Should public transport be free to cut shocking air pollution?

ktGreen MEP Keith Taylor has suggested public transport should be free to cut shocking air pollution after Parisian authorities make public transport free due to smog

Keith Taylor is calling on local authorities to consider making public transport free this weekend in response to a wave of air pollution hitting the South of England.

Keith Taylor, the Green Party MEP, is making the calls as the UK, and his constituency in particular, suffer a second day of high levels of air pollution. His call follows the decision by Paris’ authorities to make public transport free this weekend because of air pollution.

Mr Taylor said:

“I’m urging local authorities in areas hit by air pollution to do all they can to cut the health risks of this smog. In Paris the authorities are making public transport free as they recognise the dangers of high levels of air pollution.

Local authorities must do everything in their power to cut the air pollution levels, and in this emergency situation they should consider ways to make public transport free so as to encourage people to leave their cars at home.

It’s particularly crucial that the Mayor of London and the council’s in South East England look at acting immediately on the smog hitting their areas.”

According to the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the current levels of air pollution in South East England are ‘high’ and are expected to remain so for the rest of the day. The rest of the UK is also forecast to experience ‘high’ levels of air pollution today.

At this level of pollution Government advice states that:

“Adults and children with lung problems, and adults with heart problems, should reduce strenuous physical exertion, particularly outdoors, and particularly if they experience symptoms. People with asthma may find they need to use their reliever inhaler more often. Older people should also reduce physical exertion.”

Keith Taylor, the Green Party’s MEP for South East England and a clean air campaigner, went on to say:

“This smog episode poses a serious threat to my constituents and I urge everyone, especially those with health problems, to follow Government guidelines in order to keep safe.

The fact is that we shouldn’t be needing ‘emergency measures’ to cut air pollution, we should be working to cut levels permanently.

This episode highlights the fact that we simply aren’t doing enough on air pollution in the UK. Every year nearly 30,000 people die prematurely because of air pollution – yet the issue isn’t taken nearly as seriously as it should be.

“People in my constituency with health problems are being forced to stay indoors and avoid exercise exposes. This exposes the fact that much more needs to be done by the Government and local councils to cut pollution levels. We know that most air pollution is caused by road vehicles and local councils need to work to reduce the amount of traffic in our city centres.

Nobody should be forced to stay indoors because of air pollution. That’s why we need to cut the amount of motorised vehicles, particularly those using diesel, on our city centre roads and move towards cleaner transport solutions.”

South East England hit by ‘smog’

Green MEP responds to pollution alert in his constituency

Levels of air pollution in South East England are so high that people’s health is likely to be affected, according to Government monitoring.

According to the Daily Air Quality Index, produced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affiairs (DEFRA), air pollution in South East England is at ‘level 8’, or ‘high’.  At this level of pollution Government advice states that:

“Adults and children with lung problems, and adults with heart problems, should reduce strenuous physical exertion, particularly outdoors, and particularly if they experience symptoms. People with asthma may find they need to use their reliever inhaler more often. Older people should also reduce physical exertion.”

According to the DEFRA website levels of air pollution in urban areas are at level 9 – just one point off the worst possible level.

Currently the highest levels of one pollutant, know as PM2.5, in South East England are:

Eastbourne – Level 10

Storrington – Level 9

Portsmouth – Level 8

Chatham – Level 8

Oxford – Level 7

DEFRA only monitors a few locations but the general pollution for South East England level is at 8. Continue reading

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What Cameron must do to sort out the flooding mess

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by Green Party leader Natalie Bennett

Dredging is no silver bullet. We need much more than that

As residents, farmers and businesspeople continue to struggle just to get by across much of the South West of England and beyond, there’s a great deal of very distasteful debate and finger-pointing around the floods.

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles is trying to blame the Environment Agency, a Somerset Level Tory launched an astonishing stream of playground-level invective at its head, and both Labour and Tory parties have tried to insist the fault lay with each other’s record in government.

The fact is, both parties have a very poor record. In 2007 the National Audit Office pointed out that the Labour government’s funding was £150 million a year short of what was needed to achieve its own target, a very modest target, to maintain 63 per cent of existing flood defences in good order. Since then, the government has cut spending on flood defences by 15 per cent. That’s in addition to overall funding cuts to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) of 36 per cent, with further cuts planned that could see 550 staff who are now dealing with flooding being made redundant.

But past spending patterns are now history. We can’t go back in time and take actions that might have prevented damage today. What we need to do is move forward. David Cameron’s announcement of £100m for repairing damage and extra flood defences is a small step in the right direction, with the stress on ‘small’.

What he should be doing is immediately announcing the reversal of all cuts in Defra – or at the very least to the cuts in staff dealing with flooding and climate change. As the Met Office’s chief scientist said on 10th February “all of the evidence points” to a link to climate change in the severity and length of the severe weather Britain has experienced in recent weeks.

And while Mr Cameron’s clinging to the restoration of dredging, as a simple, silver bullet answer – against much expert scientific advice – it’s clear that what is need is detailed whole catchment management planning right across England and Wales.

That means looking at tree planting across catchments and particularly in catchment areas, considering farming practices that reduce run-off, increasing soil organic matter, allowing rivers to return to natural meandering shapes, ending the building of new homes on floodplains and ensuring sustainable drainage systems that hold water are built on new estates, and, in some places, deliberately breaching sea walls to allow the restoration of wave-absorbing salt marsh … the list goes on, the answer will be detailed, and different for each catchment and local situation.

Sound catchment management planning requires staff, resources, expertise and cash. And sound, level-headed leadership. Almost as importantly, Mr Cameron should get rid of his Environment Secretary Owen Paterson.

To have a man who clearly has no grasp of the reality of climate change (or indeed of science – just look at his approach to the badger cull) – is now, more clearly than ever, wildly inappropriate – and an insult to all of those suffering with the floods now.

Paterson in his rhetoric (telling a Tory Party fringe that there were positive sides to climate change and suggesting many were over-emotional about it) and his actions (since he took office, spending on climate change has almost halved) has demonstrated his extreme unsuitability for the role he occupies.

In 2015 voters will have the opportunity to restructure the Parliament – maybe elect enough Green MPs for a proper Environment Secretary – Green MP Caroline Lucas, for example. But, before then, Mr Cameron could make a start on improving infrastructure spending and resilience planning, particularly in transport – the lack of which has been all too clearly demonstrated by the cutting off of rail services to Cornwall. No major part of the country should be served by a single, highly vulnerable rail line, and retracking of two alternative routes should be urgently considered.

Over to you Mr Cameron…