Written by:
Choked Up

Choked Up: The teenagers campaigning for clean air

Read time:
4 minutes

It is an inescapable reality that we are amidst a global environmental crisis. In the UK, many believe that we are safe from climate related natural disasters, however some of us face constant environmental threats to our health every day. Air pollution in London, which regularly exceeds the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, is an extremely dangerous phenomenon that many live with. We live next to some of the busiest roads in London, attending schools exposed to dangerously high levels of air pollution. Yet for so long, we were unaware of this. We have only recently learnt the true extent of the danger in breathing.

Air pollution has staggering consequences to our health. In 2016, a report by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) illustrated that air pollution causes 40,000 deaths a year in the UK. In addition, pollution triggers other underlying illnesses. It can worsen chronic illness, decrease fertility, and shorten life expectancy. Pollutants also corrupt  placentas, meaning that air pollution can even affect foetuses in the womb.

Unfortunately, air pollution is highest in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods. The most deprived Londoners are over six times more likely to live in areas with high levels of pollution than the least deprived. We know that around two-fifths of people from ethnic minority backgrounds live in low-income households, twice the rate of white people. Ethnic minority people and deprived communities therefore tend to live along the busiest roads, increasing their exposure to poor air quality. As young people of colour who live in these communities, it is clear to us that communities in London do not carry the burden of air pollution equally. We need to address this injustice.

The environmental crisis is not just harming ethnic minority lives in the UK, it does so on  an international scale. It is the Global South that is currently shouldering the worst effects of the climate catastrophe, while the Global North benefits from its profits. The decreased capacity of Global South countries to protect themselves sufficiently in the face of extreme climate events is a symptom colonialism., For example, the devastation caused by Cyclone Idai and Cyclone Kenneth in Mozambique in March 2019  and the surrounding countries is one example of the disproportionate burden levelled on countries in the Global South during the  environmental crisis.. It is beyond unjust that countries already crippled by centuries of exploitation must continue to pay for the actions of exploitative powers in the North.

Hence, fighting for climate justice crosses an intersection with racial justice. It is for these reasons that we started the campaign Choked Up. Our campaign seeks to enshrine the right to breathe clean air in UK law through a new Clean Air Act. It is simply not good enough that the last legislation on this matter is from 1993; the law is not equipped to handle the urgency of the crisis in 2022. Therefore, we need a new Act that will recognise, protect and uplift the communities that are disproportionately on the front lines.  We must apply pressure to local and national governments from different access points to encourage more ambitious policies to be adopted, such as the reworking of red routes, the introduction of less polluting public transport and the expansion of ULEZ.

Our voices have been side lined for too long. Finding our agency through campaigning for better air quality is not only a means of effecting overdue change, it also gives us a glimmer of hope. As young Black, indigenous, people of colour (BIPOC), we believe that it is essential our voices and perspectives are heard in public discussions of the effects of the climate crisis and in creating solutions for a cleaner and healthier future.

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