the day to introduce smokeless legislation into London. It happened because it was a visible and great event – a tipping point (if I may tip my hat to the legendary Malcolm Gladwell). Trouble is – as Malcolm Gladwell will tell you – you need a great event to create a tipping point. Unfortunately for the young children of London and our other towns and cities in the UK – the slow steady creep of diesel engine particulate emissions – does not constitute a ‘great event’. The low birth weights and poor lung development of those children now being recorded in areas of high air pollution is not a ‘great event’. The increased risk of cardio-vascular and respiratory disorders in people regularly stuck in traffic does not constitute a ‘great event’. It is however – a slow, steady and pernicious creep in the wrong direction.


Five percent of TOTAL HUMAN MORTALITY is due to air pollution. Exposure to diesel exhaust is 40% of ambient air pollution. Dr Jeremy Langrish of the University of Edinburgh has studied the relationship between air pollution and heart problems. Pollution particulate affects the blood vessels as they are small enough to enter the bloodstream – increasing the chance of blood clots and causing changes in blood pressure. Conclusion – you CAN have a heart attack due to heavy pollution.


Dr Benjamin Barrett – an air quality science lecturer at the University of London has studied air quality over a considerable period of time and believes the stubborn level of Nitrous Oxides and P.M (Particulate Matter) in our city air is most probably attributable to rise in use of the diesel engine. I mentioned earlier – that a piece of administrational madness helped create this. The desire to put lower CO2 footprint drove a somewhat myopic raft of ‘incentives’ to car fleet users in the shape of tax breaks around the turn of the century. In those days – I drove a company car – and a petrol one. Our coffee-shop bleating about the increase in diesel-related “soot” more than amply ruining any benefit of lowered CO2 fell on deaf ears. But our stance seems to have been borne-out by science.


Worse still – when a company called ‘Emissions Analytics’ began to test motor manufacturer’s claims about the performance of their diesel-based products in real life driving conditions, rather than in lab conditions – there were some further unpleasant surprises. Out of five hundred vehicles tested – only eight met the boundaries of their lab tests in real life city driving. Many produced up to 5 times the pollution claimed. Up to five times the pollution claimed is produced – and this is a big worry now that since 2011, sales of diesel-engined cars is greater every year than the petrol-engined equivalents. Out rurally – this is not such a worry as in cities.


So – what does this mean? Well – in these difficult economic times – anyone who has sunk money into a new diesel car, small van or 4×4 is almost certainly not going to sell it anytime soon for the greater benefit of mankind. On top – the legislation around taxing vehicles could take years to fix. Whilst the various consultation groups and steering committees wrangle with this issue – children will be growing up with damaged and defective lungs, respiratory problems, heart defects & those of us going about our work will also be severely compromised regarding our health on a daily basis.


Now for the GOOD NEWS. If there were a air purification system already available – that we can deploy relatively cheaply – AND is proven to be effective in reducing particulates – would this be of interest?


I thought so – and there is – it’s called NATURE. It’s been around very much longer than humanity and it’s brilliant at eating particulate, dust and a raft of other pollutants.


Professor Barbara Maher – an environmental magnetist and lecturer at the University of Lancaster – is shedding light on the effects of pollution by measuring the amount of magnetised particulate on the leaves of the humble Silver Birch (Betula Pendula). Trees like the birch – are effectively free and cheap roadside pollution monitoring and (most importantly) pollution COLLECTION devices. For Professor Maher – the joy of this is researching and coming up with ways of reducing our pollution hotspots. Inspired by the crusade of Michael Faraday to make science available to all – Prof Maher’s work is hugely important in this arena. So much of the life we live is dependant on tiny magnetised particles in and around our bodies – it’s just taking the best and ditching the rest!


For me at Sensescape – the joy of this is integrating nature into any environment where it has a beneficial effect on human health. So often – the work of Sensescape is seen as having a huge psychologically positive effect due to aesthetics. Being pleasing on the senses is (of course) wonderful – and a privilege to serve – but it’s the cutting of science with humanitarian endeavour that also gets me going.


I’m working now with a variety of collaborative partners including Treebox – all of us determined to bring cleaner air to towns and cities based around the use of plants. These will help reduce PM (Particulate matter) in areas where the most vulnerable people reside. It’s also cost-effective – the numbers run. We aren’t tree-hugging hippies. This is where the practical rubber hits the road with every bit as much daily purpose as those maligned diesel cars!


If you are interested in and/or can contribute to plant-based clean air solutions – please make contact as soon as possible via the site.

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