Our dirty little secret

Cape Town Air Quality

By common reckoning, backed up by Conde Nast the travel publisher, Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The city is a potent mix of architecture, vibrancy, diverse people, stunning mountains, beautiful oceans, abundant flora and crystal clear air quality.  Oh wait!

The city’s warm climate is tempered by its proximity to Table Mountain and the cooler Antarctic weather current, resulting in a mostly comfortable Mediterranean climate.

There are 7,750 hectares of rich and varied flora along the 40km coastline of Cape Point and home to approximately more than 9,000 indigenous plant species. The combination of climate and flora should result in excellent air quality.

From the top of Table Mountain during the summer months one can quickly dispel the myth that our adverse air quality is caused by fossil fuel burning in the winter months. It’s just worse during winter.

No! the two main protagonists in this story are the particulate / emissions from vehicles on our overly congested road system and the nearby oil refinery at Milnerton that processes the fuels that power them.

If only it was the view from Table Mountain that was adversely affected.

The media and more recently politicians from around the world have allowed climate change to take a prominent role on the agenda and in policy making, specifically the commitments given at COP21 in Paris in December 2015.  The world needs those commitments to combat climate change.

Alas, the toxic air is already here!

Recent estimates from the World Health Organisation suggest that between 5.5 and 7 million people die from air pollution every year. That’s more than die from HIV / Aids and malaria put together.  In the UK alone 29,000 people die a year from breathing in particles of unburned carbon and construction dust, and an estimated 23,500 more as a result of nitrogen dioxide. Read in full here.

Although the problem is more acute in developing countries specifically in China and India, it is a problem common to all cities with growing numbers of private cars.

In cities around the world the long term strategy is to discourage private car use and encourage public transport. Assuming that’s even possible, let alone affordable, it’s still going to take a long time. How long can we wait?

During January 2016, the city of Delhi introduced an odd-even number plate policy to effectively halve the number of cars on the road. In addition to High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes and parking amongst other incentives to encourage carpooling and ride share, Cape Town might also consider a similar intervention, if nothing else to provide a measure of the positive effects it could have on air quality. Increasing vehicle occupancy through car pooling and ride share would immediately deliver this benefit.

With half as many vehicles on the road at a stroke, plenty of other benefits would be revealed.

, , , , ,