Sunday, May 29, 2011

Air pollution in Sri Lanka - a rant

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Something burning, 24 hours a day.

I need to get something off my chest. Haha. We all do, even if we don't know it yet.

It's hard to know where to start - there are so many things wrong in this picture. But let's start with those chimneys.

Sri Lanka has a few things to sort out, and the air people breathe in Colombo is a good place to start.

Did you know this country has emissions rules? And vehicles get emissions-tested? Hard to believe, when you see the exhaust from the average minivan. I've heard that vehicles sold here constitute "Japan's dumping ground".

This country needs nuclear power. The whole world does. We have to stop burning diesel and all other sorts of lazy polluting fuels, not just for the biosphere but - being purely self interested - for us, for people.

I say nuclear because i think it's the feasible option. Renewables could do the job too if we can get enough of them. Whatever, we need electricity to replace petrol, diesel etc, and we have to get it without burning hydrocarbons. No-one wants to be energy-poor again (people haven't listened to Illich). Fossil fuels have been fantastically cheap, easy energy - just try to cycle at 20mph, then do the same in a car or on a motorbike - and we need to make sure electricity is there to take their place).

I cycled home from Colombo tonight, and my snot is blackened by all the god-knows-what in the air. (I'm almost the fastest thing on the main road, because the traffic is so bad, at standstill mostly, but confident motorbikes - and me - can go up the inside, where the tarmac stops. Dirt surface, no pavements, somehow they can afford 4 or 6 lane highways, but no pavements, it's appalling. Yay for suspension though).

Why do we put up with this? The black stuff in one's snot at the end of the day, i mean. We wouldn't put up with someone pissing all over us, and that might be healthier. Or do rich people who matter just hang out only where the air is clear?

They have some Thorium here, but not the skill or commitment to use it yet. I saw a newspaper headline (one of the english ones) that was effectively "Government rethinking nuclear due to OH NOES NUCLEAR GONE WRONG IN JAPAN". Not v encouraging.

On that subject - the way I see Japan is:

OK, bit silly putting a power plant in earthquake area, and right on the coast. But all of japan fits that description (or is mountains) so they had little choice.

And then, what happened is actually a great ad for how safe nuclear is. Plant runs merrily for decades, then is hit by a R9 earthquake and tsunami, and just about melts. There's time to get out. Some deaths, workers at the plant, which is thankfully mostly automated.

Take any other power plant, most of all coal, and you'd have more deaths over those decades (from massive piles of coal falling on people etc), then more deaths on the day in March. Plus deaths at the coal mine. (I know uranium mines aren't safe either, but they're smaller).

So why the resistance? is it the cognitive bias, to avoid the possibility of "dread" events - rare terrible catastrophes - even if it means being subject to more everyday harms that far outweigh the dread possibility?

Yes, nuclear can be a catastrophe if it goes wrong. But burning fossil fuels is a catastrophe even when it goes right - it's just a fundamental component of doing it. When we grow up, we have to get past our irrational fears - of the dark, of spiders - and it's time we do the same about nuclear.

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