Breathing Bad

Today sees some of the highest pollution levels experienced across parts of Sussex this year as an area of high pressure traps pollution, mainly from traffic, combined with bad air from further afield and a pinch of Saharan dust for good measure. Yet the response of the Government and relevant bodies has been pathetic. Their suggestion is for people to avoid heavy exercise, such as walking and cycling, during the high pollution episode. The likely result? Possibly more people will drive instead!

In Paris, they had the sense to tell people not to drive if they could help it, so at least reducing the levels of pollution that will be experienced. In this country, no attempt was made to encourage people to drive less in the few days leading up to this pollution episode which would have helped mitigate its severity. It’s not as if it wasn’t known about several days in advance.

The problem is that the full public health impacts won’t be felt immediately and combined with the invisible nature of the pollution, it allows politicians to avoid having to tackle this serious issue.  If this were a disease, the number of deaths due to air pollution at 29,000 a year (and this is probably an underestimate as this is solely based on particulates (tiny smoke particles) and doesn’t include the impacts of nitrous oxides the other main vehicle pollutants) there would be a public outcry.

Yet we’ve barely heard a whisper. Instead it’s business as usual with Highways England busy planning how they can concrete over more the South Downs to widen the A27 and encourage even more cars onto our roads. Apart from the colossal waste of public money, it will lead to more traffic in the surrounding towns and cities, exposing people to higher levels of pollution.

Isn’t it time we stopped this madness, invested in the cleaner and more efficient alternatives and encouraged people to walk and cycle more? The coastal railway, which runs parallel to the A27, is crying out for investment and there is a desperate shortage of high quality facilities for walking and cycling. Invest in these and people’s quality of life will improve, it will be better for the local economy as a fitter and happier population is sick less often and all this helps reduce pressure on the NHS.

So next time someone knocks on your door and asks for your vote, ask them what they’re going to do to stop us breathing bad air and to reduce the huge number of deaths and other problems that this chemical cocktail causes. The good news is that soon the Government and local authorities might have to take this more seriously as ClientEarth will be at the Supreme Court on 16 April, 2015, for a one day oral hearing where they will be asking the Supreme Court to order the Government to produce a new plan to tackle air pollution.  In the meantime, don’t hold your breath!