The Eiffel Tower disappeared last week, hidden beneath an opaque layer of filthy Paris smog. For six consecutive days this month, the city’s air had double Europe’s allowed particulate matter level, which currently is 50 micrograms per cubic meter. In an attempt to cut down on this alarming pollution increase, Paris decided to temporarily limit car circulation by making cars with even and odd license plates take turns driving into the city. Public transportation was also free, as well as bicycle and electric car rentals. But these measures were intended to last only a few days, until the pollution levels dropped. After they did, the city resumed its usual routine. Only until the levels rise again will they again adopt similar measures.
Particulate matter pollution is one of the main causes behind respiratory and cardiovascular problems, and the European Environment Agency stated that “long-term exposure can contribute to heart attacks and arrhythmias, nerve problems and premature death in some cases.” The European Commissioner for Environment, Janez Potocnik, warned that 400,000 premature deaths are due to the environment’s pollution. “Ten times more deaths than those caused by traffic accidents,” he explained.
The World Health Organization added that no pollution number is low enough to prevent damage to our health, so even if cities comply with the clean air regulations, our health is still at risk because these particles will remain in the air. Nearly 96% of us living in European cities are exposed to high concentrations of particle matter, which puts almost all of us in a precariously frightening situation.
Smog Ignores International Borders
Like Paris, other cities are taking measures to help reduce pollution. Brussels, for example, has restricted speed limits in some areas, resulting in a 20% decrease in harmful emissions. Berlin strongly encourages bicycle use and those wishing to drive within London have to pay a hefty fee. These are all helpful measures, but experts note that they aren’t effective enough.
Pollution levels are still rampantly high because, simply put, other interests, such as money and the economy, are instead prioritized. Governments are more concerned with cost benefits than with the quality of our air, and Potocnik slyly suggested that:
“If you believe the economy is more important than the environment, try holding your breath while you count your money.”
He criticized those who value the economy more than our health and informs that that belief will backfire: being unhealthy due to pollution will cause less productivity and higher health care costs, which will in return harm the economy.
Researchers, scientists, and environmental experts warn us about pollution’s effects, but most of it falls on deaf ears. It seems like we live our daily routine completely unaware of the consequences of our decisions. We smoke, drive cars, and burn all sorts of toxic materials. Theoretically, we know that the environment exists and should be protected, but in practice it seems as if we could care less about it.
Why do we react only when the problem has gotten out of control? Why don’t we choose to preserve our health and our resources to prevent these problems from ever occurring?
Paris photo via the BBC