John Sodeau

Air pollution and climate change expert and researcher.

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Cleaning up our Act (redux)

After a long wait it appears that a Clean Air Strategy for Ireland will be published. Submissions close today. Here is mine

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The current Air Pollution Act is not sufficiently robust to respond effectively to the progress made since 1987 in monitoring air quality and understanding the impact air pollution has on our health and Earth’s climate.

The main function of the 1987 Act is to provide a national Framework to allow compliance with EU Directives on matters such as limit values for a variety of airborne gases, vapours and particles.

The Act does not put the health and well-being of citizens as it’s raison d’etre. And therefore, in my opinion, it should be scrapped in its current form and be replaced by legislation providing the public with exactly that.

There are a number of aspects of the current legislation that were inappropriate from conception and are also now...

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We’re Walking in the Air

Scientists find it difficult to communicate science to the public. (There are notable exceptions like Attenborough and Bronowski). One part of the problem is the unemotional and rational state required to make authentic discoveries about the natural world. And humour is definitely not used when publishing scientific observations and facts in research journals. But the UCC Media Office asked for just that using a light-hearted Christmas theme to put over the challenges we face in Climate Change and Air Quality.

Turkey on your table…ammonia in the air

Ever since Ebenezer Scrooge woke up from his ghostly nightmare and bought his poorly-treated clerk, Bob Cratchit, a turkey, the bird has been a centrepiece of our Christmas Dinner. To get there though requires a lot of plumping up with feed…and inescapable outcomes on the ground at the farm.

Those “outcomes” release ammonia gas, which you...

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How agriculture can clean up its air.

I gave a talk to the Social Democrats Annual meeting in January about air pollution and climate change. One of the slides titled “Clean air and clean energy” put me in the eye of a Twitter storm because it showed a picture of a nuclear reactor. What followed was not exactly the Vietnam War but the ruffled feathers from the Climate Hawks and Doves certainly flew all around me for two or three days.


Climate Hawks come in two breeds. One type does not believe that climate change exists, at least not because of human activities. They will probably soon become hawks that are no more, cease to be etc etc.

The other type do believe strongly that we are experiencing an unprecedented rapid global warming and the main culprit, carbon combustion, should be eliminated straight away. They are called Hawks because of their strident belief that replacing fossil fuels and biomass as energy sources...

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Why Ireland needs a Clean Air Act

Exactly two years ago I gave a lecture on behalf of the Asthma Society on the subject of Air Pollution in Ireland. ( I was highly critical of both the EPA and the government for not mounting an adequate air monitoring programme or introducing a Clean Air Act to replace the not fit for purpose Air Pollution Act (1987). The rest is history….

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We breathe to live and to do so we inhale and exhale around 11,000 litres of air every day.

Increasingly, people throughout the world are becoming rightly concerned about how “clean” their air is. While the United Nations declares access to clean water a fundamental human right, there is no such declaration for clean air. There should be. But to get to that point requires us to understand what we mean by Clean Air and what risks “Dirty Air” present to all forms of life on Earth.

The most obvious risks...

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Death by Unnatural Causes

I became a climate refugee after Hurricane Ophelia struck Ireland. Overnight my lifestyle changed to Amish: going to bed when it got dark with bell, book and lantern. And I was lucky because I quickly moved inland up country, ironically, to give a lecture on Climate Change and Air Pollution.


The unwarranted disconnect between Climate Change and Air Pollution in the minds of Ireland’s policymakers was apparent in two environmental events over the first week of November 2017. In the first the Citizen’s Assembly on climate change made an overwhelming recommendation to remove subsidies on peat extraction for climate change reasons (with no reference to health matters). In the second the EPA announced that burning peat was the biggest threat to air quality in Ireland (with no reference to climate change).

Air Pollution and Climate Change are two sides of the same coin. And that coin is...

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Jammin’ ‘ til the traffic is through

I wonder how many people reading this blog have been stuck in a traffic jam? I know that I have. These days, I have first-hand experience that it can take an hour to do a Google-predicted ten-minute journey in Cork’s morning rush hour. But whatever their environmental strengths, Electric Vehicles (EV) will not solve that problem.


In 1980, the year when Bob Marley made his only concert appearance in Ireland, there were about a million cars on Irish roads. Now there are over double that number with 99.9% of them powered by petrol, diesel or hybrid. That means just one in a thousand cars here in 2017 are pure plug-ins. This fraction is far lower than the original 2008 Government prediction/desire of one in ten by 2020, an amount, which has since been reduced to one in a hundred.

The reasons why we should move from fossil-fuel vehicles to electric technology are well-known these days...

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The Strange Case of the Mist at Beachy Head

I was born in London at about the same time as the last Great London Smog of the 1950’s. Twenty-five years later I worked and played close to Los Angeles, the spiritual home of photochemical smogs. I would like to put on the record that, mercifully, I have never lived in East Sussex.


It started for me with a headline in the Daily Star: “Beachy Head gas cloud which hospitalised 150 from France”. (I think a comma was absent from the sentence). The Daily Mail also covered the story: “Beachy Head evacuated after massive chlorine cloud”. As the day progressed various other news stories gave eye witness accounts and opinions about the origin of a rolling fog cloud from the English Channel that hit the beach at Birling Gap, near Eastbourne around 5pm on Sunday 27th August.

My original reaction was to crack a joke about how an air pollution event of this type could not happen post-Brexit...

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I don’t have the words…..

In the book, “Through the Looking Glass and what Alice found there” by Lewis Carroll, the White Queen admits: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” I wonder what she would have thought about climate change? Would she be a believer or a denier?


On a recent RTE Claire Byrne Live programme a question was posed to a panel of 1000 people: do you believe that climate change will pose a serious threat to the world in your lifetime? 57% said yes but over a third said no with about 10% not knowing what they thought. In the same week, another survey was published but this time involving 8000 people from eight countries – the United States, China, India, Britain, Australia, Brazil, South Africa and Germany. It found that 84% of its sample believed climate change to be a “global catastrophic risk". That means the deniers represented less than half of...

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Past its Prime Time

in a recent contribution to Prime Time the journalist, David McCullagh, asked the question: with around a million diesel cars in Ireland, how do we battle the health risks of diesel exhaust emissions? Good question but the
answers given were narrow and outdated and missed out on key information that the public needs to hear more often.


As they said on the programme, more than 1000 premature deaths from air pollution likely occur in Ireland each year. Many of these can be attributed to emissions from petrol and diesel-powered road transport. (Many also come from brake/tyre wear, solid fuel burning and agriculture). In London about 9500 extra premature deaths are estimated per year with a bit less than half due to the small, soot-like, solid particles that we call Particulate Matter (PM). More than half of them though are due to another important air pollutant coming from road...

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Bin Diesel?

I am Spartacus. I own up to owning a diesel car. I should know better with my job but I’m human and I’m waiting for mid-level electric cars like Tesla’s to be readily available to us in Ireland. Increasing diesel pump prices and car taxes would also help me to move along my inevitable pathway. Not being able to get insurance on a diesel car would also help. None of this may be relevant soon because none of us maybe be able to even buy a petrol or diesel car by 2030……


There have been a number of recent pre-budget leaks about an up to 18 cent increase in diesel pump prices. Is a price increase on diesel necessary? Why?

There are compelling health reasons why diesel prices should increase at pumps. Not least the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recent classification of air pollution in general and diesel specifically (but not petrol) as Group 1 carcinogens, that is like cigarette...

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