If you want to preserve the natural beauty of your country and uphold its national pride could you guess the country which boasts the following dubious statistics?
- 78 percent increase in transport related emissions
- The fifth-highest emission levels per person in the OECD
- Rise of temperature by one degree
- Loss of 25 percent ice from glaciers
- Rise of sea level up to 22 cm in main ports
We know, New Zealand is not the country you would want the answer to be, but sadly it is true. Our beautiful country is no longer going to be beautiful if the present situation continues.
According to a government report of the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ, the deleterious effects of climate change in New Zealand include:
- Increase in transport related emissions
- Increase in car-ownership rates increases rate of emissions
- Irreversible impact on New Zealand’s natural systems – economy, extreme weather events, biodiversity and health
- Sea level rise could swamp some New Zealand cities
- Coastal NZ towns could face ‘extreme poverty’
With such ominous portents, it is but natural that NZ must act and act fast on all fronts to preserve its environment and nature. The government has set an ambitious target of reducing greenhouse emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
The sad part of air pollution in New Zealand is that air pollution is on the increase in our country whereas the UK, Sweden and France have reduced air pollution substantially.
What is air pollution?
Air pollution is a complex mix of tiny particles and gases such as particulate matter, liquid droplets, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and sulfur oxide and volatile organic compounds. Natural or human activity can cause air pollution. In New Zealand, besides natural causes, motor vehicles cause air pollution along with other sources of air pollution such as wood and coal fires, industry and open burning.
Motor vehicles cause air pollution by producing gases and particles through exhausts and wear and tear on tires and brakes. Ill-maintained and older vehicles cause more air pollution than newer and well-maintained vehicles. Motor vehicles also release greenhouse gases comprising mainly carbon dioxide which is the major contributor to climate change.
With each of us breathing 14,000 liters of air every single day the quality of air we breathe determines our health condition to a large extent. Any slack in the quality of air (air pollution) increases the chances of ill health. The known health effects of poor air quality are:
- Diseases of the heart and lung
- Higher incidence of hospitalization
- Higher premature deaths
- Incidence of cancer
While poor air quality or air pollution affects general health of all people, some classes of people carry more risk and they include:
- Young children
- Older adults
- People with chronic health conditions – especially lung and heart diseases
Thus, air pollution is a major cause of health problems in New Zealand.
Solutions to curb air pollution
Solutions to curb air pollution are directly linked to the source of air pollution. Motor vehicle emissions contribute 22 percent of the total to air pollution levels. In dollar terms, air pollution accounts for $1061 per person social cost out of which motor vehicle emissions contribute $233. This is a high price to pay for New Zealanders.
As mentioned earlier increasing vehicle ownership and usage contributes to rise in air pollution. It is thus logical to conclude that reduction in vehicle usage can reduce air pollution.
Owning motor vehicles is an aspiration for people besides being a mode of personal transportation. New Zealand boasts ownership of 1 vehicle per capita. Therefore, using a vehicle for personal transportation is a habit that has formed over the years. Unwittingly or otherwise this habit has caused air pollution to increase over the years and this can only increase with increase in vehicle ownership.
We said that motor vehicles contribute to 22 percent of total air pollution. If we want to bring this down, we can do so by several ways including:
- Reducing personal transportation
- Using more public transport
- Maintaining vehicles properly
- Using newer vehicles
- Better roads
- Reducing traffic jams
In addition to the above, a relatively new concept in New Zealand is the use of carpooling. With car pooling, you can reduce vehicle usage substantially and thus bring down air pollution.
Simple back of the envelope calculation tells us that if we all resort to car pooling we can reap benefits as follows
- If 2 people travel in a vehicle instead of solo, we can reduce contribution of vehicles to total air pollution from 22 percent to 11 percent
- If 3 people travel in a vehicle instead of solo, we can reduce contribution of vehicles to total air pollution from 22 percent to about 8 percent
- Reduced vehicles on the road means reduced congestion, fewer traffic jams, lesser demand for parking and faster commute times
- Reduced cost of fuel and maintenance
- Lesser strain due to shared driving responsibility
We would like to end by quoting the iconic ex-President of the United States, late John F Kennedy, who famously told Americans “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” This sage advice is perfectly suited to current times where environmental issues dominate with global warming and climate change becoming a serious threat to the environment.
It is time that we New Zealanders should heed the late President’s advice and embrace car pooling more and more to reap its benefits and contribute our little bit to preserve the beauty of our beloved country and its natural environment.