When confronted by reports of poor air quality and air pollution, there are many cynics who will just shrug their shoulders and mutter about the expansion of factories in India and China, and the relative insignificance of the individual.
They often scoff at people ‘doing their bit’ as being statistically irrelevant, preferring to affect a more ‘worldly’ attitude to the issue.
In a very limited sense they are right as one person, over their lifetime, will struggle to have an effect on emissions anywhere near equivalent to a coal-fired power station. Purely on numbers, it’s not a question.
But it’s a flawed argument, for several reasons. Firstly, when we talk about air quality, it’s a subtly different question, and is in fact something that individual towns, cities and countries can improve.
And secondly, while the individual may not make much headway on his or her own, groups of people – whether on a village, town, or even continental basis –banding together can in fact effect change.
Our Agenda report on air quality reveals, not to anyone’s great surprise, that Portsmouth’s measurements are not good. Anyone with experience of our crowded and congested island will know that it’s not uncommon to feel as if you are breathing in more fumes than oxygen.
But we can change this. More cycling, for example. An increased focus on travel schemes such as the forthcoming park and ride in Tipner, this summer’s park and sail from the ferry port, and car sharing schemes. And education about the health benefits of walking, not just as being less polluting, but as being good – and free – exercise.
All of this may appear to be common sense, but simultaneously over-optimistic. But rather than taking a defeatist attitude, instead, as environmentalist Ray Cobbett says, we can and should help improve the situation – and being conscious of how we live our lives can help. In recent years, overall, there has been an improvement in air quality, river water quality and sea water quality. Let’s keep the curve heading upwards.