Greece's Big Smog: Neoliberal austerity, public health, and the environment*
by Ilia Xypolia
Fri 15th Feb 2013
Neoliberal austerity in crisis-torn
The air pollution disaster that took place in
Solid fuel heating is back in
In October 2012, the consumption taxes for diesel and heating oil became equalized. This has had a huge impact on the latter's prices: diesel prices have only slightly decreased, but heating oil prices have soared.
The cost of heating oil has become unaffordable for the overtaxed and underpaid Greeks -- hence their resort to the cheaper alternative of solid fuels. Indoor air pollution from the use of solid fuel heating, however, directly puts at risk the members of households exposed to it. When solid fuel heating is used on a massive scale, its emissions of pollutants pose a potential threat to the health of all.
Given the systematically constructed and communicated image of lazy, corrupt, and well-paid Greeks, it is unsurprising that many of the otherwise well-informed people outside
An increasingly large portion of the population is at risk of sinking below the poverty line. Especially, the high cost of living2 in cities has even caused a wave of migration to rural areas.
The unemployment rate in late 2012 officially rose to 26.8%, leaving 1,345,715 unemployed.3 The most frightening is the record 56.6% unemployment rate for young people aged between 15 and 24. A brain drain has already started, the country's well-educated youth seeking a better future abroad.
Neoliberal austerity measures meanwhile are brutally destroying the already inefficient state even as the social fabric is being torn apart. The result is frightening.
Given all this, it comes as no surprise to see that the cold winter in
Solid fuel use for heating used to be a prominent feature only in poor rural areas of developing countries. Now it has also arrived in
Public health is put in great danger as a result. The World Health Organization warns that when solid fuels are burned in inefficient simple stoves under poorly ventilated conditions, then their use "generates substantial emissions of many health-damaging pollutants, including respirable particulates and carbon monoxide, and results in indoor air pollution exposures often far exceeding national standards and international guidelines."4 In order to prevent life from becoming nasty, brutish, and short, we need to bring back the welfare state.
Neoliberal austerity prescribed as the sole remedy for the crisis all across
I am cautiously optimistic, at least about this particular burning problem caused by the substitution of solid fuels for heating oil. All social classes, not just the poorest, are exposed to the harmful polluted air. Hazardous air pollutants do not discriminate between rich and poor. So there is hope that the policymakers will be obliged to deal with at least this one.
1 Hellenic Statistical Authority, "Consumer Price Index: November 2012" (10 December 2012). Retrieved 7 January 2013 from < www.statistics.gr/portal/page/portal/ESYE/BUCKET/A0515/
2 Hellenic Statistical Authority, "Living Conditions in
3 Hellenic Statistical Authority, "Labour Force Survey: October 2012" (10 January 2013). Retrieved 10 January 2013 from < www.statistics.gr/portal/page/portal/ESYE/BUCKET/A0101/PressReleases/
4 Manish A. Desai, Sumi Mehta, and Kirk R. Smith, "Indoor Smoke from Solid Fuels: Assessing the Environmental Burden of Disease at National and Local Levels,"
Ilia Xypolia is a Doctoral Researcher in Politics and International Relations at
*This article was first published in the Monthly Review Magazine on 13 February 2013. (http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2013/xypolia130213.html)