I've beening speaking to journalists over the last week or so about air pollution, something I've got a bit of a bee in my bonnet about. More precisely, I spoke to them about an important Supreme Court case. A charity, Client Earth, are taking the UK Government to court because they're trying to wriggle out of implementing EU legislation on air pollution. I guess it's my role to provide the human interest angle to the story - angry mother of wheezy child wants cleaner air etc. I'm happy with this arrangement if it helps get the message out there that this is a real issue that affects real people.
I wasn't very concise when I spoke to the journalists. In fact, I'm pretty sure I rambled. One or two of my comments have been used. Hopefully some more will be tomorrow. But what's the point having a blog if you can't write what you really wanted to say? So here's my take on what's being dubbed the most important supreme court case of the century, and what it means to my family.
Little M is 3. Being a child, she is particularly vulnerable to having her health damaged by air pollution. I've known for a long time that air pollution is linked to health problems but this year I took more interest that usual. Little M has had a lot of fairly serious wheezy episodes. Somewhere amongst the trips to hospital, visits to the doctors, and one very scary ambulance ride a doctor made a casual comment. They said they'd seen a lot of wheezing children recently, as they often did when the weather conditions caused the air quality to decline (just like is happening with all the lovely spring sunshine this week). Since then I've started to pay more attention to our air quality.
I've discovered that London's air is amongst the most polluted in Europe, with higher levels of nitrogen dioxide, which is linked to childhood asthma, than any other capital city. I get tweets to warn me of bad air pollution now. I can't honestly say that everytime the air pollution gets bad, little M has had a wheezy episode. That would make a great human interest angle but real life is more complicated than that. And really, if we look at the proper evidence like...err...government statistics for example, rather than my anecdotes, the situation we're in is shocking enough. In London alone, 4,300 people die prematurely each year because of air pollution. Air pollution can trigger wheezing episodes in asthmatic children, and evidence is emerging to show that high levels of air pollution stunts childrens' lung development. That means they grow up with lower lung capacity and probably die earlier than they would do if their lungs had developed normally. Anyone want to rent our lovely family-sized flat. No?
You could argue I'm scare mongering. If I told you that the Mayor's office advise schools to keep some children inside when air pollution is bad, would you still think I was scare mongering?
Our government doesn't want to reduce air pollution to safe levels suggested by the European Union right now. It wants a few more years to get it's act together. In London, rather than reducing nitrogen dioxide pollution to safe levels by 2010, the Government and the Mayor think 2025 might be more convenient. Perhaps they're being sensible. We've had 4 serious pollution incidents this year in London already - it's clearly not an easy issue to tackle. The thing is, little M will be 16 years old by 2025. Yes, you've read that right - she'll almost be an adult. For her, and all the other children in London of a similar age, the difference between the 2010 deadline and the 2025 extended deadline that the government wants is their whole childhood.
Not only are this generation likely to have poorer health because of air pollution. They'll also have to put up with an NHS that is even more overstretched than ever because it is picking up the bill for treating people, both young and old , that are ill because of air pollution. Whether or not their health is directly affected they'll get a pretty crap deal.
Media coverage of the supreme court case next week may well focus, as some has already, on the whole Europe vs the UK Government angle. For me, this isn't about Europe. This is about the UK government failing to look out for its citizens and failing to create policies that are appropriate given the evidence of links between air pollution and serious health problems. This is about a charity being driven to pretty extreme lengths because, lets face it, air pollution isn't a particularly hot topic in most households. With few people aware of this issue, it's hardly a vote decider, and so it would be swept under the carpet if it weren't for campaigning organisations kicking up a fuss on our behalf.
Whatever happens on Thursday it is within the government's power to take bolder action to tackle this issue. I'd like to see the government putting more effort into making policies on timescales that relate to people's lives, rather than timescale that are convenient for the policy-making 'system'. I'd like to see it spending more time figuring out solutions that will make parents proud to be bringing up their families in London and less time fighting to expose a whole generation of Londoners to air pollution that is likely to damage their health.
There. I think that's everything I wanted to say!
If you can feel a bee starting to buzz in your bonnet too sign up the the Healthy Air UK Campaign for free to show your support. They've also got some great tips on staying healthy while the government sorts it's act out.