The 21st century has seen climate and environment being put front and center in Western media and politics. While we in the West have been blind for way too long on our environmental impact, we now have chosen to focus on something which causes division. Climate change has in some way become a partisan issue, instead of uniting us against a common threat. Debating the long term consequences of mankind’s impact is not necessarily a bad thing. It
The silent killer
Air pollution generally isn’t a very present threat of which we constantly can be aware. This, however, does not limit its impact. The World Health Organization claims that just from living near a road with heavy-duty vehicle traffic, children have a twice as high risk to develop respiratory problems. The European Environmental Agency concluded in a report that air pollution has a significant impact on the health of urban Europeans by cutting lives short and increasing medical costs. In the same report they estimate that for some pollutants, the premature death toll could be as high as 400.000 per year. Not only are people dying earlier from air pollution, but some also develop respiratory problems which makes lives more expensive and much less pleasant.
The causes of man-made air pollution are many: agriculture, industry, energy generation, transport, and households all contribute to the spread of certain pollutants. While guidelines and laws are in place to protect us against air pollution excesses, we still not have managed to create a Europe where our people are truly free from its harmful effects. In the meantime, our leaders and celebrities are flying around the world visiting climate change conferences to enlighten us on the ‘real’ impending danger.
A symptom of our time
There is no question that our politicians are doing something about air pollution, the question should be are they doing enough? Blame for this problem should go to a fundamental contradiction in the Western mind. On the one hand, we want to have a clean and safe living environment, on the other, we want to consume, produce and travel as much as we can. The air pollution caused by transport is a great example of this. While we have tried to regulate the amount of pollution that comes out of transport vehicles, we have managed to steadily increase the amount of transport. This is no serious way of improving our living conditions, it can be seen as damage control at best. The economic direction we have taken as a bloc requires us to ever keep growing. This strategy of unlimited growth which we have seemed to copy directly from a cancer cell can be applied to all causes of air pollution. This will mostly mean that without technical innovations or radically stricter regulation, air pollution will in some ways continue to keep getting worse.
The men of always
No politician has ever campaigned on the theme that kids with respiratory are just the cost of doing business. We, however, can still greatly doubt their commitments to the public’s health. A fascinating example of this is a Green Peace investigation from 2015. When a European group was formed to create new limits for air pollution by the coal industry across Europe, Green Peace investigated who the members were. Of the 352 members of the technical working group, 183 either worked at the companies that were going to be regulated or at associated lobbying groups. While it seems sensible for the EU to include some experts from the private sector, a majority in a technical working group gives the impression that the game is rigged from the start. The question arises if the EU staffs all its air pollution groups like this. Could this perhaps be symbolic of all EU handling surrounding economic and environmental matters? Another sobering conclusion from this investigation was that even representatives of countries with large coal-burning facilities wanted to trade in the health of its people for economic growth. Basically, a taxpayer-funded exercise to actively prevent stricter regulation on air pollution. When governments and lobbyists start to align on these kinds of issues, we truly have a problem.
No end in sight?
A society that values unlimited economic growth will never be able to truly value the health of its people and the