Category: Wellbeing (page 2 of 2)

Part 2 of 3: The causes of London’s pollution problem

Welcome back to our series on air quality! Last time, we talked about why air pollution matters. Today, the focus will be on the main causes of air pollution in London – and why the Volkswagen emissions scandal might have had some positive consequences after all. Again, Timothy Baker from the Environmental Research Group (ERG) at King’s has shared his knowledge with us, and given us his expert view on what governments should do to tackle pollution. 

When it comes to the causes of pollution, many might be quick to blame large vehicles such as lorries. But according to Tim Baker, one of the main culprits for air pollution in London are diesel cars. They were often seen as the more environmentally friendly option compared to petrol cars, but while technology in petrol has improved rapidly in recent years, diesel cars have lagged behind. “The Department for Transport tested the 15 most popular diesel vehicles, and on average they were 4 to 7 times over the legal limit”, says Tim Baker in our interview. Petrol cars on the other hand only achieve somewhere around 10% of the emissions they are legally allowed to achieve, he claims. ITF066044RGB75Under certain conditions, many diesel cars will also switch off their emission controls. Legal loopholes enabled them to do this when the outside temperature falls below 18°C. While manufacturers claim this is to protect the engine, average temperatures in London mean this causes significant problems for the city’s pollution levels, as cold periods are often when pollution builds up. This is made worse by the rising number of diesel vehicles on London’s roads.

“What we have seen is that the advances in technology in some vehicles have been massively offset by the change in fleet, especially in London. 10 years ago, probably around 15% of cars on the road were diesel. The year before last, more than half of the registered new cars were diesel.”

Some weather conditions can also contribute to higher pollution levels. Pollution can build up when it is not windy, and some of the worst pollution episodes happen on cold, foggy mornings when pollutants are trapped close to the ground. In addition to this, London’s geographical location means it may also be exposed to pollution from continental Europe. This is usually the case during spring, when wind carries pollution from the Netherlands, Belgium or France to London. However, the opposite is true for large parts of the year, carrying emissions from South East England to continental Europe. IND053Therefore, even local pollution might require cross-border efforts to be tackled effectively. “It’s also someone else’s local emissions. And where are our local emissions going when they are not causing us a problem? They are going to somebody else”, says Tim Baker.

To solve London’s pollution problem, he says governments need to be brave, and not afraid to make difficult decisions. “Everyone says it’s the lorries. But if you actually want to solve the urban pollution problem in London, in a stroke, it’s ban diesel cars”, Tim Baker tells us in the interview. While this might be a drastic measure, he believes the public is now more aware of just how bad diesel vehicles are for air quality. “The Volkswagen emissions scandal did more for publicity than anything that has been done in the previous years of trying to get the story across”, the expert tells us, explaining that when the first London sites exceeded annual limits earlier this year, the press coverage had changed compared to previous years. “Usually they are calling us to explain why air pollution is bad for you. That didn’t happen this time – they actually started their articles with ‘We know air pollution is bad for you, it’s diesel that is causing it’.” As much of the changes to London’s car fleet have happened in the last 10 years, Tim Baker believes these changes should be reversible over the next 10 years. However, he is not sure governments are ready to do this:

“Is it likely to happen? Probably not. It should be possible, but I suspect there isn’t the bravery. I hope I’m proved wrong”

1917496_212679981259_3444746_nThe next and final part of our air pollution series will focus on the actions each individual can take to both protect themselves from pollution, and to help clean up London’s air. In the meantime, you can follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more updates, as well as the ERG’s Twitter and website for regular pollution updates and forecasts. 

Sustainability Forum #2: Well-being and green space

Last Tuesday night we had our second sustainability forum which focused on Green space and well-being. We were joined by some wonderful speakers; Kate Sheldon from Trees for Cities, Gavin Atkins from the Ecominds project and Elle, Emily and Tobias from King’s own Urban Garden Project.

Held at Denmark Hill campus, the idea of the forum was to show that there is a benefit to everyone to spend time in green spaces, and how this can be a form of therapy, from helping with depression to relieving exam stress for students.

Our first speaker was Kate talking about Trees for Cities, a charity that started out as Trees for London but now reaches across 15 other UK cities and multiple international.  Each year they plant around 50,000-100,000 urban trees with the help of volunteers including members of the local community, schools, corporate groups and many more.

Kate described charity as a ‘natural health service’ giving people the opportunity to improve their health through planting trees.  She described how there is vast evidence around the value of high-quality green space for physical and mental health as well as an improvement of the surrounding environment.  Involving local communities in the project also makes the community more motivated to look after the trees and take an interest in their local area.trees

This video shows more about the Horticulture training base located next to Denmark Hill at Ruskin Park.  Over 350 hard-to-teach individual have been trained at this site over the last 12 years.

Another project that Trees for Cities are working on is edible playgrounds which aims to combat childhood obesity and hunger. It aims to improve the knowledge of healthy eating among the school children and gives them the tools to make better diet and lifestyle choices.

She ended her talk by mentioning how King’s and Trees for Cities could collaborate, including links between public health commissioners and clinical commissioning groups.  If you are interested in anything Kate and Trees for Cities has to offer you can contact her here or visit their website.

The next speaker was Gavin from Ecominds who spoke about ecotherapy – an intervention that improves mental and physical health by supporting people to be active outdoors. Currently 57 locally based Mind charities provide some form of ecotherapy, with 130 Ecominds project setup in 2009. This programmes includes activities such as care farming, green exercise, creative arts and much more. Gavin explained how each project was unique and focused around the individual needs of those in need of the therapy.mind

One key characetrics within some of the projects is the idea that participants are actively shaping nature, rather than passively experiencing it.  It is also key that natural environments can also take you ‘away from stressors’ which can help those that are currently experiencing mental health issues and those thought to be on the verge of developing them.

The Ecominds projects have shown positive outcomes on how the programme can help individuals.  7 out of 10 people experienced significant increase in wellbeing with more than 3 in 5 perceiving a positive impact on their overall health.  This is a huge achievement and shows the potential of ecotherapy as a form of treatment.  The case studies which Gavin also shared showed how findings like these in practice have saved the NHS/state up to £12,400 a year per person introduced in the schemes.

The major challenge now facing project such as Ecominds (apart from funding) is the perception that there needs to be hard evidence on the benefits of the schemes.  GPs often do not realise that these treatments are operating in their area and only 52% of GPs considered ecotherapy suitable for treating anxiety and depression.

The Ecominds project has now come to an end (due to funding) but Mind still continue to run numerous projects.  Three publications have been realised with research into ecotherapy.  To find out more about these or how to get involved in the project contact Gavin or visit the website.

Finally we had Elle, Emily and Tobias from the Urban Garden project from King’s speak about the work they are doing with regards to having working gardens on campus. Excitingly they now have a confirmed site at Guy’s Campus and one in process at Maugham Library.  The hope is that the gardens will start to be developed in the next few months.

The plan is for there to be a mix of seasonal and all year plants, as well as having a few edible plants which can be taken home by the volunteers that grow them.

The project aims to provide stress relief for staff and students as well as teaching them useful gardening skills.  The project with also to bright up the campus and make the area a more enjoyable place for students that sit outside in the Quad at Guys or outside the library.

Urban gardens plans to link with Trees for Cities to help in the design and planning stages of the project, with the idea of using upcycled furniture as part of the garden.

Overall this was a great event, giving us a good overview of why green spaces and active involvement with them is just as important for well-being as it is for the environment.

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