Weekly contribution by Andrew Durling, Co-ordinator, Eastbourne and District Friends of the Earth.
This past week has seen the issue of air quality rise yet further up the political agenda, at least locally. With the Birling Gap 'gas cloud' incident still unexplained despite the best efforts of Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd to get answers from the authorities and agencies investigating, it is now becoming clear that without sufficient monitoring of air quality and with insufficient data about what's in the air, it is always going to be an uphill struggle to track local air quality and ensure that appropriate action is taken quickly enough to deal with any air pollution emergencies. Clean air may be what we all want and usually take for granted, but in the modern world clean air is quite often not what we get.
With this in mind, a milestone was passed this week as Clean Air Eastbourne held its first workshop for making air monitors according to the prototype monitor made by the founder of the group, Robert Price. The group's core team met at Co-Hub and made 6 more monitors in just two hours, at a cost of just £35 per monitor, which is much cheaper than any comparable monitor on the market. Two of these monitors have gone online this week, with the rest to follow in due course. So, at the time of writing, Clean Air Eastbourne now has three monitors online, measuring the fine dust particles (PM2.5 and PM10) that can cause a lot of harm to human health if the levels get too high for too long. These monitors generate data 24/7 and is freely available on a Europe-wide map created through a citizen science initiative that started in Germany. This constant monitoring of air quality in Eastbourne complements the small number of official monitors elsewhere in the area, and when many more monitors are set up around Eastbourne then it will be possible to identify much more clearly the pollution hotspots around town or track how a pollution emergency is developing. This will empower both the local community and local councillors to make much more informed decisions about air quality and to underpin proposals for improving air quality with a sound and growing database. Open data, citizen science, and open source digital technology is very much the future anyway and has huge potential for enabling local citizens to more effectively understand, and engage with, the environmental issues affecting them. It is also very gratifying to see workers in the fast growing creative digital tech sector in Eastbourne give so much voluntary help and resources to the issue of local air quality.
The Clean Air Eastbourne team will demonstrate its air monitor at the big event that Eastbourne Friends of the Earth will hold at Eastbourne Town Hall on Tuesday 12 at 7pm. The event is entitled "Paying the price for dirty air and dangerous September climate change". The link between dirty air and climate change is that the burning of fossil fuels by humans is mainly responsible for both. Which makes the event very topical because in the last couple of weeks we have seen not only Hurricane Harvey devastate Texas, the centre of the oil industry in the US, but also massive flooding in India and South-East Asia due to abnormally intense monsoon rains, and abnormally intense and extensive wildfires in north-west USA and Canada during an abnormally severe drought and heatwave in those areas. And now Hurricane Irma, the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever in recorded history, is barrelling down upon Florida. All these catastrophic events have been shown by climate scientists to have been significantly intensified by climate change. Interestingly, the link between climate change and dirty air locally has been demonstrated in the last couple of days as the smoke from the wildfires in north America has drifted across the Atlantic, reaching the UK yesterday and causing a spike in particulate air pollution that was recorded by both the official and unofficial air monitors in the Eastbourne area. Climate change is truly global in its effects!
A simple, elegant solution to climate change is to put a price on carbon that appropriately reflects its environmental damage. The keynote speaker at the event on Tuesday, will be Ed Atkinson from the Citizens Climate Lobby UK, who will explain how a carbon fee on all fossil fuels imported to, or used within, the UK can be redistributed to all UK citizens as a dividend, thereby incentivising the whole of the UK to move rapidly towards a zero-carbon society with minimal disruption to the economy. Such a measure would greatly speed up the clean energy transition that is already occurring as coal power dies away and renewable energy technologies come on-stream ever more quickly and cheaply. And speeding up the transition is exactly what is needed, as time is running out for effective climate action. The tragic hurricane, flooding, and wildfires of the last few weeks demonstrate that all too clearly. We do hope that as many people as possible book their free ticket for this event here.
But campaigning or working for effective action to deal effectively with climate change is hard, especially given the ignorance and even denial of climate science sometimes displayed by politicians and policy-makers. Even thinking about the enormity of climate change and the impacts it leads to, such as dirty air, is hard. Nobody wants to keep thinking about bad stuff so often. That's why Eastbourne Friends of the Earth will host a ground-breaking workshop in Eastbourne on Saturday 23 September at the Devonshire Collective, entitled "Mindfulness in action: reconnecting to ourselves and the Earth". This will give us in Eastbourne the chance to use the powerful technique of mindfulness - now accepted by NHS clinicians and health professionals generally - as a way of dealing with tough environmental issues in a creative, empowering way without becoming paralysed or overwhelmed. Given the huge environmental challenges we face over the coming years, we might need quite a lot of such workshops!