It has cost us a few decades, but it seems that finally, we have taken to talking about pollution. And it is not that the scientists have not spent years warning. Even the cinema has done it. But the thing, in the end, has been faster and more intense than we would like and we walk with the coiled beret, but the one with contamination.
Cities such as Paris or London have been rehearsing the restrictions on road traffic that are now so frequent in our capital, and could soon intensify and add more cities. The reason: in London already breathe toxic air, and the European map of air quality shows that the thing is much worse in other parts of the continent. For example, in our country, where despite its lower industrialization compared to other regions, we already have a serious problem.
There are many variables involved in air quality. Some are obvious, such as emissions of pollutants, the vegetation index of each region (and the thing in Spain worsens at full speed), precipitation (almost absent since spring) or the movement of the wind.
To contextualize how serious the thing is, it is enough to look at Valencia, where the antipollution protocol was activated a few days ago and it was recommended that outdoor sports should not be practiced. And that despite the fact that in coastal areas the wind circulates with greater intensity.
However, the contamination of the city itself, the “classic”, coincided temporarily with the burning of straw in the garden surrounding the capital. It is not necessary, therefore, to have a factory next to it, or a huge road, to have an unbreathable air.
According to estimates of the time, a 1% increase in coal intensity was equivalent to increasing infant mortality by the same percentage. And that figure is comparable, according to the researchers, to what is happening now in China or India, as well as other corners of Africa where the mining of polluting compounds is irreparably damaging the environment. The problem is global, and aggravated (and aggravating) by the rise in temperatures and deforestation.
Right now, pollution causes seven times more deaths indirectly than road accidents, according to some data.
The problem of “bedroom cities”
What is the reason for the increase? There is not a single motive, really, but a mixture of several things. It rains less, the temperature has risen, there are more houses with heating -which also pollute and not a little-, there is more air traffic… Several countries are approaching leaps and bounds towards desertification, and beyond the inevitable, there are many issues that do they could be corrected. For example, planning, that is, how we structure cities and displacements.
The culprit that everyone looks at, the car, serves as an example. Large cities have been built in such a way that jobs are concentrated in the center, while population growth and rising land prices have meant that a large part of people ends up living outside the urban core.
That causes that the peaks of contamination do not occur in the center of the city, but in peripheral neighborhoods of the south, where a great part of the traffic flows in displacement from that zone (where the mass of workers is) to the north (where there are the jobs).
All this has a quite palpable social echo: the number of cars has exploded wildly. According to data from the DGT, in 2017 there are more than twice as many vehicles in our country, a progression that does not correspond at all to the increase in population (which is now no more than twice what it was then). Only the crisis has contained the trend.
Traffic jams – constant in cities – would, therefore, be the result of the collision of several problems: many vehicles making the same routes that can not be absorbed by roads and streets, as well as public transport networks and the radials do not absorb the displacement needs of the population.
This way, and although the car is not the only cause of the problem, it has been placed in the center of all eyes. Countries such as France or Spain already penalize the most polluting vehicles, and it is even considered that they stop making diesel cars -preferred by many because of the lower price of fuel- and, in the future, that they may stop producing gasoline cars.
The issue is that the automobile industry is one of the most powerful industries in the world. In countries like the USA o Germany represents important percentages of the labor force, not to mention exports and all industries derived from and complementary to those it nurtures. Barack Obama focused much of the campaign of his re-election in content to the mining strip and the belt of the northeastern automobile, the famous rust belt that ended up decanting the victory of Donald Trump.
However, something is changing: all major brands have launched electric and hybrid vehicles into the consumer market, making traffic and pollution restrictions a new brand strategy by offering a solution to a problem that they themselves create. In the last five years, it has become common to see hybrid vehicles, and loading points for electric vehicles begin to appear in large cities and at road petrol stations.
New international balances
The question is to see how that can impact the distribution of world power. Many of the world’s largest economies base an important part of their wealth on the production or export of fossil fuels, or on the production of goods derived from their use – such as the manufacture of automobiles, for example.
This is the case, in order of wealth, of countries such as the United States, Germany, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Canada or Iran, to name six economies among the twenty most important in the world. In fact, oil accounts for more than 20% of the GDP of countries such as Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi Arabia or Oman, plus a non-negligible 5.6% of Russia’s GDP, or 3% of Norway’s GDP. And that only focusing on oil, because the specific market of the car is another important percentage.