A cruise is one of the most sought-after holiday destinations. The Caribbean, Mediterranean, Alaska, northern Europe and some areas in Asia have the largest array of Cruises with lavish restaurants and what seems like a relaxing holiday in the middle of nature but with all the conveniences of a touristy city on board. Worldwide a total of 24.2 million passengers enjoy cruises every year.
Unfortunately for cruise holiday goers, reports conducted by journalists in France and in the UK have shown that fine particulate matter (known as PM2.5 and PM 10) is particularly high on these cruise destinations.
Cruise ships are important sources of air pollution impacting the routes they cover and the cities in which they dock. One cruise ship emits the same amount of carbon dioxide as one million cars per day. We might think that this is only the trail left by the cruise, but in fact it affects also the people on the cruise. Journalists measured the air quality on the main deck and found that the concentration of fine particles was twice as high as the concentration in London’s Picadilly Circus and similar to the measurements in New Delhi, all coming from the same ship’s funnels.
Cruises use residual fuel of very low quality, it’s the fuel left after the refined fuel for cars has been extracted. But it’s cheap and maritime global regulation is limited and difficult to enforce. Nonetheless, the International Maritime Organization has fixed the 1st January 2020 as the date for all passenger ships to use fuel with maximum 0.5% lead content, it is now 3 times that level at 1.5%.
All cruise goers and communities living in the ports where these cruise ships dock have the right to know what they breathe. More regulation is essential, but constant monitoring on-board and off-board is essential to reassure users and communities of the air quality they are exposed to.
Blue -Meo’s air quality monitor- measures PM2.5 and PM10.
Let’s measure and take control of the air we breathe!
So much is said about the appalling air pollution in China, how its citizens suffer and how only the rich can take adequate protective measures. But so little has been said about how we may all be linked to this pollution, even if we have never set foot in China.
Researchers from Tsinghua University, University of California and other institutions have recently published a paper with very interesting data on how we all bear the brunt of air pollution in China and how pollutants aided by global air currents reach neighboring countries and affect the health even of those who leave in distant territories. This gives us an idea of the uncontrollable and controllable components of air pollution.
This research looked at PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) in 13 regions across 228 countries, and found that 12% of premature deaths (410,000) globally result from pollutants emitted in a different country, but which are often moved around by global wind conditions. While this result shows us how difficult it is to run away from air pollution that sees no real borders, it definitely makes us see the relevance of monitoring air quality regardless of how far we live from sources of pollution.
At the same time, this study explains how we all bear the brunt of air pollution in China and other countries of Asia. In fact, 90% of air pollution-related global mortality comes from power stations, airplanes, shipping and factories. All elements that constitute global trade. The ever-expanding nature of markets have made cheap products that flood western markets, the basis of a considerable amount of pollution in the East: China, India, Indonesia etc.
Cheap products are produced in Asian countries for a number of reasons – cheap labor and a lack of environmental regulations, which means that the process of production is highly contaminated and contributes to air pollution not to mention water or soil contamination. In addition, these products are produced far away from the place of their consumption so shipping and airplanes need to be heavily used to freight them to their end users.
Dr Qiang Zhang, one of the researchers, revealed that in 2007 consumption in the United States and Western Europe was tied to 110,000 premature deaths in China. In fact, the minute we buy cheap products, we are unconsciously increasing our share in air pollution.
“If the cost of imported products is lower because of less stringent air pollution controls in the regions where they are produced, then the consumer savings may come at the expense of lives lost elsewhere,”
This is why their main message is:
“We need to move our lifestyles away from cheap and wasteful,” Qiang Zhang
This research clearly shows the need to measure air quality and act to protect ourselves, regardless of how far we live from the source of pollution. And secondly, makes us understand how our consumption patterns can make a difference in the air quality suffered in other regions of the world.
In our day-to-day life we have all noticed that the morning after heavy rain it’s usually a clear and fresh morning with low levels of airborne pollution. Wind conditions usually blow pollution out of the cities and those peaks of harmful air are mostly in days with no air flow or precipitation. Empirically we have experienced the fact that weather patterns have an effect on dissipating air pollution or not.
This past week, researchers from the Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology –Atlanta, published a paper in Science Advances on the effects of arctic meltdown on air pollution in China. The research clearly shows the challenges faced by China to address its air quality problems. Until now, most critics have focused on the need for China to control its emissions and to strike a healthier balance between development and environment degradation. Authorities in China have an increasing interest in controlling air quality, have implemented emission caps and most importantly are now the country with the largest production of clean energy. However, air quality is far from improved and pollution has not decreased as was hoped. The relevance of this research is that it affirms, following weather modelling analysis, that in the Eastern Plains of China, emissions’ control is important but is not enough to improve air quality. In fact, major global climate change problems are playing a significant role in promoting the accumulation of air pollution in this region.
“The ventilation is getting worse,” said study author Yuhang Wang, an atmospheric scientist at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta to The Guardian “We think climate change, as it is driving rapid warming of the Arctic, is having a large effect on pollution in China.” “The very rapid change in polar warming is really having a large impact on China, emissions in China have been decreasing over the last four years, but the severe winter haze is not getting better. Mostly that’s because of a very rapid change in the high polar regions where sea ice is melting and snowfall is increasing,” he said. “This keeps cold air from getting into the eastern parts of China, where it would flush out air pollution.”
This is a scientific example of how weather conditions affect the build-up of air pollution in a certain place. This helps us further connect the dots between the bad air quality that harms our health and global problems such as green-house gas emissions, climate change and melting of the Arctic sea ice.Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activity cause between half to two-thirds of the fall in summer ice. Scientists predict that if the Arctic sea ice melting continues along with a correspondent increase in Eurasian snowfall, extremely poor ventilation conditions will occur and air quality control will prove increasingly challenging to implement unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced not only in China but globally. The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reported in February 2017 that: “Antarctic sea ice is nearing its annual minimum extent and continues to track at record low levels for this time of year. On February 13, Antarctic sea ice extent dropped to 2.29 million square kilometers (884,000 square miles), setting a record lowest extent in the satellite era.”
Air pollution affects us ALL and is one more environmental problem that is made worse by climate change!
Following COP21 and the Paris Agreement governments representing 96% of global greenhouse emissions (GHG) and 98% of the world’s population committed to reduce their emissions. They now need to ensure businesses and individuals use energy with less GHG emissions.
Currently there are two market-based options to encourage lower emissions based on higher costs for polluting industries: the carbon tax and cap-and-trade schemes (ETS). The carbon tax is a levy on the production, distribution and use of fossil fuels based on the amount of carbon emitted in that specific process, which is then translated into a tax on electricity, natural gas or oil. This system is built to encourage businesses and individuals to consume less energy or do it more efficiently, the more electricity they use the higher its cost. Therefore, the carbon tax policy encourages the use of less electricity by improving efficiency and at the same time it also makes green energy more price-competitive.
How do governments price carbon?
They put together all the costs caused by carbon emissions, such as healthcare costs, agricultural costs and others; and they tie them to the carbon used per year. It makes those responsible for the emission, responsible for the external costs of that emission too, and signals the need to reduce emissions or pay for it.
Technically, we have advanced considerably in carbon tax policies. The Paris Agreement has been a stepping stone to increase carbon pricing initiatives across the globe, in its Article 6 the Agreement provides a basis to facilitate carbon pricing. And according to the World Bank, 40 countries and more than 20 cities, states and provinces use carbon pricing –they account for 13% of annual global greenhouse emissions. Now 100 countries additional –accounting for 58% of global GHG- are planning or considering carbon pricing policies. Many of these initiatives are at a very early stage, but nonetheless they have taken that positive step which can then be the beginning of a more aggressive pricing strategy. The most promising advance for this coming year is that China is expected to implement its ETS. This would be the largest increase of GHG covered by carbon pricing.
Summary map of existing, emerging and potential regional, national and subnational carbon pricing initiatives (ETS and tax) from World Bank. State and Trends of Carbon Pricing 2016 (October)
However, the reality of many regions of the world and notably of Asia shows just how challenging this can be and why these policy efforts are sometimes not felt in the actual air we breathe.
In Asia, change could translate to significantly lower global carbon emissions. Because Asia is the largest emitter – 33% of the global emissions are generated in Asia where China alone uses more coal than the rest of the world combined, any successful implementation of policies can have a huge impact globally. However, the challenge is big. India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other Asian countries have a growing demand for electricity to meet their developmental needs -expected to double by 2030- and plans for this expansion rely heavily on coal fueled electricity. Nonetheless, China has a great interest to change their carbon emission trends and has set the target to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and increasing the non-fossil fuel to 20% by 2030. Similarly, India, Vietnam and Bangladesh are actively working to increase the use of renewables in the energy mix. The question is how can the solar energy or wind energy projects in all these countries be scaled-up to represent a larger portion of the national energy mix.
What can businesses and individuals do?
A quote by an American Author seems relevant at this point.
“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” ― Edward Everett Hale