Azara Blog: Another report against cars and airplanes

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Date published: 2012/04/24

The BBC says:

Road pollution is more than twice as deadly as traffic accidents, according to a study of UK air quality.

The analysis appears in Environmental Science and Technology, carried out by Steve Yim and Steven Barrett, pollution experts from MIT in Massachusetts.

They estimate that combustion exhausts across the UK cause nearly 5,000 premature deaths each year.

The pair also estimate that exhaust gases from aeroplanes cause a further 2,000 deaths annually.

By comparison, 2010 saw, 1,850 deaths due to road accidents recorded.

Overall, the study's findings are in line with an earlier report by the government's Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP), which found that air pollution in 2008 was responsible for about 29,000 deaths in the UK.

The new study arrives at a slightly lower annual figure of 19,000, a difference the lead author of the COMEAP study, Fintan Hurley, attributes to differing methodology.
The analysis identifies key improvements that would help reduce the health burden of air pollution.

Practical measures include the reduction of black carbon emitted in car exhausts - especially from older cars that fail to burn their fuel completely.

Reductions in nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions would also help, though perhaps at a cost of making vehicles less efficient.

Far more effective, experts say, would be to invest in public transport, taking cars off the road altogether.

Such improvements would come at a cost, but so does continuing with business as usual.

"We estimate the premature deaths are costing the UK at least £6 billion a year," says Steven Barrett, "and perhaps as much as £60 billion."

For comparison, Crossrail is projected to cost £14.8 billion to build and expected to remove 15,000 car journeys during the morning peak.

It is fairly safe to say that the authors of the report do not like the internal combustion engine. With any technology in life there are of course upsides and downsides. The authors only report the downsides. They do not report how many lives are saved and improved because of the existence of cars and airplanes (and so much other modern technology), allowing the modern economy to function.

They are under the delusion that "investment in public transport" is somehow the golden saviour. It is not. It is very expensive and what that expense represents, when you look at the entire system and not just the small bit (the actual energy it takes to move the object in question) that public transport zealots like to focus on, is a huge consumption of energy, most of it indirect.

If you want to take their Crossrail numbers at face value, then they are saying they are willing to spend around one million pounds up front (14.8 billion divided by 15000) to remove one car journey during the rush hour. Of course that is not quite fair, since there are journeys not in the rush hour. And there are roads to build and maintain as well. Etc. But it is bizarre that they are willing to plug their favourite transport solution with such a poor illustration.

The comparison with deaths from road accidents is also misleading. People who die from accidents typically die long before they might otherwise have done. People who die from health problems are normally fairly old and even in an ideal world with zero pollution would not necessarily have many more years of life.

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