Taxi jams, black carbon, melting ice caps and climate change in Peru

a traffic jam of taxis

a traffic jam of taxis

Take a walk down a busy street in any of Peru’s larger towns & cities and the problem soon hits you – in the back of the throat, up the nose, in the eyes. It’s the choking stench of black cardon, fine particles like soot, pumped out of the exhuasts of Peru’s many older diesel combi-collectivos (small busses, people carriers, minibuses), taxis & lorrys of various sizes. It blackens the streets & buildings, causes serious health problems for the people, and contributes to climate change (read – the effects of black carbon).

Climate change – the causes of it and the problems it excaberates – is a real time problem in Peru and across Latin America. The 33 Latin American & Caribbean leaders meeting as the Community of Latin American & Caribbean States (CELAC, founded in 2010 – report here) in the Dominican Republic since Saturday, may well be looking nervously north to the Trump fantasist & bully, but they should also be looking closer to home before man-made & natural disasters sink their economies for good.

Arequipa the 'white city' now just dirty white

Arequipa the ‘white city’ now just dirty white

This late-2014 report ‘Dumping Dirty Diesels in Latin America: Reducing Black Carbon and Air Pollution from Diesel Engines in Latin American Countries’ (opens as a 48page pdf), written for the US based Natural Resources Defense Council (about NRDC), sets out in detail the short to long term impacts on public health & the environment, and provides a wealth of frightening statistics. It also calls for & suggests available solutions. Sadly, history indicates that the vast majority of the ruling elites (and their corporate buddies) of CELAC are unlikely to give a damn about anything except amassing their own power & fortunes, and will never commit to the necessary infrastructure and changes, never mind the funds required, to turn back climate change.

We’ve benefittedĀ  from using the combi-collectivos across Peru as they get us very cheaply around town, but their primary function is to move around the masses of working class & former countryside dwellers as they hurry over long or short distances to their various insecure & lowpaid jobs. Indeed many of those jobs are at street-level, one shudders to think of the implications for these poorest of the people! But in the absence of any real planned or integrated public transport, the mainly privately run combi-collectivos provide a vital service. They are mainly old secondhand diesel vehicles imported from south east Asia (think Toyota, Mitsubishi, Hyundai, Daewoo etc), many are not in great shape, and their emissions are terrible. No surprise then that back in 1999/2000 the Peruvian state exempted them from the various emissions agreements/targets they have signed up to – details here.

secondhand Mitsubishi

secondhand Mitsubishi bus

These old combi-collectivos, along with old taxis & other vehicles, contribute to the fact that the average vehicle age in Peru is around 15yrs. Whilst vehicle ownership in Peru is low (around 73 per 1000 people, compared to the UK’s 519 – 2014 figures) because most people can’t afford a vehicle, and in any case have nowehere to park it, Peru’s streets are constantly clogged up with filthy traffic. Streets tend to be fairly narrow and not designed for mass transportation, even in Lima where streets are wider, they remain clogged, quite simply because so any people have to be constantly on the move to find work or to study. It’s a vicious circle – a result of mass wealth inequality requiring a huge pool of cheap labour combined with a complete lack of urban planning – that the Peruvian state appears to have no real desire to resolve.

Unfortunately for the people of Peru, black carbon emissions are just one of multiple environmental issues combining to impact on climate change. Other harmful emissions, air & water pollution, soil erosion, and deforestation (of the sierra – Andes mountains – and of the Amazon, both for centuries) mean a decrease in Peru’s glaciers and increasing drought. Water shortages & cuts are endemic, although not yet as bad as neighbouring Bolivia’s drought that has led to a state of emergency since last November. As ever in such situations the poorest suffer most.

Another factor impacting negatively on Peru is the ongoing increase in mining, usually in the mountain regions. Leaving aside the millions who have died across south America, since colonialisation and into the modern day, extracting minerals in mines owned & controlled by Western Corporations (now joined by the Chinese in a big way), the environmental impacts too are huge. Mines contribute to deforestation, use up valuable water supplies, pollute the air and rivers & underground watercourses, and of course cause illness amongst nearby communities (see this 2015 article from UpsideDownWorld about the Tia Maria mines near the Tambo Valley in the Arequipa province). Although Peru has huge mineral resources, it has no capacity to refine extracted raw materials. So it’s history of allowing international corporations very good deals to profit from it’s national resources continues apace (see Mining News) with Peru’s elites naturally profiting too, whilst Peru’s poorer people contine to provide cheap disposable labour (7 more trapped dead miners this week – report in Spanish).

The environmental future of Peru looks increasingly bleak as it continues it’s role of enriching the wealthy elites around the world at the expense of its own people, and it doesn’t seem to give a damn about continuing to kill it’s own people too.

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