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To produce food in sufficient quantities, Europe relies on intensive agriculture, which impacts the environment and our health. Can Europe find a more environment-friendly way to produce food? We asked this question to Ybele Hoogeveen who is leading a group at the European Environment Agency working on the impact of resource use on the environment and human well-being.
The European economy is still feeling the impact of the economic crisis that started in 2008. Unemployment and pay cuts have affected millions. When new graduates cannot find jobs in one of the richest parts of the world, should we talk about the environment? The European Union's new environmental action programme does exactly this, but not only. It also identifies the environment as an integral and inseparable part of our health and our economy.
We live in a world of continuous change. How can we steer these on-going changes to achieve global sustainability by 2050? How can we strike a balance between the economy and the environment, the short-term and the long-term? The answer lies in how we manage the transition process without locking ourselves into unsustainable systems.
"The positive news is that over the last decades, the situation has improved substantially in terms of exposure to several air pollutants. But these pollutants, where we achieved the most significant reductions are not the ones causing most harm to human health and the environment" says Valentin Foltescu, who works on air quality assessment and data reporting at the EEA. We asked Valentin what the EEA does on air quality and what the latest data says.
We breathe from the moment we are born until the moment we die. It is a vital and constant need, not only for us but for all life on Earth. Poor air quality affects us all: it harms our health and the health of the environment, which leads to economic losses. But what does the air we breathe consist of and where do the various air pollutants come from?
Martin Fitzpatrick is a Principal Environmental Health Officer in the air quality
monitoring and noise unit of Dublin City Council, Ireland. He is also the Dublin
contact point for a pilot project run by the European Commission DG Environment
and the EEA aimed at improving the implementation of air legislation. We asked
him how Dublin tackles the health problems linked to poor air quality.
Our knowledge and understanding of air pollution is growing every year. We have an expanding network of monitoring stations reporting data on a wide range of air pollutants, complemented with results from air quality models. We now have to make sure that scientific knowledge and policy continue to develop hand in hand.
Air pollution is not the same everywhere. Different pollutants are released into
the atmosphere from a wide range of sources. Once in the atmosphere, they
can transform into new pollutants and spread around the world. Designing and
implementing policies to address this complexity are not easy tasks. Below is an
overview of air legislation in the European Union.
Many of us might spend up to 90 % of our day indoors — at home, work or school. The quality of the air we breathe indoors also has a direct impact on our health. What determines indoor air quality? Is there any difference between outdoor and indoor air pollutants? How can we improve indoor air quality?
The chemistry of our atmosphere is complex. The atmosphere contains
layers with different densities and different chemical compositions. We asked
Professor David Fowler from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology of the Natural
Environment Research Council in the United Kingdom, about the air pollutants
and chemical processes in our atmosphere that impact our health and the
‘African dust’ from the Sahara is one of the natural sources of particulate matter in the air. Extremely dry and hot conditions in the Sahara create turbulence, which can propel dust upwards to a height of 4–5 km. Particles can stay at these heights for weeks or months, and are often blown across Europe.
Our climate is changing. Many climate-changing gases are also common air
pollutants that affect our health and the environment. In many ways, improving
air quality can also give a boost to climate change mitigation efforts and vice
versa, but not always. The challenge ahead is to ensure that climate and air
policies focus on win-win scenarios.
Europe has improved its air quality in recent decades. Emissions of many pollutants were curbed successfully, but particulate matter and ozone pollution in particular continue to pose serious risks to the health of Europeans.
The atmosphere, weather patterns and seasonal variations have long been an object of fascination and observation. In the 4th century B.C., Aristotle’s treatise Meteorology compiled the great philosopher’s observations not only on the weather patterns, but on earth sciences in general. Until the 17th century, air symbolised ‘nothingness’. It was assumed that air had no weight until Galileo Galilei scientifically proved that it has.
The extent of the sea ice in the Arctic reached a new record low in September 2012. Climate change is melting the sea ice in the region at a rate much faster than estimated by earlier projections. The snow cover also shows a downward trend. The melting Arctic might impact not only the people living in the region, but also elsewhere in Europe and beyond.
With population growth, urbanisation and economic development, the demand for freshwater in urban areas are increasing throughout Europe. At the same time, climate change and pollution are also affecting the availability of water for city residents. How can Europe's cities continue providing clean freshwater to their residents?
We need food and we need clean freshwater to produce our food. With growing demand from human activities on the one hand and climate change on the other, many regions especially in the south struggle to find enough freshwater to meet their needs. How can we continue growing food without letting nature go thirsty for clean water? A more efficient use of water in agriculture would certainly help.
Around one third of the food produced globally is lost or wasted. When more than one billion people around the world go to bed feeling hungry, it is impossible not to ask what can be done. But food waste is not only a missed opportunity to feed the hungry. It also represents a substantial loss of other resources such as land, water, energy - and labour.
Many developing country economies are centred on exploiting natural resources to lift their populations out of poverty, potentially damaging the natural systems they depend on. Short-term solutions often undermine the population’s well-being in the long-term. Can governments help the markets set the ‘right’ price for nature’s services and influence economic choices? Here is a closer look at what water use in cotton production means for Burkina Faso.
From densely populated cities to remote settlements, everywhere we live, we generate waste. Food leftovers, electronic waste, batteries, paper, plastic bottles, clothing, old furniture - they all need to be disposed of. Some end up re-used or recycled; others are burned for energy or sent to landfills. There is not a single way to manage waste that would work everywhere. How we do it needs to take into account local circumstances. After all, waste starts as a local issue. Given its sparse population, long distances between settlements and lack of road infrastructure, here is how the Greenland government approaches the country’s waste issue.
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