On a recent trip to India I was struck by how polluted the air was. Indeed, on the day we arrived, over 150 flights were cancelled due to smog in Delhi. It was not unusual to see people with masks on their faces which is synonymous with China but it seems air pollution is a major problem in all industrialised areas not just because it hinders our ability to travel but because it’s severely detrimental to our health.
Clean air is paramount for healthy living. We can live 3 weeks without food, about one week without water but only several minutes without oxygen. Anything that we breathe in, enters our blood stream within 10 seconds and unless it’s good clean air that we’re breathing, it can do untold damage to our organs. As a live and dry blood microscopist I can see heavy metals in clients’ dry blood images, it is not a pretty sight. No wonder the residents of Delhi are concerned. News of the high pollution in Delhi is spread across the front pages of their newspapers on a daily basis.
While it has reached crisis point in recent weeks, bad air is nothing new in Delhi. According to the World Health Organisation, it is the most polluted city in the world. Pollution in Delhi spikes during winter, it sometimes hits staggering heights on the Air Quality Index (AQI) reaching 999. To provide a little context, the highest AQI in London today is 150, in Beijing it is 288, and anything above 500 is considered hazardous. Whereas, in Copenhagen today, the AQI is 30 showing what bicycle transportation is doing for the health of the Danish and not just in terms of exercise.
Lichens, which grow readily on the trees around The Raw Retreat, can be used as air pollution indicators, especially of the concentration of sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere as they cannot survive unless the air is clean. There is little manufacturing in Cornwall and it is one of only a few counties without a motorway. The air here comes straight off the Atlantic Ocean and although The Raw Retreat is not on the coast, there is little in between other than moorland.
Ultimately it is our choice. We are lucky in the UK to have a choice. We can choose where we live, how we heat our homes, whether we drive a vehicle and how it is fuelled, whether we buy manufactured goods or not and whether we use fossil fuels, for whatever reason. I often get the response from guests that they do not have a choice where they live due to work, house prices, school catchment areas etc. Also, that they have to conform to conventions due to lack of time or money but ultimately one does have a choice, even if that is to ‘up sticks’ and move to a desert island somewhere and live on next to nothing. If we do little else, we should at least voice our feelings about the importance of air quality to our elected governors, otherwise before we know it, the smog of Delhi, which is apparently equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes a day, will be on our doorsteps in the UK much the same as it was before the 1956 Clean Air Act.