AIR - A short film about the air we breathe by Lark Rise Pictures
There's something about air pollution caused largely by emissions from diesel vehicles that people can't quite get their heads around. A perfect example of blissful ignorance. Until I had a call from a friend and ex-colleague Eleanor Church, I was one of them.
With years of environmental campaigning experience my soap box is well worn in. But as Eleanor pointed out breathlessly on the phone this summer while pounding her pram across the road to her daughter's nursery, this isn't an environmental story, it's a health issue. Air pollution is about personal lives and personal health.
Eleanor is an extremely talented filmmaker and the founder of Lark Rise Pictures. Our babies were born around the same time in 2016 and suddenly the issue of clean air, which hadn't particularly bothered us before, started niggling hard and wouldn't go away. And why should it?
Breathing polluted air has been linked to premature births, stunted development of children's lungs, cancer and aggravation of pre-existing lung disease. Even unborn babies are at risk and children are particularly vulnerable because they are more sensitive.
Dr Ian Mudway, a Lecturer in Respiratory Toxicology at King's College London explains it's because "they spend more time outdoors, running around, breathing deeply, so if there's something bad in the air, they're likely to be breathing more of the bad stuff than an adult who spend disproportionate amounts of their time sitting in their office or not running around doing physical work." Plus, their lungs are smaller so if stuff in the air is toxic, then they're going to have a greater dose of that toxic stuff in their lungs.
If you want a really crunchy number, then depending on who you speak to air pollution is reported to contribute to as many as 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK.
Having moved out of London to Colchester, Eleanor felt she'd escaped the worst of the harrowing headlines about the air quality crisis in the UK's major cities.
Increased Air Pollution Can Take A Decade Off Your Life ... London Breaches Annual Air Pollution Limit For 2017 ... Air Pollution Endangering Tens Of Thousands Of London Children ... the list goes on.
But each time she'd walk the 25-minute journey through town to nursery with her baby her lungs would ache.
A conversation she had with environmental lawyer James Thornton, the CEO of ClientEarth, kept playing on her mind when he told her that "on the way to work, (I walk to work) I see parents pushing their babies in a pushchair and the babies are at the level of the exhaust fumes of these cars. It's deeply troubling - and it needn't be that way."
Horrified that she was stunting the growth of her baby's lung development by giving her a bit of 'fresh air' in the morning she questioned whether she should walk or drive. The answers were disturbing as research increasingly shows that the worst place to be is sat behind the wheel of a car. It's actually worse than being a pedestrian. What then was she to do?
Having worked together on environmental and human rights awareness campaigns for years at the Environmental Justice Foundation she called me.
This air pollution issue is a crisis, she said. We have to do what we do best and make a film that really speaks to people to help others to understand what is happening to them and their children every day. This invisible pollution is toxic and it is omnipresent. It doesn't matter if you're in Central London or a small town it will affect you with every breath you take.
Eleanor started researching the issues helped by her cousin Hermione Toulson. The more they found out the more distressed we felt. Not least because it seems that the British Government are fully informed on the issue but completely failing to tackle it while the general public seem oblivious.
"Imagine that we were talking about people dying from cholera in the UK. The Government would then put in every effort to deal with the cholera problem and it would be soon dealt with. But because we're dealing with air pollution and the invisible nature of air pollution, and the car industry, and people's driving habits, the Government is preferring to do nothing" James Thornton, CEO of ClientEarth told us in an interview about why they keep having to take the British Government to court over their failing to put a proper plan into place to tackle air pollution.
And so we've made a film as our effort to help raise awareness. We hope it will cut through the headlines and reach beyond the bamboozling figures and penetrate the consciousness of the pram pushers, bus riders, chesty joggers, wheezy drivers and housebound elders.
It's called AIR and it's about the air we breathe.
It's only 8 minutes long so if you've got 10 minutes spare you should put it on your list.
By following a handful of Londoners on their morning commute to the narrative of a radio discussion between experts on clean air the film covers themes such as:
• Why children are so affected by air pollution
• How drivers are the most affected
• How we have arrived in this situation
• What needs to be done
We hope viewers will be able to better understand the enormity of the situation without feeling overwhelmed. There is much we, as individuals, can do but the first step is awareness.
And before you ask, do we have an agenda? Yes we do. Clean air for us and our kids. It's that simple.
So please, spread the word and share the film. The solutions exist. All that's missing is the will.
AIR - a Lark Rise Pictures production www.comingupforair.org - to watch the film and take action
Premiered in London City Hall on 4th October and General Release Friday 6th October 2017