Prime Time for an Environmental Turn-Around

by Demetrios.C.Orton.Hatzis on February 24, 2017 - 9:53am

Recently environmental issues have been entertaining the newsroom spotlight more than ever before, and for good reason. The issues concerning environmentalism are complex and far-flung, making dealing with the ever-rising problems difficult to say the least. However, recent news from Montreal brings signs that the end isn’t so near as data collected by Radio-Canada states that the city’s air quality was the best in fourteen years. Considering the number of smog-blanketed cities in China and many other countries, an example like this, of air quality improvement, is refreshing.

            The CBC article from which this piece is centred around, “Smog on the decline: Montreal's air quality best since 2002”, was published January 3rd, 2017. The source is accompanied by a second CBC article, “Smog solutions: How 6 cities are attempting to deal with dangerous air pollution” (December 29th 2015), as well as the Telegraph article titled “Air pollution in London passes levels in Beijing... and wood burners are making problem worse” (January 25th 2017), and a Bloomberg report concerning “Wind and Solar Are Crushing Fossil Fuels” (April 6th 2016).

            “In 2016, a total of 26 days with bad air quality was recorded in Montreal, which is a sharp contrast compared to 64 in 2015” (CBC). Such a sharp decline is impressive, especially since most of the world’s cities seem to be facing increases across the board. However the decrease in not without cause, according to the Association Québécoise de lutte Contre la Pollution Atmosphérique, the air quality improvement is related to the closing of coal-fired power plants in Ontario, with the president, André Bélisle, saying “It has a direct and measurable impact” (CBC). While the news is great, there continues to be room for improvement, as “days where Montreal's air quality was given a grade of ‘acceptable’ didn't change from 2015 to 2016” (CBC). While most of Montreal’s Pollution is from out of province, according to the study, a good amount can still be done in the city, like limiting wood stove use and vehicle pollution.

            As mentioned previously, while air quality may be rising in Montreal the same cannot be said for places like London, Beijing, and many other megacities. The article “Smog Solutions” has several haunting photos of the blanket-like smog that covers entire cities, and is definitely worth checking out. Meanwhile in London, according to Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, the air pollution has become a “health crisis” (Telegraph). Readings in some areas, on Monday the 23rd, 2017 “[hit] a peak [of] 197 micrograms per cubic metre for particulate matter on the Air Quality Index” (Telegraph). Comparatively, levels in Beijing ‘only’ reached 190 µg/m3. “Experts at King’s College London” believe the cause is rampant use of Wood burning stoves, which have been rising in popularity in recent years and were in widespread use this past winter (Telegraph). The political rebound from London’s first ever air quality red alert is stiff, and many environmental organisations have been calling for drastic action to reduce air pollution. Perhaps, in an effort to eliminate air pollution, London could turn its attention to the UK’s energy sources, with 22% of its electricity coming for coal-fired power plants, and 30% coming from natural gas, according to Energy UK. This coupled with wood stove restrictions, and “[tackling] diesel vehicles on the roads, {boosting] public transport and [speeding] up the switch to clean vehicles” (Telegraph), and London could see dramatic improvements to its air quality.

            What could possibly influence a country to turn away from coal and natural gas fired power plants? Perhaps the new stars on the energy supply stage, Wind and Solar generators. According to Tom Randall, author of “Wind and Solar Are Crushing Fossil Fuels, “[c]lean energy investment broke new records in 2015 and is now seeing twice as much global funding as fossil fuels” (Bloomberg). Not only is such a development promising for the future, but since wind and solar generators require technological advancements and not physical discoveries to grow the sector has the potential to grow exponentially. What’s more, since they are technologies “efficiency increases and prices fall as time goes on” (Bloomberg), meaning they only get better with time. In addition, wind and solar have been doubling in size, very frequently in the last 10 years, with few signs of slowing down soon, and according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, BNEF, “[e]very time global wind power doubles, there's a 19 percent drop in cost […] and every time solar power doubles, costs fall 24 percent” (Randall). Considering all this, it seems that wind and solar are the way to go, compared to coal and natural gas.
            While air quality has been declining in recent years, there is still the chance to revert things back to the way things were before. However despite the solution seeming relatively simple, the follow-through is rather difficult. The is still a great amount of resistance to moving away from polluting energies like coal, natural gas and oil, but there is still the chance to make change. Governments, given enough prodding by its people, can be motivated to create change, especially in democratic systems. If the people want cleaner air, they must have to motivation to let their governments know.

Works Cited:

“Electricity generation.” Energy UK Electricity Generation, Energy UK, 2017, http://www.energy-uk.org.uk/energy-industry/electricity-generation.html. Accessed 22 February 2017.

 

Sarah Knapton, “Air pollution in London passes levels in Beijing... and wood burners are making problem worse.” The Telegraph Science, The Telegraph, 25 Jan. 2017, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/01/24/air-pollution-london-passes-levels-beijingand-wood-burners-making/. Accessed 22 February 2017.

 

 “Smog on the decline: Montreal's air quality best since 2002.” CBC news Montreal, CBC, 3 Jan. 2017, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/montreal-air-quality-2016-1.3919050. Accessed 22 February 2017.

 

“Smog solutions: How 6 cities are attempting to deal with dangerous air pollution.” CBC news Montreal, CBC, 29 Dec. 2015, http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/smog-air-pollution-cities-1.3383313. Accessed 22 February 2017.

 

Tom Randall, “Wind and Solar Are Crushing Fossil Fuels.” Bloomberg, Bloomberg, 6 April 2016, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-04-06/wind-and-solar-are-crushing-fossil-fuels. Accessed 22 February 2017.

About the author

I am a CEGEP (kinda like Quebec's College) student, 4th semester, was born and raised in and around Montreal, am very opinionated and raring to start any kind of ideological back and forth, could probably argue my way out of a metal box, and have at least a few years experience skeptically eyeing