“Why are we always playing catch up?”

By the start of the 19th century, Edinburgh was already disparagingly referred to as Auld Reekie, from the Old Norse word reykr meaning smoke or steam (from where the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik, also gets its name). In 1805, Edinburgh’s newly-fledged Police Commissioners has responsibilities for controlling chimney fires in the city. But they were also keenly aware of the issues around air pollution from the smoke these chimneys produced. In 1822 new powers were introduced in Edinburgh to try and combat air pollution. Factory owners were given six months-notice to install methods for consuming internally the smoke they produced rather than emitting it through industrial chimneys. The penalty for noncompliance was set at £50, about £5000 in modern value.

I have written extensively over the years about the bad policy that the EU has adopted e.g. – exchanging the burning of coal in favour of wood. Large subsidies are paid out to the biomass companies. The vast forests, once part of the Soviet Union and now under EU member’s control, would no longer be managed but clear felled, for-profit and help, in the short term, massage government figures to show their green credentials, and not too save the planet from global warming. So what was once a carbon sink is now a desert. Of course, the plan was always that the owners of the land would replant, but once the forests had gone there was no real commitment to replant, why to spend money planting trees when it cannot possibly profit the landowner, trees take time to grow.  

Nowadays, whilst things have undoubtedly improved, air pollution remains a major killer. Specifically, there are concerns around the levels of the fine particular matter in our atmosphere. The smallest particles, less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter (usually abbreviated as PM2.5 pollution), are the most harmful and most concerning. PM2.5 pollution produces multiple adverse effects on the human body – heart attacks, strokes, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, depression and dementia. At present more than one-third of all UK local authority areas are recording PM2.5 levels above the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended safe upper limit. In 2018, 33,000 deaths in the UK were attributed to air pollution. Think of the cost to the NHS.

Worldwide air pollution accounts for 1 in 5 premature deaths and, in 2018, it is estimated that PM2.5 pollution killed almost 9 million people across the globe. Everyone is now aware of the impact of diesel engines on the production of PM2.5 pollution.

So was the EU right to change from coal to wood?

The growth in the sale and installation of wood-burning stoves accelerated over the two last decades. As such, they have now become a major source of PM2.5 air pollution both within our homes and in the external atmosphere. In New Zealand, despite the presence of the strictest wood stove standards in the world, it is estimated that. Wood burning stoves account for over half the health costs of all man-made air pollution.

In the UK, PM2.5 air pollution from stoves is thought to be responsible for 38% of lethal air pollution. Wood smoke contains a similar toxic and carcinogenic chemical cocktail to tobacco smoke and it is estimated that a wood-burning stove will increase internal air pollution in a home by as much as three times. All this led to a joint statement from the British Lung Foundation and Asthma UK in December 2020:

“To protect yourself and others, especially children, avoid buying a wood burning stove, or using an open fire.”

Today we see a change of heart –  Late Tuesday in Brussels, a committee of the European Parliament voted to make substantial changes to both how the union subsidizes biomass, and how it counts emissions from burning it — policies with major consequences if passed by the full Parliament. It’s part of a broad package of climate policies that would alter not only the way Europe generates electricity in coming years but also how the European Union meets its targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

“This vote is a historic breakthrough,” said Martin Pigeon, forests and climate campaigner with Fern, a nonprofit group focused on European forests.

“For the first time, a major E.U. regulatory body makes clear that one of the E.U.’s most climate-wrecking policies of the last decade, incentivizing the burning of forests in the name of renewable energy, has to stop.”

But my question to the lawmakers is this:

“Why are we always playing catch up? Why are we always trying to find cures for the symptoms and not for the disease?”

We know the causes of global warming and have done for at least a century, yet still today we spend billions trying to mitigate the symptoms and not eliminating the cause.

Stupid is what stupid does.

Stay safe.   

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