Another Guy Fawkes Night is upon us tonight, and so we'll hear all the usual arguments for and against fireworks. Are they safe? Should they be legal? What harm will they do to children and pets this year?
There's other damage nobody talks about. That's what fireworks do to the environment, and those who live in it.
If you recycle, support banning plastic bags, limit your car use to necessary journeys, care about animals, and reduce your household waste as much as possible, there's no way you can support Guy Fawkes displays. Here's why:
Fireworks pollute the air
The 5th of November might just be New Zealand's most polluted night of the year. When fireworks explode in the sky, they release many of the dangerous chemicals society is concerned about cleaning up from the environment.
Copper, barium, strontium and perchlorates hang around in the air long after the bright sparks have dissipated — an American study once found that residues from these sorts of chemicals can still be found in nearby lakes 20 to 80 days after large commercial fireworks celebrations.
We are appalled when we see an old car puffing out black smoke, why don't we feel the same about watching fire-bombs in the air burn out over our heads?
What goes up must come down
When fireworks are propelled into the sky with gunpowder, we don't think much about what happens to them afterwards. Think they just burn out completely and leave nothing behind? Think again.
What goes up must come down, and all unburned pieces of metal, cardboard, chemicals, colourants, and other inorganic materials fall back onto the ground. Those materials might get deposited into the soil we walk on or be washed away by rain and into our waterways.
Their fumes are worse than traffic fumes
Studies have found that the fumes left over from fireworks are more toxic to humans than car fumes. It's even suggested that Guy Fawkes Night in a city like London is worse on its citizens' health than a riding a bike around on a bad day in Beijing. In India even, where fireworks displays celebrate Diwali, fireworks shows are linked to a 30-40 per cent increase in recorded breathing problems. They're an immediate danger to people who have asthma or chemical allergies and sensitivities, and reports say the fumes affect air quality in cities for three hours after a large fireworks show.
Fireworks disturb birds
When fireworks displays are set off close to roosting and nesting birds (which means much of New Zealand's landscape), they disturb our flying wildlife. During the warmer months, wild birds are more widely distributed across the nation than in winter and they can be sent into complete states of panic when fireworks go off around them.
When fireworks displays explode, flocks of birds shoot up from the trees and buildings on which they're perched, too. Unfortunately this can lead to large numbers of deaths — usually because they crack their skulls or break their necks — because they fly into trees, fences, walls, houses, advertising billboards — you name it.
The most horrific bird disturbance owing to fireworks to date was in 2010 in Arkansas, USA, on New Year's Eve. More than 5000 red-winged blackbirds fell from the skies dead or dying in the immediate aftermath of what's supposed to be a celebration of light.
Large displays are coming out of your rates
It costs thousands of dollars per minute to put on the large, commercial fireworks displays we'll see in cities across New Zealand tonight.
Here in Wellington, the annual cost for the show, as reported by the Wellington City Council, is around $150,000. Where does that money come from? Your rates. The funds that are supposed to go towards keeping your city safe and liveable, better public transport, running libraries, and collecting rubbish and recycling instead go into polluting the environment and disturbing wildlife.
Yes, Guy Fawkes is a bit of fun for the whole family. But tonight, when you gaze up into the sky for those few minutes of entertainment, I'd like you to think about one thing. Are the long-lasting costs of fireworks really worth it?