Hill and Blue Sky

The Air We Breathe

Nicola Biggerstaff

A new report has found that only seven countries in the world meet the international air quality standard set by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Of the 134 countries studied for the report by IQAir, only Australia, New Zealand, Mauritius, Grenada, Iceland, Estonia and Finland were found to be under the “safe” measurement for PM2.5, a type of particulate pollutant, of five micrograms per cubic metre.

While it is generally accepted among environmental campaigners that some of these countries measure below due to the general distance of the nation from larger polluters, namely Australia, New Zealand, Mauritius and Grenada, it should be noted that Scotland, a nation whose government seemingly prides itself on its green initiatives, is not on this list. And while IQAir currently lists Scotland’s air quality as ‘good’, we can, and should, be doing better.

This also comes in the wake of the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC) now reporting that Scotland’s climate plans are ‘not credible’, with the plans as of December 2022 consisting of “ambitious targets” that “lacked a clear delivery plan”.

The Scottish Government are still floundering on climate. Are still a government of all-talk, little-action, who aim to keep the environment in the news enough for voters to care, but not so much that it draws attention to their lack of progress.

It should be noted that several areas in Scotland that were measured did meet WHO standards, including Edinburgh, Greenock, Inverness, and several towns in the Lanarkshire area. It was the averages for other towns which put Scotland over safe air pollution measures, such as Aberdeen, Perth and Kilmarnock. However, this is still a bad sign for Scottish climate policy, that we can’t seem to walk the walk despite having so much environmental legislation on the table, or in the consultation stage.

According to IQAir, approximately seven million deaths each year can be attributed to air pollution. Whether from direct inhalation of toxic fumes leading to various cancers and respiratory illnesses, or the irritation exacerbating chronic conditions like asthma or cystic fibrosis. Here in Scotland, it has been attributed to just over 1,700 deaths every year, but some sources claim it to be as many as 2,500 or even up to 3,500 annually.

Yet the solutions seem to be obvious. While individual measures, such as reducing our intake of meat and imported goods, incorporating reusable materials into our everyday routines and switching to electric vehicles will have a minimal impact compared to legislative changes which would force multinational corporations and other large polluters to change their practices, it’s still good to play our part where we can.

According to heycar, electric vehicle sales increased by 37.5% last year, with just under a million of them now on our roads. And while the phasing out of fossil fuels is always a positive step, we’re now facing a new, emerging problem.

Electric vehicles contain heavy batteries which put additional friction on their tyres. This causes tyres to wear down faster, which also emits particulate matter into the air, further contributing to air pollution, to the extent that, even if all cars on the road were to go electric, the decrease in their emissions may only be marginal.

This is not a condemnation of individual car usage, especially electric cars. As we’ve discussed before, for many workers, they simply do not have a choice, with buying and maintaining a car turning out to be the least expensive option for travel whether due to the unaffordability, or complete lack of, public transport in their area. This is instead yet another plea to our elected representatives that there needs to be big changes to the way public transport in Scotland is funded and ran.

Despite campaigners’ persistence on the issue, the government and many local authorities are still failing to connect the dots on just how beneficial to the environment an effective and affordable public transport infrastructure will be. And that the only way to achieve this, to achieve a truly fair, green and accessible network is through bringing them all under public ownership

Last week was a win for Get Glasgow Moving’s Better Buses for Strathclyde campaign, when SPT announced their plans to bring bus services in the area into public ownership on Friday. While there is still a long way to go, with the first publicly owned buses not expected to run in Glasgow for several years yet, and their interim plans for partially private so-called ‘partnerships’ now under scrutiny, this is a positive first step to helping the city of Glasgow finally reach its climate targets.

Common Weal are proud to support Get Glasgow Moving’s Better Buses for Strathclyde campaign, and are delighted by both the news that SPT do plan to bring the bus networks in the region into public ownership, and that their petitionreached over ten thousand signatures earlier this month. The petition is still open, and we encourage our supporters to add their names here.

1 thought on “The Air We Breathe”

  1. I do not use my free bus pass for the simple reason that I find buses much less comfortable, much less convenient and time expensive compared to taking my car. The longer term model for transport will not be based on fleets of buses – it will be based on fleets of driverless cars that can be hired and summoned and which will then transport from A to B without stopping every two minutes for passengers to join or exit. Private car ownership will cease to be attractive when there is an equally good but cheaper alternative readily available.

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