Friday 28th October 2016                 Change text size:

Climate change aside, we’re harming our children with dirty energy

Photo: Graeme Maclean via Flickr

Climate change deniers and sceptics expend an enormous amount of energy attempting to debunk the overwhelming science on climate change and its human causes. Would the unnecessary deaths caused by air pollution from burning fossil fuels be the key to changing their minds?

Burning fossil fuels creates outdoor air pollution. Outdoor air pollution leads to human illness and death. Children are particularly susceptible to the fine particulate matter of outdoor air pollution due to the immaturity of their respiratory system. Using clean energy doesn’t create pollution. Less pollution means fewer human illnesses and deaths.

The World Health Organisation states, “Industries, households, cars and trucks emit complex mixtures of air pollutants, many of which are harmful to health. Of all of these pollutants, fine particulate matter has the greatest effect on human health. Most fine particulate matter comes from fuel combustion, both from mobile sources such as vehicles and from stationary sources such as power plants, industry, households or biomass burning.

Fine particulate matter is associated with a broad spectrum of acute and chronic illness, such as lung cancer and cardiopulmonary disease. Worldwide, it is estimated to cause about 9% of lung cancer deaths, 5% of cardiopulmonary deaths and about 1% of respiratory infection deaths.”

In May, the Supreme Court ruled that the UK was failing in its efforts to meet European air pollution limits, following the government’s admission that this was the case.

James Thornton, chief executive of environmental law firm ClientEarth, which brought up the case, said, “This landmark decision […] paves the way for the European commission to take legal action against the UK. The ruling marks a turning point in the fight for clean air and will pile the pressure on the environment secretary, Owen Paterson.

He must now come up with an ambitious plan to protect people from carcinogenic diesel fumes. Until now, his only policy has been lobbying in Europe to try and weaken air pollution laws.

It has been estimated that every year in the UK, air pollution causes 50,000 early deaths and is linked to heart and respiratory diseases including asthma. Here are some facts about asthma:

– 5.4 million people in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma: 1.1 million children (one in 11) and 4.3 million adults (one in 12)

– There were 1,143 deaths from asthma in the UK in 2010 (16 of these were children aged 14 and under)

(Author’s note: I suffer from very mild asthma and have only ever had a few really bad attacks. There is nothing more terrifying than the panic of not being able to breathe. And I know what’s going on, so I cannot imagine the terror a child feels. It has been described as being buried alive.)

Dealing with the health fallout of air pollution costs the NHS £8.5-20 billion annually (although this is thought to be an underestimate) that could otherwise be spent on curing natural illnesses and disease.

We, as a society, are rightly outraged when a single child is harmed or murdered.

Yet we turn a blind eye to the harm we are doing to our own children through our choice of energy supply and hostility to the development of renewable energy capability in the UK. People would rather their child had asthma than have a wind farm spoil the countryside’s perceived aesthetics. Our passion for cars and road building continues unabated, despite the visible and invisible harm they present to our children.

If you don’t buy the argument on the many risks of human-caused climate change, the argument on pollution’s harm is settled. Children in the UK and across the globe probably have the evidence to bring a class action against the adult population for harming them in this way.

We’d love to hear from James Delingpole, Lord Lawson, George Osborne and Christopher Monckton (the four horsemen of the climate apocalypse), as well as Christopher Booker and Matt Ridley, about their views on air pollution, but we’re probably just tilting at windmills.

Further reading:

Government admits to breaching legal air quality limits

Government in court over air pollution ‘scandal’

The World of CO2: infographic analysis

Why our quality of life is sacrificed by the continued use of fossil fuels

The Guide to Limitless Clean Energy 2013

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