Room to breathe
It’s 60 years since the UK’s first Clean Air Act tackled pollution from coal. Today it’s traffic fumes that are polluting the air we breathe. As thousands die from respiratory illnesses each year, it’s time to be bold about air pollution, says clean air campaigner, Anna Jones.
If I asked you to picture a perfect day outdoors, I would expect yours would unfold somewhere different to mine. We all have our favourite places – be it a back garden, city park, village green, coastal clifftop, moor or wood – but I think we could all agree that fresh air is a crucial part of a healthy day in the great outdoors. “Getting some fresh air”, “finding room to breathe” – these are things we not only crave, but need.
At the moment, none of us are getting enough. Out villages, towns and cities – basically anywhere with a busy road running through it – are choking with deadly traffic fumes. Thousands of people are suffering with respiratory illnesses, with our children and grandparents most at risk. In fact, children living close to busy roads are about 50% more at risk of suffering conditions like asthma.
The pollutants we should be most concerned about are nitrogen oxides and sooty particulates, which are tiny enough to get deep into the lungs, enter the bloodstream, and even get into the brain. They can cause asthma, heart disease and cancer. Air pollution is causing around 40,000 early deaths in the UK every year, and costs the economy over £20bn per year in NHS and other related health costs. Shockingly, one person in every 20 who die each year has their life cut short by air pollution. It is the fumes from diesel vehicles that are causing the most harm.
This is a difficult issue – half of the vehicles in the UK run on diesel, and many of us chose diesel because we were told it was better for the environment. But a year on from the VW emissions cheating scandal, we now know 97% of diesel cars don’t meet legal pollution standards. Air pollution is fast becoming a public health disaster, and urgent action is required. We all have the right to breathe clean air,which is why we’re doing everything we can to ensure tackling air pollution is right at the top of the political agenda.
In the last issue of Connect, you read about our mission to get the new Mayor of London to commit to tackle air pollution. After Sadiq Khan was elected, we ran a clean air ad campaign on tubes and trains across London, encouraging Londoners to demand action. Hundreds of our London-based volunteers contacted Khan personally about the capital’s appalling air quality. It worked – the Mayor is now consulting on an ambitious plan that will put London at the forefront of the clean air revolution. Other cities, including Delhi and Paris, are also pioneering ambitious clean air policies. Where they lead, others will follow.
We’re now challenging policy makers nationwide to go futher. We’re campaigning for networks of clean air zones, where polluting vehicles are phased off our rods, alongside better public transport and infrastructure that empowers people to walk and cycle. We’re reaching out to schools in the most polluted areas of London, and collaborating with other organisations, including the British Lung Foundation, Royal College of Physicians ad the UK Health Alliance. We’re also lobbying the Government for stricter regulation of the car industry, which must be held to account for the damage it is doing to our health.
Positive action on air pollution will save thousands of lives every year, as well as reducing CO2 emissions. Investing in green technology like electric vehicles, and the infrastructure it needs, would also create thousands of jobs, and could significantly boost the UK economy
Ultimately, clean air isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity, and we’re determined to make sure everyone can breathe it.
Greenpeace: Lethal and Illegal [IPPR, July 2016]