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.
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.
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.
And 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.
Subscribe to The Colour Of Money
Keep up to date with the latest news and opinion on The Colour of Money. Subscribe and we'll let you know when we publish new articles.