The Brown Skies of Sydney

As I write, the air pollution level is “poor” according to the Bureau of Meteorology, due to smoke from bush fires. Unfortunately the air quality alerts from the BoM are not functioning as I write.

Even the Daily Telegraph reports: Sydney’s air quality on Tuesday [November 19] is among the lowest in the world – with NSW Environment’s air quality measurements reading 2334 at around 9am in Sydney’s North-West – almost 20 times worse than Jakarta and Beijing.

While we cannot easily put out the bush fires, we can mitigate our effects on the environment and our health by reducing the other things we do that pollute.

The most obvious example is the automobile. By itself the auto does a lot of bad things to health and the air. Cars have been described as the ‘new tobacco.’ Yet our response is simply acceptance.

Compounded with smoke from fires, the health consequences of cars are worse. Perhaps the state can issue  “no-drive” orders for internal combustion and diesel engine passenger cars. Delhi, like Sydney, has pollution from fires. The Guardian reports: Delhi restricts cars in attempt to lessen pollution. They implemented an odd-even car rationing policy. One could even shut down much of the city for a weather holiday, as is done with snow days in  the US when the winter weather is bad, which greatly reduces travel and thus deaths from crashes. Here it would reduce hospitalisations and deaths from asthma and other lung issues.

Related policies could encourage people to take public transport (San Francisco has free transit rides on “Spare the Air” days) or carpool.

Addressing air pollution like the public health problem it is will improve the quality of life, and extend life, for millions of Sydneysiders.

 

Published by David M Levinson

Prof. David Levinson teaches at the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Sydney, where he leads TransportLab and the Transport Engineering group.

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