All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

Stinging eyes in Hamburg

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Air quality in Sternschanze, downtown Hamburg.  Not great, but the screen is easy to interpret

Air quality in Sternschanze, downtown Hamburg. Not great, but the screen is easy to interpret

I don’t want to give the impression that I think Hamburg is an environmental paradise. It does a lot of cools things, but a paradise it isn’t.

For instance, the air quality is pretty bad here, at least for a Vancouverite. Dinah has been complaining of itchy eyes, so when I looked on the air quality reports I found that, sure enough, it is fairly bad.

Looking at the city’s air quality website, I find to no surprise that the usual suspects are present: nitrogen oxides, ozone, and fine particulates. Hamburg is a large city, with an industrial base larger than Vancouver (Germany’s largest airplane factory and copper smelter are found here, for instance, as is Moorburg, one of its largest coal power plants), so that there be air pollution is not surprising. But like Vancouver, though, the main culprit is the transportation sector.

This may be a surprise, considering that Hamburg has the lowest car ownership in Germany (0.8 car/household). But Hamburg has a high density of cars (1126 car/km2, second only to Stuttgart). Even though most cars are fairly new, a number of the older ones contributemore than their share of diesel pollution. And like all European cities, there are many scooters with polluting two-stroke engine scooters.


In Freiburg, air quality readings are displayed on the main city square.

But Hamburg is Germany’s largest port, and this is the main issue. Of course, the vessels themselves pollute, but the main problem is land transport. For instance, as in Vancouver, the majority of containers to and from the harbour are transported by trucks. And as in Vancouver, congestion and pollution from trucks is an issue.

Hamburg has also been stubborn in some respects. Hamburg stands almost alone among German cities in having not established an Umweltzonen, a downtown zone reserved for vehicles with a special sticker, available to clean cars for a fee.

(On a more whimsical note, beehives are scattered around the large Airbus airport. Environmental staff catches honeybees and checks the gathered pollen for pollutants. Employees get the honey.)

So our eyes sting a bit at times (beautiful sunsets though!). But I do like the city’s website: all the relevant info is there, easy to find on a single screen. In typical German fashion, the city trusts that its inhabitants want to know and can digest fairly complex scientific information. I wish the info was as easy to get for Vancouver.


Written by enviropaul

September 3, 2015 at 2:03 am

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