There is a growing need to adopt a new set of Sustainable Development Goals that aim to “Transform the World”. Change comes with collective effort, mutual understanding and knowledge toward specific goals.
Despite the UN and other international organisations making crucial decisions, the result is far from expected. It made me wonder what it is that we are falling short on? Is it the lack of interest or lack of awareness?
That’s when I had a eureka moment, and it suddenly started to make all sense. Many people don’t know the complicated terms and references that are used when we talk about sustainability. The idea inspired me to create a new series called “The ABCs of Sustainability Development”. I hope that this series of blogs is well received and serves its purpose. This week I want to talk about health and habitats. While seemingly theoretical, I believe reiteration of the bad thing in the world is the only way to raise alarms. Here’s peeking into the history of what caused climate deterioration and how it has been affecting our health and living.
The dawn of the 18th Century saw the rise of the Industrial Revolution in England. This inflection point in history set afoot a radical change that converted a largely agrarian and handicraft-heavy economy to one dominated by factory manufacturing. Rapid industrialisation and technological innovation changed the lifestyle of the people of the United Kingdom forever. After all, this is the world’s first industrial nation.
Cut to the 21st Century, the UK stands as a major industrial region however its activities have become the engine that is driving a climate and health crisis. Emissions from industries come bearing a societal cost also known as externalities. The cost of externalities from large industries is often not factored into the price of the product or service and can impact human health, infrastructure and the ecosystem.
Air pollution is the single largest threat to health in the UK and holds the capability of drastically shortening lifespans. The pollutants released by the industries enter the body through the skin or the respiratory system and they can have a detrimental effect on a person’s short as well as long term health. These effects can range from an allergic reaction to various acute and chronic diseases. They can cause heart and pulmonary problems or in some drastic cases, cancer.
Let’s dive into understanding what is the kind of pollution the UK faces and how it affects the health of its people and what it means for businesses.
On the 5th of December 1952, London woke up to a blanket of a mysteriously thick layer of smog. The deadly smog lasted over a week and took 4,000-10,000 lives in its wake.
London was heavily dependent on coal for power. This led to the addition of sulfur dioxide (SO2), carbon dioxide (CO2) and smoke particles to the environment. The deadly combination of industrial air pollution combined with high-pressure weather conditions lead to a lethal cloud of fog that engulfed the city completely. This was the event that made the UK enact strict laws against air pollution and stood as an important example of how severely health can be affected by industrial effluents.
Even today air pollution poses the largest pollution-related threat to human lives in the UK. While manufacturing used to be a major contributor, the transport industry is just as much to be blamed. The major pollutants of concern in the UK are particulate matter (PM), oxides of nitrogen, and ground-level ozone.
Poor air quality stands as a significant public health quality. A study by European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) found that air pollution is costing an average city resident almost £900 a year in sick days, healthcare and premature death. If the UK met WHO standards of pollution it could witness a whopping £1.6 billion boost a year to the economy. Furthermore, a study commissioned by the Clean Air Fund and conducted by CBI Economics found that 17,000 premature deaths could be prevented.
No source is left untapped, or in this case, unpolluted. On average, a household uses about 140 litres of water every day. The contamination of our water sources not only poses threat to the sanitation and health of the people but also to the wildlife and food systems that depend on it.
A 2021 report found that UK has lost more biodiversity than any G7 country, and is in the worst global 10%. A study on nearly 700 species of land animals, fish, birds, marine animals and moths uncovered that 41% have witnessed a population decline since 1970, 33% saw a minor change while only 26% have increased.
Loss is linked directly to the rampant industrial clearance of habitat lands. However, it is not surprising that in the remoter areas of northern England, Scotland and Wales, biodiversity is more intact than in areas such as south-east England, where farming tends to be more intense and where there are more people and more towns and cities.
There are three major causes of water pollution in the UK. First, the runoffs from agriculture consist of chemical fertilizers and pesticides account for about 40% of total water pollutants. Second, water companies release untreated sewage into water bodies. Third, run-offs from roads.
Agricultural pollution and sewage wastewater are destroying water bodies across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Pollution by the water industry is notably high in the southwest and south of England and accessibility to safe water also varies across different income groups. Environment Agency spent over £140m in 2008-09 on its water quality work in England, including an estimated £8m directly on diffuse pollution.
Through choices and decisions made by the government, businesses and individuals greener and healthier environment can be made more accessible which in turn can help reduce economic and healthcare cost per annum.