A global epidemic is killing millions every year – but it’s not a virus, it’s air pollution

A global epidemic is killing millions every year – but it’s not a virus, it’s air pollution

“These deaths don’t make front pages. There are no live updates. Cobra will not be convened”

How bad is this going to get? How many people will fall ill? How many are going to die? Government agencies tell us not to panic. Which is perhaps a sure-fire way to send people running for the hills.

But the science is clear. We are currently facing an epidemic that is now the leading cause of premature deaths.

In 2019, worldwide more than eight million people died as a consequence of air pollution. Globally, toxic air now kills more people than tobacco, which used to be the largest cause of premature death. In the UK this year, between 28,000 and 36,000 people will die because they are exposed to air pollution. These deaths won’t make front pages. There will be no live updates. Cobra will not be convened. 

Not so with the rapidly emerging threat from Covid-19, known as the coronavirus. Given how interconnected our global civilisation is, it was always a matter of when, not if, a new virus would emerge with the potential to produce a global pandemic. Given that a vaccine could still be a year or more away, it’s increasingly likely that we are witnessing the spread of a virus that could infect millions.

The Chinese government placed 50 million people under mandatory quarantine, cancelled public gatherings, closed schools, and used mass surveillance systems to monitor individuals. This has appeared to work, at least in the short term. The rate of new cases in China is decreasing. But it has come at considerable cost.

Factory output in China fell at a record rate in February, while car sales collapsed by 92 per cent. Some manufacturers are not making any cars in China due to supply lines grinding to a halt. We are only in the third month of 2020, but this is going to take a huge bite out of economic growth in China. That economic contagion is already spreading, with other countries downgrading growth forecasts for this year.

Nasa satellite imagery shows the difference in pollution levels around Beijing since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak (Photo: Nasa)


It has also had a remarkable impact on air quality. Satellite images produced by Nasa have shown a sharp decline in pollution levels across China as factories stay closed and fewer vehicles were on the roads. This will produce improvements in air quality that are desperately needed. Air pollution kills more than one million people a year in China. Inadvertently, the Chinese government has possibly saved just as many lives by reducing exposure to toxic air than any one virus.

The question is, why are these measures not sustained? It shouldn’t matter if someone dies from respiratory failure due to particles of soot or a virus. The loss of life is always tragic. But coronavirus is presented to us as a new threat. A narrative of urgency is easy to produce.

The current crisis shows us that we are willing to accept quite significant changes to our lives in order to help slow down the spread of a dangerous virus. When it comes to reducing air pollution, we know that taking cars off of roads, and closing coal fired power stations would mean people will live better, longer lives.

We have the solutions. There are eight million reasons to implement them with urgency.

James Dyke is a senior lecturer in global systems at Exeter University (He writes a weekly environment column for i.)

Climate Crisis Facts

Climate Crisis Facts

It is real and it is already happening

Human-caused climate change has already been proven to increase the risk of floods and extreme rainfall, heatwaves and wildfires with implications for humans, animals and the environment.

And things aren’t looking good for the future either. With the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere projected to maintain an average 411 parts per million (ppm) throughout 2019, there is a long way to go before the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement are met. To put this into context: atmospheric CO2 hovered around 280 ppm before the start of the Industrial Revolution in 1750 – the 46 per cent increase since then is the main cause of global warming. Reliable temperature records began in 1850 and our world is now about one degree Celsius hotter than in the “pre-industrial” period.


The Paris Agreement focuses on keeping the global temperature rise in this century to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – ideally to 1.5 degrees Celsius – to avoid “severe, widespread and irreversible” climate change effects. But, if current trends continue, the world is likely to pass the 1.5 degrees Celsius mark between 2030 and 2052 unless it finds a way to reach net zero emissions.

Here’s everything you need to know about where we are with the climate crisis.

1. Our summers and winters keep getting warmer

San Francisco, British Columbia and Delhi all reported all-time record June temperatures this year, suggesting heatwaves are beginning anew in the Northern Hemisphere this summer. In 2018, the UK experienced the hottest summer since 2006 and a scientific study into last year’s data showed that such heatwaves are now 30 times more likely due to climate change.

And all of this is set to become much more common. There is a 12 per cent chance of average temperatures being as high as the UK experienced last year; this compares with a less than half a per cent chance that would be expected in a climate without human-caused climate change.

But the country is not only experiencing soaring temperatures in summer. Temperatures of 21.2 degrees Celsius were recorded in London’s Kew Gardens on February 26, 2019. It was the warmest winter day the UK has ever experienced. Parts of the country were hotter than Malibu, Barcelona and Crete. Milder winters can have detrimental effects on hibernating mammals, migratory birds and flowering plants.

2. Indonesia will move its capital city as its current one is sinking

Sea levels are rising at the fastest rate in 3,000 years, an average three millimetres per year. The two major causes of sea level rise are thermal expansion – the ocean is warming and warmer water expands – and melting of glaciers and ice sheets that increases the flow of water. Antarctica and Greenland hold enough frozen water to raise global sea levels by about 65 metres if they were to melt completely. Even if this scenario is unlikely, these ice masses are already melting faster. And island nations and coastal regions are feeling the impact.

Earlier this year, Indonesia announced its plans to move the capital city away from Jakarta. Home to over ten million people, some parts of Jakarta are sinking as much as 25cm per year. Jakarta’s precarious position is thanks to a combination of two factors – rising global sea levels and land subsidence as underground water supplies have been drained away to meet water needs.

This grim picture is repeated elsewhere too. In the Pacific, at least eight islands were swallowed by the sea in the last century, with Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands feared to be the next low-lying nations to be wiped off the map.

3. Average wildlife populations have dropped by 60 per cent in just over 40 years

The average size of vertebrate (mammals, fish, birds and reptiles) populations declined by 60 per cent between 1970 and 2014, according to the biennial Living Planet Report published by the Zoological Society of London and the WWF. That doesn’t mean that total animal populations have declined by 60 per cent, however, as the report compares the relative decline of different animal populations. Imagine a population of ten rhinos where nine of them died; a 90 per cent population drop. Add that to a population of 1,000 sparrows where 100 of them died – a ten per cent per cent decrease. The average population decrease across these two groups would be 50 per cent even though the loss of individuals would be just 10.08 per cent.

Whatever way you stack the numbers, climate change is definitely a factor here. An international panel of scientists, backed by the UN, argues that climate change is playing an increasing role in driving species to extinction. It is thought to be the third biggest driver of biodiversity loss after changes in land and sea use and overexploitation of resources. Even under a two degrees Celsius warming scenario, five per cent of animal and plant species will be at risk from extinction. Coral reefs are particularly vulnerable to extreme warming events, their cover could be reduced to just one per cent of current levels at two degrees Celsius of warming.

4. There’s more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere than any time in human history

In May, sensors at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii – which has tracked Earth’s atmospheric concentration of CO2 since the late 1950s – detected a CO2 concentration of 415.26 ppm. The last time Earth’s atmosphere contained this much CO2 was more than three million years ago, when sea levels were several metres higher and trees grew at the South Pole. Scientists have warned that carbon dioxide levels higher than 450ppm are likely to lock in catastrophic and irreversible changes in the climate. Around half of the CO2 emitted since 1750 has been in the last 40 years.

5. We will consume all of earth’s 2019 resources by July 29

Earth Overshoot Day is a symbolic date on which humanity’s consumption for the year outstrips Earth’s capacity to regenerate those resources that year. The calculated date is getting earlier each year. It is July 29 in 2019; in 1999 it was September 29. The cost of this overspending includes deforestation, soil erosion, overfishing, and CO2 build-up in the atmosphere, which leads to global warming, more severe droughts, wildfires and other extreme weather events.

6. Dengue fever could spread through much of southeastern US by 2050

Dengue is the world’s fastest-growing mosquito-borne virus, currently killing some 10,000 people and affecting around 100 million per year. As global temperatures are rising, Aedes aegypti mosquitos that carry the disease could thrive in places that were previously unsuitable for them and benefit from shorter incubation periods. A recent study published in the scientific journal Nature warned that, in a warming world, dengue could spread to the US, higher altitudes in central Mexico, inland Australia and to large coastal cities in eastern China and Japan.

7. Two-thirds of extreme weather events in the last 20 years were influenced by humans

The number of floods and heavy rains has quadrupled since 1980 and doubled since 2004. Extreme temperatures, droughts and wildfires have also more than doubled in the last 40 years. While no extreme weather event is never down to a single cause, climate scientists are increasingly exploring the human fingerprints on floods, heatwaves, droughts and storms. Carbon Brief, a UK-based website covering climate science, gathered data from 230 studies into “extreme event attribution” and found that 68 per cent of all extreme weather events studied in the last 20 years were made more likely or more severe by human-caused climate change. Heatwaves account for 43 per cent of such events, droughts make up 17 per cent and heavy rainfall or floods account for 16 per cent.

8. Carbon emissions from energy use are rising at the fastest rate since 2011

Extreme weather is driving up demand for energy. Carbon emissions from global energy use jumped two per cent in 2018, according to BP’s annual world energy study. This was the fastest growth in seven years and is roughly the carbon equivalent to increasing the number of passenger cars worldwide by a third. The unusual number of hot and cold days last year resulted in increased use of cooling and heating systems powered by natural gas and coal. The energy sector accounts for two-thirds of all carbon emissions.

9. 120,000 square kilometres of tropical forest were lost in 2018

The world’s tropical forests are shrinking at a staggering rate, the equivalent of 30 football pitches per minute. Whilst some of this loss may be attributed to natural causes such as wildfires, forest areas are primarily cleared to make way for cattle or agricultural production such as palm oil and soybeans. Deforestation contributes to global carbon emissions because trees naturally capture and lock away carbon as they grow.

When forest areas are burnt, carbon that took decades to store is immediately released back into the atmosphere. Tropical deforestation is now responsible for 11 per cent of the world’s CO2 emissions – if it were considered a country, tropical deforestation would be the third-largest emitter after China and the US.

10. The UK will likely miss its transport emissions targets

There are about 210,000 electric vehicles in the UK. Although there is a steady growth in demand, only two per cent of households own a hybrid and just one per cent have an all-electric car. The UK has set a net zero target for transport emissions meaning all cars and vans on its roads will have to be all-electric by 2050, but if the country is to stand any chance of achieving these ambitious plans, tens of millions of petrol and diesel cars will have to be replaced.

In a recent letter to the Committee on Climate Change, experts warned that, based on the latest battery technology, the UK will need to import almost as much cobalt as is consumed annually by European industry, three quarters of the world’s lithium production, nearly the entire global production of neodymium, and at least half of the world’s copper production. There are currently 31.5m cars on UK roads, covering more than 400 billion kilometres per year.


Thanks to Sabrina Weiss at Wired.co.uk for the content of this article.

Political action

Political action

The top 20 companies in the world are responsible for a staggering 35% of the total global greenhouse emissions on today.

These companies have a significant moral, financial, and legal responsibility for the climate crisis, and have an equally proportionate burden to help address the problem.

But despite this, a study earlier this year found that the largest five stock-market-listed oil and gas companies spend nearly $200m each year lobbying to delay, control or block policies to tackle climate change. (link)

But what should we all be doing? Well many of the worst offenders are investor-owned companies that are household names around the world and they spend billions of pounds portraying themselves as environmentally responsible. So the first step is to take any of their marketing with a truck load of salt. Next – get behind political campaigners. You may not be the kind of person who blocks a road with Extinction Rebellion, but consider supporting their cause with a donation, or voting for a political party who have a green manifesto.

Have a read through the work being done by Climate Accountability Institute, which focuses its work on the fossil fuel companies that, in their view, have their collective hand on the throttle are paramount in determining the rate of carbon emissions and the shift to non-carbon fuels.

But chiefly of all, try hard not believe everything you read on face value. Look into the science. Research the facts, and act responsibly by living sustainably.

Yet another temperature record broken

Yet another temperature record broken

Last year Europe experienced its most extreme year ever for unusual weather events. Record heat and precipitation were recorded across the continent, with extremely cold weather during the winter, and heat and drought through spring and summer.

I’m sure it hasn’t gone unnoticed that 2019 has also been rather warm lately. Earlier this year the UK experienced unusually warm weather during the first few months — with record-breaking temperatures that hadn’t been seen in the last 122 years. We have also had the hottest February in UK’s history, with the highest average daily maximum temperature at 18.3 °C.

Then only a few weeks ago the highest temperature ever recorded in the UK – 38.7C – was confirmed by the Met Office, with July thought to have set the record for the hottest month ever recorded. Another startling fact is that 9 of the 10 hottest years on Earth have occurred since 2000. All this combined evidence makes it unequivocally clear that global warming is already affecting people’s lives and is not only a future problem.

The clever people at GreenMatch.co.uk have put together a very intuitive interactive-graphic which helps demonstrate how different countries in Europe are being affected by the climate crisis. Taking into account
surface temperatures, sea temperatures, sea levels, and precipitation each country has been scored from 1-100 on how severely it has been negatively impacted by the changing climate.

Whilst this a nice way of looking at the data, ultimately it is just another way to illustrate that the climate is only getting hotter and not colder. There is no denial in the fact that we are see environmental problems all around the world and problems of this magnitude need a universal policy on sustainability and renewable energy.

Closer to home we can all do our bit to contribute, starting with small, everyday actions — such as recycling and lowering your consumption — changing your domestic energy source to a renewable supplier can also make a huge difference.

In the coming months we will be trialling a beta version of our ‘ZIA’ app. This will provide lots of easy tips and useful advice on how to live a more sustainable lifestyle. If you’re interested in being part of the team, please contact us and show your support.

The Plastic Problem

The Plastic Problem

The Plastic Tide is growing by 8 million metric tonnes a year. If nothing is done, it is estimated that this figure will rise to 80 million metric tonnes a year by 2025.  

Sadly this is a tide that does not recede. It consists of all sizes of plastics, with larger pieces taking at least 400 years to break down, into fragments known as microplastics.  These and other tiny pieces of plastic, like microbeads, accumulate, forming an oceanic soup that recent estimates put at 15 to 50 trillion pieces. 

Increasing numbers of marine animals die each year through starvation due to eating plastic that stays in their stomach making them feel full. This also affects sea birds; a recent study estimates that 90% of seabirds carry around 10% of their body weight in plastics. In the next 30 years this figure is expected to reach 99%.

To put this another way….out of 100 sea birds flying in 30 years from now 99 of them will have stomachs full of plastic.

We can all do more to reduce our dependency on plastic, the biggest of these is through our choice of products, and through proper recycling Voting with our money is one of the best way to minimise our contribution to the problem.

For more information about the plastic problem, please read more about our Plastic Relief Campaign

and have a look at the following two videos:

Plastic Pollution – Kurzgesagt

What really happens when you throw plastic away? –

Tankering Fuel?

Tankering Fuel?

What is fuel tankering?

‘Tankering’ is when an aircraft carries additional fuel for a flight to avoid refuelling when landing at the destination. The practice of tankering is purely a cost-saving initiative and the additional fuel is not considered necessary for the purpose of the flight. 

An airline will frequently take ‘round trip fuel’ to ensure the plane lands with enough fuel to fly back home again. 

Why is that bad?

The additional fuel carried when undertaking a ‘tankering’ flight increases the total weight of the aircraft, and therefore increases its fuel consumption, resulting in additional CO2 emissions. These CO2 emissions are completely avoidable, but exist purely because the airlines seek to take advantage of differing fuel prices.

How much do they save?

Fuel costs vary quite significantly across European destinations, with some airports offering fuel as much as 30% cheaper. This can result in significant savings for the airlines, where fuel costs account for up to 25% of their operating expenses. 

However at the other end of the scale, many airlines will tanker fuel even if the total savings are as low as £30. This could mean a flight which takes round-trip fuel could emit over a tonne of CO2, just to save a few pounds.

How often does this take place?

Studies have shown that within the EU approximately 15% of flights are tankering fuel to their destinations. After extrapolating these figures it can be shown that over 286,000 tonnes of additional fuel is burnt each year, producing just under 1 million tonnes of CO2.

It should be noted that tankering fuel does not affect the safety of a flight, nor is it a regulatory requirement, it exists solely to take advantage of a price differences.


Aviation is a huge competitive market, with airlines doing everything in their power to minimise their operating costs to keep their ticket prices as low as possible. Reducing costs is a major challenge for the industry but they’re also under increasing pressure to reduce their environmental footprint.

Here at Zero Impact Adventures we believe the time has come for this extremely environmentally damaging practice to be made illegal across the industry.

For more information about Tankering, please take a look at our FAQ which may answer some of your questions on the subject

Why Recycle?

Why Recycle?

With the negative environmental effects of the Western World increasingly on everyones radar we are all looking for ways to do our bit. But while we are all aware we should recycle more, do we actually know why? Is there any benefit to us as individuals? And how does it help the environment?

This post covers a few environmental facts, but primarily focuses on the benefits of recycling to hopefully give you food for thought the next time you throw away that empty plastic bottle or drinks can.

Conserving Natural Resources

Every time you recycle it keeps valuable resources out of the waste stream. Resources such as oil, trees, water and mineral ore can all be put back into the beginning of the production cycle and save unnecessary energy wastage. For example, paper can be recycled up to seven times and aluminium, steel and glass infinitely, so it’s hugely wasteful to be using raw materials each time to manufacture new products. The process required to recycle paper also uses 90% less water than making it from scratch.

Reduces Energy Consumption

The processes required to bring the recycled materials back into a new product often uses substantially less energy than using virgin materials. With regards to energy, the paper recycling process uses 50% less energy to produce the same amount of paper when recycled than if using the raw materials.

Saves landfill space

Landfill space takes up a colossal amount of our natural environment. The waste is trucked around the countryside to one of the 300+ landfill sites we have in the UK, and then piled high. Needless to say, every item that is recycled is one less item that makes it way to the top of this pile. A large number of the landfill sites in the country are now reaching capacity and our waste is increasingly having to be shipped abroad for processing. This releases even greater amounts of CO2 and just hides the problem. Recycling is key in saving the space of our landfill sites for genuine non-recyclable items.

Decreases Pollution / Cuts out greenhouse gases

These landfill sites not only smell horrible, they look disgusting and attract flies and other scavengers. But looking past the superficial characteristics, far more importantly, they are emitting dangerous greenhouse gases, deadly toxins and leachate. When organic waste such as food scraps and green waste is put into landfill it is generally compacted and then covered. Eventually this releases methane gas, a greenhouse gas which is 21 times more harmful than CO2. To help reduce this methane release process we can compost our green waste and leftover food scraps at home. Then use the composted material for fertiliser.