The problem of pollution is not new. The human being is aware of it since the beginning of industrialization. However, we have not seriously worried about the problem until relatively recently. What can we do to pollute less? What are the causes of poor air quality in large cities? What measures are being imposed from the government?
Climate change is a monster that is growing little by little, lurking in the corners, but it is showing its claws and teeth more and more. Every year we live longer summers and shorter winters, which has a high impact at all levels, especially in the health of people, animal habitats and crops. We only need to observe the city of Madrid from a distance to realize that we have a problem of pollution and greenhouse effect. The same ‘beret’ that covers this population is present in other large cities of the peninsula, such as Barcelona, Valencia or Bilbao. The sunny weather, the lack of air currents and the long periods of lack of rains are very suitable to extend the season of the terraces of the bars, but they are not too good aspects for pollution. Without wind and without rain, the air is not renewed, so pollution levels are increasing in cities. All this contributes to lowering of air quality in large cities. The causes are varied, but above all it is due to the vehicles that work with fossil fuels and to the air conditioning systems of homes.
All this leads to serious health problems. The air we breathe is plagued with nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and ozone, fouling the atmosphere. The presence of contaminating particles may involve a long-term decrease in lung function or increase the risk of ailments, such as acute bronchitis and certain types of cancer. In addition, we are suffering short-term consequences, such as respiratory failure and increased asthma.
But what can each citizen do? To begin with, if you have an air conditioning system, try not to abuse the heating or the cold air. The experts of the Institute for the Diversification and Saving of the Energy (IDAE) estimate that in Spain the optimum temperature for the air conditioning in closed spaces is situated between 19º and 21ºC. And, if you can afford it, it is advisable to change the heating systems that work with fossil fuels for others that are powered by renewable or more efficient energies. In addition, wherever possible it is preferable to travel by public transport than in a private vehicle. If you do not have another alternative and you need to use your car for a long trip, try to use long gears and do not give sudden accelerations. Also, if the weather is fine and you are going to a nearby place, why not take advantage of doing some sports too? The bicycle is a cheap, healthy and non-polluting transport, although it requires an effort and infrastructures that ensure the safety of cyclists.
On the other hand, the city councils are imposing measures to prevent the increase of pollution in the center of all the major cities of Spain. Madrid has been the pioneer. They started by reducing the speed of cars at the entrances to the town and restricting the entry to certain vehicles. Likewise, more than a month ago, Central Madrid came into force. Its results have been good for the moment, although there are still some doubts and many uncertainties about it. In this way, it is prohibited that certain vehicles circulate in the center of Madrid. Only residents can move, drivers who will park in a parking lot or those who own an electric vehicle. They are opportune and necessary measures, but perhaps a little hasty. The restrictions should have come accompanied by aids to change an old car for an electric vehicle and an improvement of public transport infrastructure, as well as a greater influx of buses, trains and underground coachs at a lower cost. For the moment, sidewalks are being increased to reduce traffic and favor the circulation of pedestrians and bicycles, as in the famous Gran Vía. And although Madrid has been the first city to impose these measures to fight against pollution, soon all the municipalities of more than 50,000 residents will have to apply traffic restrictions to reduce emissions over the next few years. These orders will affect more than 145 populations throughout Spain.
It is evident that electric cars are the future. The Spanish government has proposed to prohibit the registration of diesel, petrol and hybrid vehicles from the year 2040. It is an international trend that aims to reduce pollution on a global scale. However, despite all the benefits of electric cars, it seems that in Spain we are not yet ready for its full imposition. Thus, there is still a need to improve the infrastructure of chargers suitable for electric vehicles, increasing the number of recharging points, since they are currently very scarce. In addition, the price of these cars is right know very high, especially considering their limited autonomy and the high cost of their batteries, which should be changed approximately every two years. Yes, electric vehicles are the future, but that future is still in its infancy.
Other problems are the acoustic and light pollution of large population centers. The excess of the lighting system is an energy and economic waste that also progressively deteriorates the habitat of nocturnal and migratory animals. In addition, stars, planets and other celestial bodies are increasingly observed with greater difficulty. But that is another story and it will be told on another occasion.