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Empowering UK Cities to Meet CO2 Targets in the Post-Brexit Era

by John Brian Shannon

C40 Cities Initiative, CO2, UK cities

Image courtesy of the C40 Cities Initiative.

Whether you believe in global warming and sea level rise or not, most people would agree that breathing clean air is better for you than breathing toxic exhaust fumes and that drinking clean water is healthier for human beings. If you don’t believe that statement, you’ve got bigger problems than polluted air in cities.

A British citizen emits more CO2 in two weeks than some people in Africa do in a year, research shows

“The UK ranked 36th in the world for its CO2 emissions from consumption spread across its population, totalling at 8.34 tonnes per person in 2017 – the last year when such data for the UK was available. The global average for that year was 4.7 tonnes of CO2 per person.” — The Independent

As always, there’s a hard way to go about accomplishing something and an easier, more efficient way of getting things done. Which brings me to the point of this particular blog post, and that is… there is no reason that UK cities need to ‘go it alone’ in their quest to lower CO2 emissions — rather, by aligning with the C40 Cities initiative which provides expertise and other supports to member cities, UK cities can streamline their progress and get even better results by taking the C40 cities route to clean air and water.

Cities around the world are building a brighter future

“Human civilisation is facing an environmental crisis on a global scale. The world has failed to stop carbon emissions rising in a way that is consistent with a sustainable future for humanity and now we face a climate emergency. But the world’s leading cities are taking action to respond to the climate crisis and create the future we want.” — C40 Cities

There is help in numbers. There is also an unparalleled degree of technical assistance offered by the C40 Cities organization, and member cities share the results of their various CO2 reduction programmes with other member cities. And, being part of a larger group dedicated to clean air and water and better health for citizens means that UK cities won’t be ‘going it alone’.

Europe's Biggest CO2 emitters

Europe’s Biggest CO2 emitters. Image courtesy of Statista


Clean Air and Clean Water Works to Lower Healthcare Spending

Macmillan Cancer Support says that half of the UK population will develop cancer in their lifetime — which puts an unbelievable strain on the NHS, on families where half of them will face some kind of cancer in their life, and on the GDP of the United Kingdom.

Although there isn’t a direct link from highly polluted city air to cancer, it is widely acknowledged that respiratory ailments of all kinds are common in cities known for poor air quality and respiratory cancers represent some percentage of those ailments.

Half of UK population ‘will get cancer in lifetime’

The number of people in the UK who will get cancer during their lifetime will increase to nearly half the population by 2020, a report has forecast. Macmillan Cancer Support said the projected figure of 47%, up from the current 44%, would put huge pressure on the NHS. But the charity said that more people were surviving cancer compared to 20 years ago. — BBC

Even though cancer survival rates have improved in recent years, it becomes ever more costly as new (and astonishingly expensive!) technology comes online to improve the survivability odds of cancer. Prevention therefore, becomes more important as the incidence of various cancers increase and treatment becomes more expensive.

Cancer in the UK 2019

In the 1970s, only 1 in 4 cancer patients would survive their disease for ten years or more. By 2010, this had risen to 2 in 4, and survival continues to improve today. This is due to groundbreaking research, innovative new treatments, and the tireless efforts of staff right across the NHS. However, there is still much to be done. This report summarises the current state of cancer in the UK, recognising where progress has been made, and highlighting the challenges that we continue to face. Cancer Research UK’s ambitious vision to see 3 in 4 people with cancer survive for ten years or more by 2034 serves as a driving force […] across the UK to achieve this.” — cruk.org

By working to improve air quality in UK cities, respiratory disease rates will fall — including cancers of the respiratory kind — which will help to lower NHS spending. See how it all weaves together? Investing in clean air in cities means lower healthcare spending.

And that’s a point sometimes forgotten by some of the good-hearted clean air purists pushing for lower CO2 emissions. Clean air in cities will save us money! Even hard-nosed business tycoons should understand that kind of logic.


What Can You Do?

What can you do to help improve the air in UK cities and lower your chances for air pollution caused illness?

Here are five ways to become part of the solution instead of part of the problem:

  1. Leave your car at home and use public transit to commute to any UK city.
  2. Install a programmable thermostat in your home and set it to ‘Eco Mode’.
  3. Install double-glazed windows, insulated exterior doors and seal drafts.
  4. Once per week, consume plant-based protein instead of meat protein.
  5. Shop locally. Decide to buy your meat and veg from local suppliers.

By choosing to lower your CO2 footprint, you’ll be working to lower the overall air pollution in the city in which you live or work, and you’ll help lower your chances of contracting some kind of respiratory disease (including respiratory cancers) and you’ll be setting a fine example for your family, friends and associates.

Living a healthier life, emitting less CO2, and living in cleaner cities will help to deliver the kind of transformation that Britons and UK cities need to survive and thrive in the 21st-century.


Related Articles

Post-Brexit: Designing a 21st Century Rail Network to Serve Britons Better

by John Brian Shannon

One of the great things about Brexit is that the UK will be free to change anything within the remit of the UK government — but without the drag induced by the overly-bureaucratic EU governmental architecture slowing things down to such an extent that by the time anything gets approved it’s no longer relevant.

And judging by actual need, doing a full reset on Britain’s passenger rail network must rank as one of the top items requiring attention by HM government in the first quarter of 2020.

It’s not only the inconvenience of slow, outdated trains that fail to depart on schedule or show up at all, or the insecurity of Britons left standing on lonely platforms waiting in the darkness for a late train, it’s the lost productivity of late or no-show workers who take the train to work that acts as a drag on UK GDP. Any of those concerns alone represent a serious issue with the British rail system, but in totality suggest that Britain’s rail system is in crisis. Which means that minor adjustments won’t suffice.

And the only important metric in any passenger rail system is customer satisfaction — otherwise, no one will bother riding trains any more.


Five Ways to a Better Rail Network

People will only ride trains if they meet expectations IMHO, and at present, less than 50% of Britain’s train routes meet the following simple but important criteria; Cost, appropriate scheduling and destinations, comfort, and such modern-day necessities as high speed WiFi, snackbar, clean washrooms, and a high degree of personal security while aboard the train and in train stations, and on platforms and other common areas, rank highly with riders.

  1. The UK government should legislate a universal daypass that costs only £10 per/person per/day (except for business class) This price adjustment would revolutionize how Britons think about train travel vs. commuting by car. The proposed pricing system would apply no matter how long or short the trip and the daypass would remain valid until the end of the service day. (Because some trains run past midnight, tickets would need to remain valid until 3:00am or whenever the last stop of the day occurs anywhere on the system) That daypass ticket should allow unrestricted trips anywhere within the UK on that day with the ability for riders to ‘hop on’ and ‘hop off’ a train as many times as they like. More ridership means more revenue, which would also translate into less automobile congestion in cities and work to lower CO2 emissions, and it would improve worker reliability/productivity which is tied to national GDP. Whatever per rider cost isn’t covered by the £10 daypass revenue stream should be subsidized by the UK government as less traffic congestion, lower CO2 emissions and higher productivity are important public goods. If the government is to subsidize anything at all in the UK… unquestionably, rail should be it… because real benefits accrue to large numbers of citizens, businesses, and UK GDP just by making trains affordable for everyone.
  2. The highest customer satisfaction rail network in the UK should be given the mandate to manage the entire UK rail system and could at its discretion, subcontract some routes to other rail networks on condition they meet GCR customer service standards (for one example of a highly-rated rail system operator) going forward.
  3. Rail stations and other rail infrastructure should be built by the UK military with 21st century security needs top of mind. The UK military should create a military branch parallel to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) which built most of America’s dams, levees, canals, and some bridges and tunnels, and other important infrastructure at a lower cost when compared to building the same projects employing (for profit) private companies; Sometimes 1/10th the cost! Projects deemed too expensive for private companies to build were, and still are, turned over to the ACOE by the U.S. government. Many military recruits begin their adjustment to military life by enlisting with the ACOE, then move to combat training later-on if they feel they want to continue in the military. It’s a good way for young people to try out military life before committing to the much harsher combat training regime and it still counts towards their tuition-free college degree credit if they signed-up under the ROTC program which rewards them with one tuition-free college degree for 4-years of service in either the U.S. ACOE or the U.S. Army/Air Force/Navy or Marines.
  4. All trains in the UK should be pulled by hydrogen fuelled locomotives and all overhead electrical wire systems for trains should be removed. (Germany is building hydrogen fuelled locomotives and two are in the UK undergoing testing) Hydrogen can be produced using surplus wind turbine energy instead of that energy being wasted due to low electricity demand at certain hours of the day. (The wind blows whenever the wind blows, but it doesn’t always blow during peak demand hours) At night for instance, electrical demand in the UK falls to 15% of maximum daytime demand, yet the wind turbines might be churning out prodigious amounts of electricity far in excess of what is needed to meet demand at that hour. The national grid then ‘curtails’ wind turbine output by remotely applying the brake to stop the wind turbine blades from spinning, or remotely turn the angle of the wind turbine blades to slow or even stop the blades from turning. Which represents a massive lost opportunity! Thousands of MegaWatt hours of energy per year are lost via such curtailment, therefore, by building a number of small hydrogen plants (reverse-osmosis) near rail lines, surplus wind power can be utilized to create hydrogen for Britain’s hydrogen fuelled locomotive fleet. Therefore, no matter what happens to the electrical grid on any given day, including a complete electrical blackout, hydrogen fuelled trains will always run on time as their fuel is carried onboard and will easily last them until the last stop of the day.
  5. All train stations should incorporate useful shops and services and the rental agent and landlord should always be the government. Useful stores such as a coffee shop, a post office, a secure and patrolled bicycle lock-up, a green grocer, a florist, a secure daycare to drop off your child in the morning and retrieve him/her on your way home, a hardware store, a convenience store, a dog kennel so you can drop off your dog in the morning and pick him up and walk home with him at night, a lost and found, and a police station, even if it has only one constable and one police dog. In this way, the government can rent the retail space in each train station and thereby recoup the construction costs of building such stations over a 25-year timeframe.

It’s simply a case of turning the rail system into something that meshes with the needs of riders instead of one designed to meet the profits of rail operators.

In that way, ridership will increase and rail operators will be funded by a combination of riders and government subsidy. No financial losses for rail operators! Lower spending by the government on roads and automobile-related CO2 reduction programmes! All good.

And this plan results in a virtuous cycle. As everyone leaves their cars at home, it will mean less automobile congestion in UK cities, lower CO2 levels in cities, better productivity for employers whose employees take the train to work, less curtailment of wind turbines, job creation to produce reverse-osmosis hydrogen facilities relatively near each rail terminus, job creation to manufacture hydrogen locomotives under license from the German patent-holder, zero rail disruptions due to electrical grid power failures, no more unsightly and tangled mess of wires above UK rail routes and job creation for the (as suggested in this blog post) a UK ‘Army Corps of Engineers’ so that young people can try military life at low risk and still receive a tuition-free college degree after 4-years of service.

One last point: No one would have created the UK rail system as it exists today — it evolved into what it is over many decades. Imagine that there were no railways in the UK until this very day and that tomorrow a brilliant team would assemble to begin planning the new rail system. In no way would that ‘designed from scratch’ rail system look anything like the system that exists today. At all! Not even close.

And let that be our guide! For we now have the opportunity to begin anew following Brexit, to recreate Britain’s rail network so that it works for the people, for UK cities, for UK businesses, for the UK military, and for the government. That’s a rail network everyone can buy into. Toot-toot!


Bonus Image

Bombardier Mark III ALRT light rail cars in Vancouver, Canada

Image of Vancouver’s Skytrain Mark III ALRT trains built by Bombardier Transportation in Montreal, Canada.

In Vancouver, Canada, (if you have plenty of time on your hands) you can ride every Skytrain route and every Seabus route and every bus route for only $10.50 per day using a DayPass.

“A DayPass provides unlimited transit use on all buses, SkyTrain and SeaBus for one day from the start of the first transit service to the end of the service day. You can use it for travel through all zones, and save money over buying single fares when you take multiple trips in the same day.” — Vancouver TRANSLINK

In Britain, those Bombardier ALRT cars would require a streamlined hydrogen powered locomotive to pull them along at up to 150 miles per hour in the wide-open spaces between UK cities — instead of being powered by the Bombardier linear induction motors energized by an electrical current bar/pickup on the trackbed.


Related Articles

  • UK railways need ‘radical overhaul’, campaigners say (BBC)

How Westminster Politicians Could Help the UK Environment, post-Brexit

by John Brian Shannon

Bet You Didn’t Know that Half the World’s Oxygen is Produced by Microscopic Phytoplankton that Live in the Top 6-feet of the World’s Oceans…

It’s true. A simple Google search provides hundreds of reputable sources to prove that assertion.

Anyway, the phytoplankton eat tonnes of CO2 every day and release tonnes of oxygen into the atmosphere 24/7/365. More oxygen is produced during warm and sunny days when the plankton can better utilize the heat and light from the Sun to turn CO2 into life-giving oxygen.

But what’s that got to do with the UK environment you ask?

Not much really — other than half of the oxygen in the air you breathe is produced by trillions of tiny organisms living in the sea, and without them, life as we know it on planet Earth couldn’t exist.

We need oxygen; The plankton need CO2. See how it’s all woven together?

And somehow, even with humans definitely NOT HELPING the phytoplankton and the zooplankton by dumping billions of tonnes of liquid and solid pollution into the seas in recent decades, an almost perfect balance has continued on the planet for billions of years — although the total number of square miles of plankton in the world’s oceans has decreased correspondingly over the past century.

So, we might not be able to do much about the number of microscopic organisms in the world’s oceans that eat CO2 and thereby produce 50% of the world’s oxygen, but we can do something about the non-plankton oxygen producers (trees and grasses) in the UK.


Where Does the Other Half of the World’s Oxygen Come From?

The other half of the Earth’s oxygen is produced by trees and grasses, along with relatively small amounts of oxygen released during volcanic eruptions.

Think about it. If all the plankton in the world’s oceans were to suddenly die from excessive pollution — all the land-based oxygen producing plant life in the world plus all oxygen releasing volcanoes in the world — wouldn’t be enough to sustain life on Earth for very long.

A sobering thought.

However, that shouldn’t stop UK politicians from creating the necessary legislation to require planting 100-million trees per year in the UK to help cleanse CO2 from the air, nor should it stop them from creating legislation that requires ships heavier than 20-tonnes to run on battery or hydrogen power whenever they’re operating within the UK’s 12-mile maritime zone.

Indeed, some jurisdictions already have such legislation, while some require ships to shut off their engines and hook-up to (much cleaner) shore power while tied-up at dock.

It’s not that hard to write and pass sensible environmental legislation, and the proof is that some jurisdictions already have such legislation.


Planting 1-Billion Trees over 10-Years & Legislating Clean Propulsion Use Within UK Maritime Areas & Mandatory ‘Shore Power’ for Ships in Port is the Morally Right Thing to Do

Yes, it sounds a bit hard. But if the UK doesn’t do it, human health and the environment will suffer as compared to not doing those things.

Would it solve 100% of the UK’s air quality problems? Not even close.

But it would make a measurable difference in UK air quality and work to lower the personal cost of respiratory illness, reduce the cost of lost productivity to businesses due to employee respiratory illness, and allow lower NHS respiratory illness spending — especially in regions near the country’s ports. If done aggressively, it could even help the economy.

And even if, in the worst-case scenario, that 10-years-on under such a clean air act — that UK air quality improved by (only) 30% and respiratory-illness-related productivity losses fell by (only) 30% and NHS respiratory healthcare budgets fell by (only) 30%, we’re still talking major savings and a success story that any government would be pleased to brag about in future elections and at each significant milestone along the way.

Creating the necessary legislation to plant 1-billion trees over 10-years, to require all ships to use a method of clean propulsion while in UK waters, and to require ships to plug-in to (cleaner) shore power while in port, are the low-hanging fruit on the way to meeting the UK’s clean air targets, to helping citizens live healthier lives, and to lower NHS spending on respiratory illness.

It’s a complete no-brainer that UK politicians should pass such legislation in early 2020.


Related Articles:

  • UK needs to plant 1.5 billion trees to tackle climate change (The Independent)
  • Tree-planting in England falls 71% short of government target (The Guardian)
  • General election 2019: How many trees can you plant? (BBC)
  • UK Tree planting: Your questions answered (BBC)
  • Shore Power a Modest Step Toward Cleaner Air (BCSEA)
  • Shore power lacks global investment, tax exemptions (JOC)
  • Air pollution ‘kills 40,000 a year’ in the UK, says report (NHS)
  • NHS announces air pollution ’emergency’ as study shows our dirty air is killing us (The Telegraph)