Air pollution campaign group Our Air, Our City (OAOC) hosted their first large public event on Saturday, Clean Air Everywhere – a Facebook livestream with simultaneous banner drops around the city.
The online event featured community members from across Bristol speaking on issues around clean air and sought to raise awareness about the reality of air pollution in our city, the problems it causes, and what can be done about it.
As host and OAOC member Chloe Naldrett put it early on, highlighting recurring themes of the speakers, “clean air is a human right, we can tell that from the fact that people are dying from a lack of it.” It is estimated that 297 people in Bristol die every year due to breathing polluted air.
Running parallel to the studio livestream, individuals around Bristol unveiled banners calling for clean air in the city. These were captured by a roving cameraperson and some banner-droppers spoke of their motivations in pre-recorded video calls. .
One such banner drop was by Olivia, who lives in Stapleton and is one of the city’s Green and Black Ambassadors LINK.
Olivia, having recently moved to Bristol from Bournemouth, said she was struck by the palpable difference in air quality between the two cities.
Pointing to the fact that clean air is a basic human right, Olivia observed that “clean air is not something we should have to be worried about.”
Later, Chloe and co-hosts Emma Geen and Gavin Spittlehouse were joined via video call by Kat McGregor, a GP. Dr McGregor, who practises in Lawrence Hill, which has some of the highest air pollution levels in the country, said that she regularly sees children with asthma from breathing dirty air, and that Lawrence Hill has a higher than normal rate of asthma.
Dr McGregor also attested to the effect that the pandemic and lockdowns – and the consequent fall in vehicle movements on roads – have had, claiming that the number of children coming to the doctors or being taken to hospital with asthma and related problems has fallen massively.
The conversation was not limited to highlighting the issues. The hosts and guests also spoke about possible solutions and what life might look like in a world where clean air is a given.
Gavin, of the Bristol Clean Air Alliance, spoke in detail about the upcoming clean air zone (CAZ) in central Bristol, and of its potential benefits and drawbacks.
Dr McGregor also spoke of the need for action from the council. Air pollution, being invisible and all-pervasive, cannot be defended against by individuals. However, through talking about the issue and engaging in concerted action with the city council we can make a difference.
Ultimately, acting on air pollution needs to be “not just about preventing disease but promoting wellbeing.”
OAOC is a coalition of Bristol activist groups including Bristol Youth Strike 4 Climate, XR Youth, XR Bristol, MedAct, Stop the Maangamizi: We Charge Ecocide/Genocide!, African Voices Forum, Green & Black Ambassadors, and Cotham Garden primary School. If you want to learn more about Our Air, Our City, find them on Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress.