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opinion

Air pollution and the campaign for clean air

Clean air is at the heart of a vision of a healthier, happier city, but recent studies have revealed high levels of nitrogen oxide and other pollutants in the air. Campaigns such as Clean Air Week and Friends of the Earth’s campaign for clean air are addressing the issue, while completing crucial research into the extent of air pollution in the UK. Guest blogger Charlie Satow, from the Friends of the Earth Clean Air Team, explains the issue in more detail.

You can’t see it and you can’t smell it, but air pollution is a killer. In the UK, there are 40,000 early deaths because of it. Dirty air leads to worsening asthma symptoms, heart disease and even lung cancer, and it hits the most vulnerable people hardest. Frighteningly, air pollution can even lead to children growing up with smaller lungs for life.

Zooming out, air pollution puts the NHS under pressure, and is estimated to cost the UK economy £20bn a year. It’s a big problem.

“It’s totally unacceptable”

Dr Chris Griffiths, Doctors Against Diesel, on the level of air pollution in the UK.

Dirty diesel

What’s behind this public health crisis? There are many sources, but the biggest problem for air pollution is road traffic, especially diesel vehicles. Diesels spew out nitrogen oxide (NOx) and tiny particles – known as particulate matter – that find their way into our lungs, and even our bloodstream.

To put it simply, we need to get rid of diesel. We need Clean Air Zones to restrict the worst polluting vehicles from the most polluted places. We need a scrappage scheme to help diesel drivers who bought their cars in good faith shift to cleaner vehicles, paid for by the manufacturers who cheated emissions tests to put polluting cars on our roads. We need a rapid rollout of electric vehicle charging points across the country, to make sure that people don’t simply switch to petrol cars.

It’s all part of a more hopeful vision for society: liveable towns and cities with fresh, clean air to breathe; and a transport system that no longer relies on dirty fossil fuels, helping the fight against climate change in the process.

campaign for clean air

So where’s the government on all this? Unfortunately, it’s been dragging its heels…for the last seven years. Most areas of the UK are breaching EU limits for NOx that should have been met in 2010. It’s been taken to court twice by environmental lawyers Client Earth for failing to produce a credible plan to deal with the issue. The next big test will be the end of July, when the government publishes its new Air Quality Plan. From the looks of the draft version, it’s looking like a third visit to the High Court.

Change is in the air

The movement for clean air goes far beyond the lawyers. Over the last year, thousands have taken part in a huge citizen science experiment, measuring the level of NOx where they live. Last week, National Clean Air Day saw thousands more pledge to take individual steps to reduce air pollution.

campaign for clean airAnd next week, from 24 June to 2 July, activists across the country will be applying political pressure in a Week of Action for Clean Air Everywhere called by Friends of the Earth. People will be lobbying MPs, organising creative stunts and public meetings, getting local schools on board and working with faith communities, all to get the nation talking and the government listening before it publishes the final Air Quality Plan at the end of July.

Think everyone, everywhere deserves to have breathe clean air too? It’s time to get involved.

Find out more about the Week of Action for Clean Air Everywhere from 24 June to 2 July.

What do you think of "Air pollution and the campaign for clean air"

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John 3 months ago

Excellent. I regularly monitor the air quality via an iPhone app. My wife has respiratory problems and if conditions detiorate to ‘ poor ‘ I close the windows and switch on the Philips Air Purifier

Daren 3 months ago

Great idea

Laurence 3 months ago

This campaign is …A must.

Kerry 3 months ago

about time something was done

Joan Francis 2 months ago

Fantastic with brilliant marketing materials. Unfortunately I still do not believe this is high enough on the UK Governments agenda. Other countries talk then action, all I am seeing is a lot of talk and no action….40,000 deaths in the UK caused by Pollution is totally unacceptable (manmade) and something needs to be done today!