Ever since I was small I’ve been a fan of Clint Eastwood’s cop-who-doesn’t-play-by-the-rules classic, Dirty Harry. There’s a brilliant three minute set-piece where our hero single-handedly foils an attempted bank robbery, after spotting the getaway driver outside the bank with his engine running and ‘exhaust fumes coming out of the tail pipe’. Retribution comes swiftly to the would-be robbers – a lesson to us all not to sit around with our car engines idling.

Roll on 40 plus years and Welsh Government is this week following Harry’s lead, publishing its white paper on the Clean Air (Wales) Bill. Among a series of proposals are measures which will allow Local Authorities to clamp down harder on motorists who ignore existing anti-idling legislation – particularly outside schools and in city centres. Justice will be delivered through fixed penalty fines, as opposed to Eastwood’s infamous Magnum 44, but the suggestion to tighten up in this area is a good one and it addresses a real issue.

In fact, the white paper brings forward a host of sensible suggestions in some key areas, such as restricting all but the greenest of domestic log burners, banning the use of wet wood as fuel and the sale of domestic coal, alongside recommendations that binding local targets should be set for improving air quality levels. The Welsh Government says its measures ‘ensure all areas of society play their part in reducing air pollution’.

What we’re finally seeing is the start of a grown-up conversation about air quality and it’s long overdue. For too long, too many people have seen the protection of air quality as being somebody else’s problem, perhaps railing at UK industry for its air quality impacts – while conveniently ignoring their homes and cars also emit significant levels of particulates and gases. This is often highlighted through the work Camargue does supporting communications for clients in the energy-from-waste sector which is unfairly demonised with unfounded fears of air quality impacts. These concerns are generally raised by those trying to rationalise their emotional response to the technology itself while simultaneously unaware of the impact their own lives have on air quality.

The truth, as the Welsh Government has said, is that we all need to play our part. Making personal changes to the way we live our day to day lives is a first step and the combined small actions of a large number of people will undoubtedly make a big difference. It’s incumbent on us all to properly understand the challenges we face and take care of our personal responsibilities before looking elsewhere.

Toby Barker is a director at Camargue

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