‘See, Observe, Act.’ Environmental governance expert Professor Claudia Carter reveals top tips to curb air pollution.
With all that’s been going on with climate change, the ‘Extinction Rebellion’ and Greta Thunberg, it is a well-known fact that the common mindsets of the people need changing to address one of the burning issues in our times and this three-word mantra would just be the inspiration you need.
‘See, Observe, Act.’
It’s not rocket science, but a simple guide to living free of pollution. Just regard it as a mantra or a daily prayer you keep doing.
The architect of this mantra is Claudia Carter, an Associate Professor in the field of interdisciplinary environmental research and environmental governance at Birmingham City University.
At first glance, she is the ordinary university lecturer you will find while just strolling through university — reserved, quick to point out factual errors and kind-hearted with stern attention to the watch. But after a brief conversation about pollution, one realizes that she has an extraordinary commitment to the things she holds dear — the environment being the forerunner.
“Don't be afraid to ask questions”
“The best and the most efficient way to curb pollution is to just be observant of what happens around you,” she says. The occasional sight of a rainbow, a rare sight of a red moon or the everyday sight of traffic jams during rush hour. All these counts.
“Next, don’t be afraid to ask questions,” she tells me. Not seeing any bees for a long time is an observation and asking why that happens is the next step of identifying the problem.
“First you saw that there aren’t many bees, then you asked why that happens. Now go plant some trees in your balcony, window box or garden. Then we actively help in the process of pollination and we are fighting against pollution.”
Air pollution was a major issue in Birmingham and a controversial talking point with the implementation of the clean air zone.
The Clean Air Zone (CAZ) in Birmingham is an initiative taken by Birmingham City Council to curb air pollution in the city centre. Drivers of the most polluting vehicles would have to pay a fine when entering Birmingham City Centre if the clean air zone is implemented from July 2020. The zone is a targeted area in the city centre which will cover all the roads within the A4540 Middleway Ring Road, but not the Middleway itself.
No vehicle is banned in the zone, but those which do not have clean enough engines will have to pay a daily charge to travel within the area if the relevant criteria is not met. Cars, taxis, LGVs, and minibuses will be charged £8 per day while HGVs, coaches, and buses are charged £50 per day if the vehicles do not meet the required criteria.
“Lots of fresh air and experiencing nature as it was deepened my respect and love for all things natural and made me realize how little we need to be happy.”
Claudia is one of the hopefuls for this new initiative.
“I’m personally very much in for a clean air zone. I came to Birmingham in 2011 and one of the things I noticed as soon as I arrived is the air pollution well before it was a major news item. I’m sensitive to dust. I can smell it, I breathe it and it really becomes very uncomfortable,” she tells me.
Originally from Germany, she has spent the last three decades in the UK researching environmental governance and sustainable development. The hiking and camping trips she had gone as a teenager had created a long-lasting impact on the deep connection with the environment.
“We had yurts and used fallen trees and rope for the structure during our camping trips; once we even camped in the freezing cold in a cave. But we always left the place the way it was. Lots of fresh air and experiencing nature as it was deepened my respect and love for all things natural and made me realize how little we need to be happy.”
This yearning for a simple lifestyle could possibly be the reason for Claudia to keep finding solutions on her own than relying on the councils to do the work for us.
“For many years I didn’t have a car, but we decided to buy one when my daughter was born. The car is rather old now and we only use it to see our distant relatives. Also, my daughter is grown up now. So once the car is not fit for the road, we won’t replace it.”
“My daughter also decided that she wouldn’t be taking the driving license and we can use public transportation or rent a car if it’s really needed,” she says rather proudly with a smile on her face.
The decision of not using the car had made her find alternative ways of doing the everyday chores. Using local shops for the weekly shopping and connecting with neighbors and taking part in local activities were some conscious decisions Claudia had done to be more environmentally efficient. Such steps seem long lost traits that need reviving.
“Sometimes, not having a car seems to make things a little less convenient but it actually makes us open to our own locality and builds community connections. The car has made us very independent, but it had cost forming friendships and communities in our own neighborhood,” replies Claudia when I ask about her missing her freedom to drive anywhere at any time.
Taking the size of Birmingham into account, the forthcoming Clean Air Zone is unlikely to be enough to curb air pollution. More alternative ways are needed, and Claudia has a list of them beginning with developing more cycle routes.
“The canal network is a real asset to Birmingham”
“Birmingham must do a lot more to encourage and support cycling,” she tells me. Although Birmingham is the second biggest city after London, many people live within a 10km radius of the centre, which can be cycled easily in half an hour.
“Updating busses to the Euro 6 standard and minimizing the idling of diesel engines all help reduce air pollution. Public transportation is much more efficient than private vehicles because they fit more people into a single vehicle, so it reduces congestion and emissions.”
“But it also depends on the fuel that public transport runs on. Diesel trains are good when they are running, but not when they are still at the station with a working engine; and that is a problem at New Street station, with poor ventilation on top.”
The canal network is a real asset for Birmingham remarked Claudia. “Birmingham has more canals than Venice and if the authorities will keep investing in turning canal paths into attractive and safe walking and cycling routes it could also be significant to help curb air pollution and support healthier commutes and lifestyles.”
Above all that, her final tip is about wanting less and being content with less. “I never aspired to be personally rich. Essentially, we need to become better connected within our social and natural environment and become ‘rich’ that way. That goes a long way to reduce pollution.”