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The film above, Living, Breathing, London, was created by Ross Field of Videoblogg Productions ( and appeared on the Real Media YouTube page, along with the following text.

“Breathing clean air is a human right. Right now, the authorities are violating our human rights for clean air.”

When we talk about city air pollution, there are two main constituents - nitrous oxide, emitted when petrol is burned, and "particulate matter", tiny particles released to the atmosphere.

Particulates cross the blood-brain barrier, cause inflammation and cognitive slow-down in the brain. Studies show higher levels of dementia in people exposed to high pollution levels.

Muna Suleiman from Friends of the Earth says that “In the UK air pollution causes up to 36,000 premature deaths per year”, and in 2012, according to UNICEF’s Rebecca Dallison “1 in 8 deaths were linked to air pollution around the world” with more than half a million of those, children under five.

Air pollution is also a contributory factor in miscarriage and slow foetal development, and mothers living in polluted areas will give birth to people more likely to have asthma, COPD, or even lung cancer in their lives. Children brought up around high pollution levels will see a 5-10 per cent reduced lung capacity before they even reach the age of 10.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child legislates for a right to a ‘safe and clean environment’, but the UK government is failing to provide this. The WHO states that nitrous oxide concentration of anything over 200 microgrammes per cubic metre is toxic, but the DEFRA pollution warnings describe levels of 201-400 as moderate, and above 401 as high. We have been in breach of EU rules for years, and the government has introduced “targets”, but is far from reaching them.

There are entrepreneurial attempts to combat the issue, ranging from jars of clean Dorset air, to giant filtration systems to put into city squares, but ultimately tackling the problem at source will be the most effective solution. Transport for London boasts that it is rolling out electric charging infrastructure, and it has a large fleet of electric buses, but Dr Aarash Saleh (Doctors Against Diesel) points out that in the past 20 years, the cost of private transport has decreased 20 per cent, while public transport has gone up by a similar amount, so the signals are very mixed.

The UK government is planning to phase out petrol and diesel cars by 2040, but across Europe, many countries have set much bolder targets of 2025 or 2030.

These targets are of course also related very much to climate change. The Paris Agreement says that catastrophic climate change is inevitable unless we cut global emissions by 45 per cent in the next 12 years. The UK transport sector accounts for 26 per cent of UK emissions. So distant targets in 2040 look like simply kicking the ball into the long grass.

During the Extinction Rebellion protests last week, which cleared large parts of central London of vehicle traffic, there is evidence that pollution levels went down ( After police cleared several of the protest blockades, there was a spike in pollution levels in the following days.

As Pauline Castres (British Lung Foundation) says, “We should be able to walk anywhere in London, or Birmingham or Manchester and not have to worry about the air we breathe.”

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