Monday 19th June 2017. Today I received the latest air-quality bulletin from the Belgian Interregional Environment Agency, which supplies air-quality warnings that focus particularly on nitrogen dioxide, particulates and ozone.
The warnings for the coming days go from poor, to very poor, to just plain ‘bad’. What is shocking is not just that the air quality is bad, but that such warnings are becoming so common now that we are getting used to them.
This time the Bulletin is for the next five days, the second time this year I’ve seen such a warning of severe air pollution for five days ahead. You could not, to my eyes, have a clearer indication of the steadily worsening air quality in this part of Europe.
Whatever changes the various governments and their agencies are making to address the problem, whether pollution from industry or the NOx and particulates from traffic, they are not happening fast enough. If this progression keeps up, in a few years time we will have a widespread public health problem from people with breathing difficulties, and not just from the elderly but for young people too. And of course, the incidence of cancers and early death will grow. Notably, these diseases will afflict the wealthy as well as the poor, since air pollution over such a wide area is impossible to avoid.
Some city administrations in Belgium, to their credit, are attempting to address the problem; controlling older diesel vehicles and banning some altogether. But such measures will not solve the real extent of the issue, which is that over 90% of vehicles (by observation) on roads across the country are diesel engined. As long as that remains the case, and vehicle numbers continue to grow, air pollution and its dangers for human health will only increase.
I predict that, within a few short years, we will have vehicle rationing on the roads in the Benelux. Perhaps based on registration plate, but it will come. Governments are always slow to understand when drastic measures are needed, but they will become necessary, despite the base and cynical denials of the automotive industry.
Because the fact is that even if all diesel-engined vehicles were banned today, it would take years before the effects of decades of pollution cleared. The auto-industry lobby in Brussels, one of the biggest and most powerful lobbies in the EU, should drown in shame. Its cynicism in obesiance to wealthy clients is contributing directly to a worsening quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people.
© Philip Hunt, 2017.