Making our city truly green

It is troubling that the City of Red Deer and the Red Deer Advocate would join forces to produce a feature article (April 16) claiming that thinking green will help to make Red Deer a “Happier, healthier and cleaner place in which to live.” In reality, cities that rely on green measures alone have a dismal record in terms of the quality of urban life. Missing from the article are effective, mainstream measures with a proven track record. To explain: we live in an environmentally-conscious world, so it is a simple matter to borrow ideas from cities that genuinely care about the urban environment.

It is troubling that the City of Red Deer and the Red Deer Advocate would join forces to produce a feature article (April 16) claiming that thinking green will help to make Red Deer a “Happier, healthier and cleaner place in which to live.” In reality, cities that rely on green measures alone have a dismal record in terms of the quality of urban life. Missing from the article are effective, mainstream measures with a proven track record. To explain: we live in an environmentally-conscious world, so it is a simple matter to borrow ideas from cities that genuinely care about the urban environment.

Reviewing a few mainstream environmental initiatives: cities are polluted by the Big Three sources ­automobiles, commercial diesel trucks and, the most dangerous of all — residential wood burning. With regard to automobiles; emission testing is a requirement in many U.S. states, a couple of Canadian provinces, Europe and the U.K., not because their vehicles are dirtier or their cities more polluted but because they care for the urban environment.

With regard to commercial diesel trucks, the British have mandatory emission testing while the United Nations Environment Committee has called for diesel vehicles to be fitted with filters on the exhausts to remove the smoke. This would serve the dual purpose of creating cleaner cities and reducing the carbon footprint of diesel emissions.

Residential wood burning should never have resurfaced as there are centuries of research documenting the health implications. No research is really needed as common sense dictates that as both wood and tobacco leaves are cellulose-based plant materials, they will both burn to produce similar combustion products. However, the different combustion conditions result in wood smoke being many times more dangerous than cigarette smoke. In relation to mainstream initiatives, starting a century ago, the British spent billions of pounds to make their municipalities smoke-free, recognizing that, if no other reason, the cost of treating smoke-related diseases would cripple their health-care system.

In Canada, Montreal plans to ban any further installation of wood burning appliances, noting that a single wood burning appliance pollutes as much as dozens or even hundreds of automobiles, posing a major threat to the health and lives of unfortunate neighbours. They followed the correct procedure, which is to monitor chimney emissions. By contrast, Red Deer relies on the Air Quality Health Index, which is a poor indicator of the health impact of urban pollution and fails completely in the case of urban wood burning as a wood burning stove or fireplace can expose neighbours to health and even life-threatening levels of smoke, and dangerous chemicals, but the pollutants will dissipate before reaching a monitoring unit. It is not that green measures have spared Red Deer from the pollution woes that affect other municipalities, it is just that monitoring is inadequate.

Vehicle noise is more than a nuisance as it impacts human health. Red Deer is a loud city and is becoming louder and therefore more unhealthy. European researchers have identified the obvious — that exposure to a sudden loud noise from a passing vehicle triggers stress hormones and this explains why residents who live or work near loud roads are at an increased risk of developing heart diseases. Again selecting one example of a mainstream initiative, 40 years ago, the European Union and later some U.S. states adopted a requirement for motor cycles to have effective mufflers.

If Red Deer is to become a “Healthier and cleaner place in which to live,” the answers are not in the Think Green feature article but are to be found in the mainstream measures already in place in those cities, in North America and around the world, that genuinely believe that the quality of urban life is of primary importance.

Alan Smith

Alberta Director, Canadian Clean Air Alliance

Red Deer

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