What Cigarettes, Asbestos, Coal, & ICE All Have In Common

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Originally published on LinkedIn.
By Roger Atkins

In simple, blunt terms — they can all kill you.

Not everyone, everywhere, all the time of course. But if you happen to be in the wrong place… it’s bad news I’m afraid.

The good news is that both cigarettes and asbestos have been recognised for what they always were, although coal burning and the use of the internal combustion engine (ICE) continue to get away with it….

“I hope in 10 years from now the smell of exhaust will be as much a thing of the past as the smell of cigarettes in a restaurant.”

Sir Richard Branson made this remark in Miami as he watched the latest FIA Formula E race. (Thanks Naomi Panter for sharing that)

richard branson

There was a time when smoking was deemed good for you. The various cigarette brands of the time employed a range a methods and messages to ensure you could light up as often as you liked, safe in the knowledge that experts had said it was safe.

“More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.”

We now know they were being somewhat economical with the facts. At least if you choose to smoke now you can do so safe in the knowledge that “Smoking Kills.”

Shockingly, over a century elapsed between awareness that asbestos could be a killer, to it being banned and eradicated from our homes and workplaces. It seems the experts were hard at work here again, reassuring the dissenting voices that such material was essential for the building industry. My dad was a carpenter & joiner working on building sites in the 1960s and 70s. My dad died of lung cancer aged 64.

There was a time when the burning of coal created a few issues here in the UK. However, things came to a head when a combination of factors created a particularly devastating moment in time — December 1952, when 4,000 people died, and there were an estimated 8,000 more fatalities in the following weeks from exposure to the noxious air pollution.

There has not been anything close to the scale of this since that time… but experts say the present levels of air pollution, although not as visible, may be just as much of a threat. A 2010 report to the UK Parliament found that, in 2008, 4,000 people died in London from air pollution (the same number from the Great Smog) and 30,000 died across the whole of the UK.

In her brilliant, brave, and barnstorming presentation, Jing Chai’s analysis of it all is an immense call to arms (see video below). She articulates the dire consequence in her own country of accelerated un-checked economic development — but in truth, almost every other urban area on the planet has a challenge and an opportunity to clean up the act.

The China Daily website interviewed Dyson CEO Max Conze at the end of November 2014. Conze discussed his solution about PM2.5 and revealed Dyson’s strategy in China’s market.

More and more people are talking about PM2.5, what’s your view?

“PM2.5 and airborne pollutants aren’t a ‘Chinese problem’. It’s a worldwide problem, but one well understood in China. Don’t forget there’s smog in London and Paris, too.”

My particular passion (perhaps you’ve noticed!) is for the mass adoption of electric vehicles. Of course, the electricity to charge them all up needs to come from a clean source — and increasingly renewables are delivering on that objective, especially solar. I make no apology for banging on about buses, taxis, and vans — as I filmed the clip above recently to show they are a big bulk of the traffic here in London, as they typically are elsewhere. We can and must electrify those market sectors first and foremost.

I readily acknowledge that cigarettes, asbestos, coal, and the internal combustion engine were never designed to be bad. But they do all have unintended consequences that we must mitigate — or better still, eradicate.

And finally, here’s why this matters for climate change: The dirty fuels that cause particulate pollution are the same dirty fuels that cause global warming. Cracking down on local air pollution will not only save lives, it will shift the economics of energy toward cleaner sources that produce less carbon.

“The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.”
~ Carl Sagan

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