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Showing posts with the label smog

Australia's Clean Air Myth

I've been thinking a lot about air quality in Australia recently as I wrote up my submission in response to Victoria's Air Quality Statement, which will help shape a future air quality strategy for this state.  The Clean Air Statement presents a rosy picture for air quality in Victoria - our air is repeatedly described as "great" and "very good" - and this leaves the impression that air pollution is not a current health danger to Victorians.  Anecdotally, I have seen this attitude adopted by Australians around the country, who ask me why I need to research air quality in Australia and tell me that we already breathe clean air.  It is true that our air is cleaner than many of our neighbours, but this doesn't mean that it is healthy.  Air pollution in China, for instance, is one of the biggest handbrakes on development in what may soon be the world's biggest economy, and it is meaningless to compare it to Australia.

So, how big is Australia's air …

Clean Coal on the Ropes

Clean coal is a seductive proposition for arresting climate change.  It means we could continue to burn coal for power as usual and use carbon capture and storage (CCS) to remove carbon dioxide from the flue gas and bury it underground.  Carbon capture is actually a mature technology, widely used in natural gas processing, where gas is bubbled through a liquid amine mixture which chemically binds to carbon dioxide, letting the desired gas pass through.  The amine solvent is then heated to liberate relatively pure carbon dioxide.
Companies and governments invested in coal have devoted massive resources to try and adapt carbon capture technology for coal fired power, with the typical approach being to bolt on a conventional amine solvent plant to an existing power station.  This approach has, however, failed to succeed.  The Boundary Dam project, a flagship effort aiming to demonstrate that CCS is feasible on an industrial scale, was plagued by budget overruns during construction, and

Mixed Results in Air Pollution Scorecard

Air pollution is responsible for 7 million deaths annually, with 9 in 10 people worldwide breathing polluted air, according to new estimates from the the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO identify air pollution as a major global health concern, contributing to heart disease, stroke, cancer, and respiratory diseases.  To help address this they set guidelines for safe exposure limits to key pollutants including particulate matter (PM), ozone, and nitrogen dioxide, and also maintain a global air quality database which tracks PM2.5 and PM10 levels in 4000 locations worldwide.

Peering into the WHO data there are good and bad stories to tell.  Air pollution deaths are concentrated in South East Asia and the Western Pacific, where poor air quality coincides with high population densities.  Interestingly the latest data shows that the worst affected cities in these regions are predominantly in India, whereas air quality in China appears to be improving in the wake of citizen action and…

Old Men Yell at Trees

An atrocious piece of journalism has appeared in the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, blaming air pollution on trees, people, dirt, and pretty much everything but cars and the burning of fossil fuels.

On the campaign trail in 1980 Ronald Reagan was famously reported to quip that "trees cause more pollution than automobiles do".  He was widely mocked - and rightly so - for this naive interpretation of atmospheric science.  Now another old white man, Paul Gigot, is shaking his fist at the sky in vain, and dragging his like-minded and troubleplagued editorial board along with him.

In their editorial, the WSJ inform us that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) react with nitrogen oxides (NOx) to form ozone and smog.  So far so good.  They then go on to cite the latest scientific literature showing that in many cities personal care and household cleaning products - plus industrial solvents and commercial chemicals but they curiously don't get much attention here - pro…

Fake Plastic Trees

Air pollution is a big deal - it kills millions annually - but we aren't going to make progress in dealing with it by planting fake plastic trees in the middle of the world's cities.
When you attempt to reduce air pollution it is much easier to do it at the concentrated source - and easier yet to stop these compounds being formed all together - than it is to do once they've been released and diluted to one part per million or billion.  But yet again we see another story / press release about a tech startup trying to do just this.

The Crown Estate claim to have planted a small number of their CityTrees in several first world cities - cities with air quality issues, yes, but not on the level of their counterparts in the developing world.  These devices, like many others out there, are designed to suck in dirty air and purify it. They then release clean air to mix back in with the urban plume, where it can modestly dilute the remaining pollutants.  When you try and picture t…