Air Monitoring

  • Why Are Rural Towns Bad for the Environment?

Why Are Rural Towns Bad for the Environment?

Oct 03 2019 Read 1300 Times

Given that over half (53.9%) of the UK population lives in its 63 cities, it’s unsurprising that these metropoles are responsible for almost half (45.5%) of all carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the country. Indeed, it’s perhaps something of a shock that urban dwellers don’t contribute a higher share towards our CO2 total, given the bad environmental reputation that cities have in general.

In fact, according to the most recent statistics from the UK government, there is a strong case that rural populations are actually less eco-friendly than their city slicking counterparts. With a far higher CO2 emissions figure per capita on average than those living in Britain’s biggest cities, countryside towns and industrial hubs could be the unsung villains of the UK’s environmental woes.

By the numbers

On average, the EU Commission estimates that Britain emits 5.7 tonnes of CO2 per person per year. Perhaps surprisingly, that ranks the UK as one of the lowest emitters in the world when considering only major economies. The USA, for example, is far ahead with 15.7 tonnes per person, while China, often regarded as one of the main offenders, is also comparatively benign with just 7.7 tonnes per person.

When focusing in one British towns and cities, all but 10 of the 63 cities in the UK (as defined as a built-up area with at least 135,000 residents) fall below the UK average. Indeed, London is the ninth-lowest emitting locale on the list, with just 3.6 tonnes per person, while other major cities Birmingham (4.1), Glasgow (4.4) and Manchester (4.4) all performed better than might be expected.

Countryside towns the culprit

As such, rural locations must shoulder more of the blame than was previously believed. Of course, certain industrial strongholds like Swansea (22.4) and Middlesbrough (12.1) are significant emitters, but these comprise the exception rather than the rule. A transition to cleaner forms of energy generation and industry should go some way to alleviate this problem, while the shutting down of major steelworks in Middlesbrough has already seen its total fall by an impressive 64% since 2011.

The reasons behind this disparity between countryside and city are likely to be manifold. Firstly, there’s the fact that rural homes are normally larger, more isolated and harder to heat than urban apartments. Meanwhile, distances covered in the countryside using vehicular transport are consistently longer, while public transport is also comparatively poor away from big cities.

Poor performance with regard to other pollutants

Of course, CO2 emissions are only one measure of a town or city’s environmental performance and the UK did not perform so well in terms of other contaminants. For example, emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) still account for 40,000 premature deaths in the UK each year, while over 40 British urban centres regularly exceed the EU’s legal limits for particulate matter (PM).

Nitrous oxides (NOx) also remain a concerning problem, with 16 British towns and cities exceeding the permitted threshold, while concentrations of ammonia (released into the atmosphere by agricultural practices such as muck-spreading and fertilisation) have been on the rise for over five years now. Ozone is another problem in rural regions, since it is largely destroyed by other contaminants in urban hotspots but can proliferate when the emissions from vehicles mix with sunlight in more isolated locations.

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