On 5th December 2017, 65 years since the lethal great smog of London, an initiative is being launched between Delhi, the city with among the world’s worst air quality, and London, to remember the victims of air pollution and promote ideas and action to clear the air.
Clear the air – a tale of two cities tells the stories and hopes of people living parallel lives in London and Delhi for whom air pollution is inescapable. It includes people who work on the street in both cities, those who drive taxis, are runners, work professionally to tackle air pollution, and those who live with its health consequences. The choice of two such very different cities makes the point that air pollution is a critical human and climate crisis the world over, and is still a major problem in London even 65 years after its Great Smog.
Over 4000 people are thought to have died in the 1952 smog, but:
- By 5th December, 8,700 people in London will have died prematurely in 2017 due to major air pollutants, with more than one person an hour dying before their time.
- Globally premature deaths linked to air pollution are estimated to be more than 12 per minute, or about one every 5 seconds.
On the morning of 5 December a small act of remembrance in one of Central London’s most polluted spots will take place – the laying of a wreath of black flowers, symbolic of the pollution that insidiously infiltrates our lungs. The same day, and after, people will be invited to share their experiences of air pollution on social media with the hashtag #SmogDay – because for some pollution in cities is a problem that never goes away.
Ending the air pollution that causes early death and makes the lives of millions much more difficult will also tackle the emissions that lead to climate change. This is a time of year when swathes of the most populated parts of the planet suffer choking pollution, so much so it has been dubbed the ‘fifth season’, one of smog. But in spite of the clouds of smog that still envelope cities like Delhi in the smog season, too often this is an invisible problem.
That is why Smog Day has been created to both remember air pollution’s victims, past and present, hear the stories of those who suffer from it today and promote action for change.
On the same day, 5 December, 193 countries will be negotiating a series of resolutions on pollution at the United Nations, and cities are encouraged to be part of the UN Environment’s BreatheLife campaign to improve urban air quality.
The 1952 London smog led to the ground-breaking Clean Air Act legislation and in 2017 the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, called for there to be a new Clean Air Act, and during recent evidence to House of Commons select committees for a right to clean air.
We hope Smog Day becomes an annual day for remembrance and for hope, helping to keep the issue visible internationally for the whole year.