Good News – Phoenix Park to remain a quieter place with less traffic

This is a good thing:

[T]he OPW on Friday morning said it will not reopen the gates on Monday, and has not set any future date for their reopening. It has also given its strongest signal yet that the use of the park as a “throughway” to the city could be brought to an end and said “further measures to curb traffic volumes in the park are likely to be introduced in the coming months.”

Thousands of people signed an online petition, initiated by Green Party councillor Michael Pidgeon last month, calling for the end of the use of the park as a throughway for motorists.

The OPW was “determined to ensure that the park is a safe, quiet, green space for our visitors, where flora and fauna thrives and where visitors’ health and wellbeing can be enhanced through experiencing the natural environment in the park,” OPW commissioner John McMahon said

“With this in mind, reducing the volume of ‘through-traffic’ is critical and maintaining safe, quiet, open spaces for pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy is a key priority for OPW.”

Cars can still access the park through the Castleknock and Parkgate Street gates and the current parking arrangements will be maintained. However, the OPW said: “These measures are being kept under constant review with An Garda Síochána and other key stakeholders and the OPW is monitoring and measuring the impact of these initiatives.”

Lockdown: The Country Scale Experiment

One thing about how humanity has dealt and is continuing to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak is that it’s really a huge experiment with country scale populations. Some really interesting effects are being seen, I’d say that the research hasn’t even really started yet. There’s all sorts of questions that could be examined, from mental health effects to lack of traffic and cleaner air.

Two that caught my eye so far are related to pollution in the air we breathe. I hope that things like these will really bring home to people just how much impact that invisible air pollution has on our health.

Two million people in the UK with respiratory conditions such as asthma have experienced reduced symptoms during the coronavirus lockdown, according to the British Lung Foundation.

Guardian: “Cleaner air during UK lockdown relieves asthma for millions

Back in the day, I remember our science teacher telling us that asthma was on the increase, and at the time we considered smoking as a possible cause, but now I’d point the finger at air pollution. While Dublin had cleaned up the very visible smog, the fine particle pollution was on the increase, as it is today.

Another fascinating one is the fall in pre-term births:

An “unprecedented” fall in pre-term births in one of the country’s largest maternity hospitals is being credited to the effect of positive lifestyle influences during the lockdown.

The number of underweight babies fell dramatically in University Maternity Hospital Limerick in the first four months of the year, a trend researchers believe is due to reduced stress and healthier lifestyles brought on by the Covid-19 restrictions.

There was a 73 per cent reduction in the number of very low birth-weight babies born in the hospital, compared to the average for the same first four months of the year in the preceding two decades, a study has found.

If the same finding is replicated nationally for the first four months of the year, there could be up to 200 fewer very-low-weight births this year, and several hundred more if the effect were to last to the end of the year.

Likening the unique conditions of the lockdown to “nature’s experiment”, lead author Prof Roy Philip said the improvements were due to a mix of self-imposed behavioural changes by mothers and externally imposed socio-environmental changes.

These include: reduced work; stress; commuting and financial strain; increased family support; reduced environmental pollution; better infection avoidance; improved sleep and nutritional support; adequate exercise; and reduced exposure to tobacco and illegal drugs.

Irish Times, “Positive lockdown influence credited with fall in pre-term births”

The real research here will be picking apart the confounding factors, some of the changes noted above for example – I’d guess that lots of mothers experienced more stress, perhaps worse family support (relatives couldn’t visit) for example. I hope more research gets done on this.

Fossil Fuels in Terminal Decline?

I know it’s been predicted and pushed for, but maybe this time it’s happening. Mass burning of fossil fuels just isn’t sustainable. I like to think that burning a little is ok though, because I love my motorbike. For everyday transport, and for heating, cooling, no.

The report says the world is “witnessing the decline and fall of the fossil fuel system” owing to the quicker-than-expected growth of clean energy alternatives coupled with the collapse in demand for fossil fuels amid the pandemic.

It follows findings from the International Energy Agency, which forecast the Covid-19 fallout would lead to the most severe plunge in energy demand since the second world war and trigger multidecade lows for the world’s consumption of oil, gas and coal, while renewable energy continued to grow.

The world’s demand for fossil fuels has plunged by almost 10% amid the coronavirus lockdown, and many energy economists believe it may fail to recover from the crisis.

Bond said fossil fuel companies and their investors had failed to realise the current decline of the fossil fuel industry may prove terminal.

Dead Air

Air quality in New Delhi is now so bad that the basic advice is just to stay indoors and don’t ever go out. It’s catastrophic, a smoking, smog covered totem of what awaits the world as we continue merrily along our current path:

Year after year, the economic effects of the world’s current environmental path are bearing out in New Delhi. Flights are canceled and schools closed. Car owners are limited to driving only on certain days. Construction is stalled, and hospitals are flooded with disease, as they will be flooded with chronic effects in coming decades. People miss work, become disabled, and exit the workforce. They consume more medical care and rely on safety nets.

This is the economic future that the status quo invites. Even for the world’s wealthiest people, who may be able to guarantee their personal air and food supply, their stability will be contingent on the billions of people around the world who still have to go outside.

The ‘poisonous cabin’

Unsurprisingly enough, and as previously indicated from small scale tests, sitting in a car or other vehicle is the most air-polluted place to be according to new research reported in the Times (“Motorists in ‘poisonous cabin’ alert”).

“If you are stopped in congested traffic with your windows closed, as at traffic lights, then these toxins become highly concentrated,” said Prashant Kumar, professor of environmental engineering at Surrey University. His findings suggest concentrations are often 10 times higher in such cars than on nearby pavements.

Mike Hawes, of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said there were no regulations on air quality in vehicles but the UN was overseeing talks to develop a new global standard.

“The industry . . . is investing billions to engineer low-emission technology, from engines and exhausts to cabin filters,” he said. Car makers had made “considerable progress”, with new cars emitting reduced particulates and NOx [oxides of nitrogen].

So not only are you contributing to the problem with your engine, you are also exposing yourself and your passengers to the worst effects of the resulting air pollution.

The internal combustion engine has got to go, packing thousands of them into our streets and roads is no longer an option.

Ban cars near schools?

A bit radical but why not? How much air pollution should it be ok for children (and adults) to breath in every day just for a little apparent convenience? Perhaps this is something Dublin should look at too.

“You can’t play politics with people’s lives and people’s health,” said Mr Khan. “Every day action is delayed it means another young person breathing in this toxic air, an older person having breathing problems because of the poor quality of the air and literally people die. “Why can’t we work with schools and councils to have some roads outside schools where cars aren’t allowed to go? Really encourage mums, dads, carers and children to walk to school. It will be safer and you are not breathing in toxic air when playing in the playground.”

Source: Sadiq Khan: Ban cars from roads near schools to stop kids breathing toxic air | London Evening Standard

1,200 people in Europe will die prematurely due to Volkswagen

The stark reality of the ‘cheating’ on emissions by Volkswagen:

“The researchers estimate that 1,200 people in Europe will die early, each losing as much as a decade of their life, as a result of excess emissions generated,” said the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which took part in the study.

The European Environment Agency estimates that more than 400,000 people die prematurely every year due to outdoor air pollution in urban Europe – about half of it from traffic emissions.Volkswagen’s rigged cars emitted NOx at levels that were on average four times the European limit, said the MIT statement.The researchers combined data on Volkswagen emissions, how far and often Germans drive their cars, and pollution-impacting weather phenomena such as wind and rainfall.They produced a map of pollution which they overlaid on population density charts of Europe.With these, they calculated Europeans’ exposure to German-derived excess emissions from the Volkswagen deceit, and their increased risk of premature death.

“It ends up being about a one percent extra risk of dying early in a given year, per microgram per metre cubed of fine particles you’re exposed to,” Barrett explained.
Typically, that means that someone who dies early from air pollution ends up dying about a decade early.
Excess emissions are calculated as the difference between the limits set by European authorities, and actual pollution that took place under the fraud.

So, how much corporate and shareholder profit was gained by killing people? This isn’t cheating, it’s killing fellow humans for profit.

Source: Study finds pollution from rigged Volkswagens will kill 1,200 people in Europe

“Make drivers stop hitting them”

Again and again, the default position is that people on bikes, or foot, or mobility scooters should take steps to avoid cars and other vehicles. It’s all about being safe, being seen, wear a helmet, high-viz (which works so well), maybe we need safer bikes with roll cages?

It’s a load of raiméis. The driver of a vehicle gets a free ride – don’t worry, everyone else will look out for you! They’ll make *sure* you will see them! How the hell does that work? Letting drivers, who are licenced and meant to be responsible for the vehicle they are controlling, defer responsibility onto others is ridiculous. Imaging someone running around with a knife, and the response was to advise everyone to wear a stab vest and to be careful around the knife-holder? That’s the current state of road safety.

..Don’t make bicyclists more visible. Make drivers stop hitting them. – The Washington Post.

Here’s why the auto industry, the insurance industry and the officials they lobby want helmet laws. First, forcing people to wear helmets shifts responsibilities onto cyclists and absolves governments from having to build better cycling infrastructure and drivers from having to obey traffic laws. “Want to be safer? We’re not gonna build any bike lanes. They take up too much free parking. Put this foam dunce cap on your head, you’ll be fine!” Done, and done.

Second, helmet laws discourage people from using bicycles for everyday transportation by making it inconvenient, and by making it seem more dangerous than it really is. In Australia, there’s plenty of evidence that helmet laws have done far more to curb cycling growth than to keep riders safer. Take a look at the bike share in Melbourne: Hardly anybody’s using it, because you’ve got to buy a helmet first. Meanwhile, in countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, where lots and lots of people ride bikes, a helmeted bicyclist is about as rare as a helmeted driver here in America. And yet they seem to be managing pretty well — maybe because they’ve got bike infrastructure, and because they still subscribe to the notion that the person operating the giant machine on public roads needs to be responsible for not killing people with it.

But say you’re willing to strap a foam bumper onto your head every single time you ride your bicycle, even if you’re just going to pick up some overpriced local kale. That’s just the beginning! Because now Volvo — those endearingly safety-minded Swedes — wants cyclists to take “safety” a step further and spray themselves with something called “Lifepaint” so they glow in the dark.

This is just another way for drivers to outsource any and all responsibility for what they do with their cars to other road users. The giveaway? Volvo’s promotional video is full of testimonials, including this one from a driver:

“Putting something on that will make you scream out to drivers like me is a fantastic thing.”

What? How oblivious are you? Nobody should have to “scream out” to you to get your attention while you’re driving a car. You should already be giving it, and undividedly so.

Air Pollution Monitoring Sub Par – EPA needs to get better, fast

Hear, hear:

The Green Party has called on Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency to up its game on urban air pollution and improve their monitoring and advice during periods of serious air pollution. The call comes as air quality in Dublin and all other major towns reaches ‘very poor’ levels or ’10 out of 10′ on the Agency’s monitoring site.

Green Party Spokesperson Ciarán Cuffe said today:

“The EPA needs to tell us more about our air quality. The latest report on their website* dates from 2014 and is three years out of date. They need to improve their monitoring of air pollution, particularly in real-time, and ensure action is taken to tackle the causes when air pollution is at extremely high levels. More and better monitoring is required. For instance, there is no real-time data available for PM10 or PM2.5 particulates for Dublin’s inner city. This is a serious gap in data that must be filled, as we know that air pollution is concentrated in areas with high traffic and concentrations of people. We need only look across the water to London** to see how quality data can be made available in a timely manner.

“The EPA must improve their monitoring and work with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Department of Energy, Communications and Natural Resources to reduce pollution. We now know that diesel cars and vans are more polluting than some manufacturers claimed, and we must get rid of incentives to purchase heavily polluting vehicles. Minister Ross should also give local authorities the power to limit heavily polluting vehicles from our city centres, particularly on days when there are high levels of air pollution. It is time to consider banning certain diesel vehicles from Dublin’s inner city on still winter days that concentrate pollution. We must also ensure that smoky coal is no longer allowed into Ireland.

“The EPA has previously stated that air pollution is to blame for around 1,200 deaths every year. We now need action from the EPA and Government to tackle this silent deadly killer. Instead of telling children to reduce outdoor exercise on smoggy days, we should be tacking the source, and reducing pollution from cars and fires instead.

You can smell the pollution and feel it in Dublin some days, especially on the cold, calm days of winter when the cold air traps the pollution near to ground level. It’s causing all sorts of health problems, problems that will only get worse over time and strain the health service with avoidable illness.

Source: Time for EPA to up its game on air pollution – Ciaran Cuffe

Billy Barr

Curious story of a hermit who lives up Gothic Mountain in the Rockies, alone. A case of the right person in the right place – Billy was a college trained environmental scientist – his notebooks of snow levels, flowering times and animal appearances have become a treasure trove for scientists studying the impact of climate change.

Barr still wakes each day in his cabin before dawn to log the snow levels. He buys his wood now, which has freed up some time, and he has started the dreary process of converting his notebooks into spreadsheets. Sometimes Barr is credited as a contributor on reports that use his data; sometimes not. This year, however, he’s won some much deserved recognition. He is a character in a not-yet-released documentary called End of Snow; and this summer the RMBL named a building after him: The Billy Barr Community Center.

“Some day I’ll die,” Barr said, and people will ask: “Who the hell is it named after—this Billy Barr?”

Read on: The Hermit Who Inadvertently Shaped Climate-Change Science – The Atlantic