Greenpeace have joined forces with some of the people most affected by air pollution – children.
Inspired by the doctors who set up a health clinic outside VW’s UK headquarters this summer, a group of very junior doctors set up their own clinic outside the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) annual dinner at the Grosvenor House Hotel earlier this week.
Ten child performers from the interactive theatre company Coney were dressed as medics giving health checks to VW executives and to their friends from other car companies to teach them about the effects air pollution is having on children across the UK.
Greenpeace collaborated with the group of 'Young Coneys' to develop the performance.
It included the children performing health checks on the car industry executives arriving at the dinner, a giant game of ‘Operation’ showing the causes of lung damage, and various skits and jokes. Greenpeace handled logistics and safety.
Aviv (10), one of the children performing, said: “Air pollution can cause lung damage and chest pain. It’s gotten to the point where the adults are harming the children with the diesel, so the children have to tell the adults to stop using it, I guess, so we’re going to be doctors, because normally people listen to doctors.”
Morten Thaysen, air pollution campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: “Tonight’s performance is a bit of fun with a very serious message. Diesel is an air pollution crisis that’s shortening thousands of lives, filling up emergency departments and GP surgeries and stunting the lung development of our children.
"Volkswagen is the biggest seller of diesel cars in Britain – it lied about the toxic emissions its cars produce, and those lies cost lives. Volkswagen, and the rest of the car industry, must face up to their responsibility for deadly air pollution and commit to end diesel production now.”
Jorge Lopes Ramos, the father of one of the performers, said: “We dumped our diesel car three years ago when we found out the impact it was having on us and those around us. I understand that not all diesel drivers can afford to just switch to cleaner vehicles tomorrow, but I don’t understand why car companies keep making and selling them, or why they’re allowed to keep making the problem worse.
"This is affecting my child’s health, and the health of thousands of children. They say that, on average, each diesel car in London costs the NHS £16,000. Why are we paying out all that money when we could just stop selling diesel cars? It just doesn’t make sense.”
Dr Aarash Saleh, respiratory health researcher at Imperial College London, said: “The evidence for what the World Health Organisation rightly describes as a ‘public health emergency’ is stacking up all the time.
"Only this month, a new study again showed reduced lung growth in children breathing London’s polluted air. Children have developing lungs and are particularly vulnerable to the respiratory problems diesel fumes cause, but we’re all at risk.
"Yet the European car industry keeps trying to put more diesel cars on our roads, which would mean further decades of illegal pollution levels, and decades of paying a significant price with our health.”
Marianne Brooker is a commissioning editor for The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from Greenpeace UK.