That Far East megalopolises like Beijing, Shanghai and New Delhi suffer under extreme pollution for years and that millions die as a results is, sadly, no news. In contrast, Europe has always somehow acted as if it is “more civilised than that”, but this is proving to be just a façade and one that is rapidly falling apart.
Last year extreme levels air pollution in Paris made headlines all across Europe. Today, due to heavy air pollution, Rome bans use of half it’s cars and motorbikes on an even-odd registration plate basis, Milan bans motorised traffic completely, Sarajevo stubbornly refuses to curb motorised traffic, but shuts down schools and advises people to stay in their homes for weeks until rain or wind help make the air breathable again.
There is no doubt that the levels of dangerous particles and gases have been severely exceeded in all these and many other cases. 84.000 air pollution-related deaths have been reported in 2012 in Italy alone. While it’s clear that nearly everyone contributes to the problem, it is also perfectly clear that some play a marginal role, while others have a dominant one. Still, no one was punished or in any way held legally accountable. Not the mayors of these cities, for allowing the situation to get out of control, not car and motorbike drivers, which put the general population at risk because they choose extremely polluting and dangerous vehicles to get around, in difference to the majority that uses public transportation, bicycles or simply walks.
How have we ended up with a system which stubbornly refuses to penalise such massive violations of the law, in spite of the extraordinary health and death toll? More importantly, how do we fix it?