I’m sure that we are all aware that China and India have become two of the powerhouse economies of the modern world. More than 50% of the world’s population live in these countries. These innovative “forward-thinking” nations are primarily still powered by fossil fuels. The somewhat unambitious target of China’s government is to reduce its energy from coal to below 58% by 2020. In China alone, 1.6 million people die each year as a result of air pollution.

Given that 1.39 billion people live in China, the emissions of Sulphur dioxide (which leads to acid rain) are huge and the emissions of nitrogen oxides (which cause ground-level smog*) will continue to kill millions of people each year. In fact, some studies say that we have a “fifth season” of the year, in which lethal smog cover the most populous regions of the world. Last week, an international cricket match in Delhi had to be halted, due to smog*. 

It is scarcely believable that Brazil (a country in which 26% of people live in poverty), two-thirds of its energy comes from hydro-electricity and another 10% comes from other renewable sources. This compares with the UK (a country in which only 20% live in poverty), where only 14% is renewable.

Coal is a fossil fuel, which still provides 30% of the world’s energy. When coal is burned, many toxic chemicals are released:

  • Mercury harms the nervous, digestive and immune systems as well as the lungs and kidneys. It can be lethal;
  • Hydrocarbons drastically alter the environment. Methane reacts with oxygen to create carbon dioxide (CO2). Increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere adds to the Greenhouse Effect and global warming;
  • Carbon monoxide (CO). If CO levels are high enough, inhaling it can cause you to become unconscious or die. Inhaling CO can also cause headaches, nausea and dizziness. Long-term inhalation of CO can cause heart disease. The brain and nervous system may not receive sufficient oxygen to function properly. 
    • Sadly, carbon monoxide is colourless and odourless, so you can inhale it (and die) without knowing about it. Nice.
  • Nitrogen oxide, high levels of which, in the atmosphere, can adversely affect vegetation, rendering it more vulnerable to disease and frost damage. It also reacts with other pollutants and forms ozone (further damaging vegetation).


  • Particulate matter is so small that, if under 10 micrometres in diameter, it can get deep into our lungs – and may even get into the bloodstream …


    • … which can cause:
      • premature death (for people with lung or heart disease). Lovely.
      • non-fatal heart attacks;
      • more severe asthma;
      • irregular heartbeat;
      • reduced lung function;
      • irritation of the airways, coughing and breathing difficulties.

Ironically, in countering aviation, we campaign to irritate our airways, because they irritate our airways.


Oil is another fossil fuel, which only provides 4% of the world’s energy. However, transportation (powered by burning oil/petrol) causes 27% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon is released into the atmosphere, causing air pollution and global warming. When accidents happen (such as spills/leaks, esp. at sea), marine, plant and animal life species can be destroyed – and vital ecosystems can be changed/damaged. Carbon dioxide, methane, sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide are all released by oil burning.

Solutions: the magical “natural” gas? Well, no. Recent scientific studies have shown that this may be even worse for the ozone layer than coal is. Natural gas comprises mainly methane. It is found between shale rocks* and elsewhere. Burning it produces nitrogen oxides (which can cause smog). Local and regional air quality suffers from burning gas:

    • Emissions from burning “natural” gas can cause:
      • respiratory symptoms;
      • cardiovascular disease;
      • cancer.

Jake Yeates


* One well-known fact is that drilling for shale (a finite resource) poses a risk of tremors and/or earthquakes.