Rebels demand clean air for our health

Photo credit: Emma Geen

Today rebels organised two theatrical actions to highlight the number of premature deaths in Bristol each week due to air pollution. These events are part of our week of actions demanding clean air for life.

At the ‘Five a Week’ action, XR Bristol set up five of our colourful cubes at a safe social distance apart on College Green. The cubes read ‘In Bristol air pollution causes five deaths each week’. XR supporters, members of the public and rebels whose lives have been affected by air pollution brought their own silent messages of protest.

Each stood on top of one of the cubes for two minutes of silence to mourn and represent one of the five people who tragically dies in the city each week due to toxic air pollution, totalling around 296 every year.

Bristol doctor, Dr Emma Coombe, says: 

“Air pollution is the greatest environmental risk to public health in the UK.

“Exposure to the small particles and gases from fossil fuels contributes not just to respiratory diseases such as asthma and lung cancer, but also problems like stroke, heart attacks and other forms of cancer. 

“Patients I see in hospital still seem surprised when I talk about how the air in Bristol could be harming them and their family.

“As a city we need to realise that the way we travel, what we eat and where we go on holiday, have real life impacts on the air we all breathe, and in turn our health and life expectancy.”

Simultaneously, rebels held an ‘artistic intervention’ on Brandon Hill in the ‘We Need Trees to Breathe’ action. At this event, people made masks out of leaves to draw attention to the importance of trees in making our air cleaner. Wearing their masks, they progressed to College Green at midday.

Trees and plants play a vital role in purifying our air. One the most damaging pollutants for human health is Particulate Matter (PM), which includes tiny particles of the organic chemicals, acids, metals and dust emitted by fossil fuel-burning vehicles, factories and construction sites.

Plants act in two ways: by dispersing concentrated clouds of miniscule pollution particles when they are blown into hedges, shrubs and trees, and also by trapping pollution particles on the microscopic hairs and ridges on leaves – until they are washed to the ground by rain (though this does not eliminate them from the ecosystem altogether).

Of course, the most effective way of reducing the harmful effects of pollution is to prevent it in the first place.

Rebels wearing masks made of leaves hold a sign saying 'we need trees to breathe' - part of our Clean Air For Life week of action

Photo credit: Emma Geen

Bristol artist Gaby Solly, organiser of the action, says:

“We are currently wearing masks to shield each other from the frightening risks of the coronavirus. But every day our health is being affected by air pollution. We’ve made these masks from leaves collected in Bristol, to draw attention to the essential role that nature plays in our lives.  

“We need to address dangerous levels of air pollution in our city today, and to protect ourselves from tomorrow’s threats posed by the climate emergency.”

Our illegal levels of air pollution in Bristol halved during lockdown. We now have a unique opportunity to avoid returning to the levels of air pollution that were responsible for hundreds of premature deaths each year.

We demand urgent action from Bristol City Council & the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) to protect our lungs and protect our planet.

Clean Air For Life, not just for lockdown