Beth Gardiner is an American Journalist based in London. Her hugely important and critically acclaimed book “Choked: The age of air pollution and fight for a cleaner future’’ was one of The Guardians Best Books of 2019 and described by Arnold Schwarzenegger as ‘an urgent essential read’.
Air pollution kills seven million people every year, causing heart attacks, strokes, cancer, dementia and more. In Choked, Beth Gardiner travels the world to tell the story of this modern-day plague, exposing the political decisions and economic forces that have kept so many of us breathing dirty air. In fact, Covid 19 and lockdown has brought air pollution into even sharper focus than ever before.
In this fascinating chat, Beth outlines some of the issues we face locally and globally and her hopes for the future. This is Your London Legacy.
“If anything else was killing 9,000 Londoners a year or 7 million people around the world—surely we’d be talking about it all the time.”
Beth started off writing for her high school newspaper and for her university, Yale no less. She was a large consumer of news and magazines, and liked how news let you hop around from subject to subject and read about so much all at once. Always something new to learn and explain to readers. She spent some time in Indonesia teaching English—and ended up returning to cover the horrific earthquake and tsunami that killed over 100,000 people—a shocking and large experience that perhaps solidified her need to continue to seek out global health and environmental issues that affect us every day. Indeed, the intersection of health and environment is at the core of her work on air pollution.
“The air there [New York City] is much cleaner than London’s – and in general, the air in the US is significantly cleaner than the UK and Europe.”
When Beth moved to London she would find herself often getting headaches just from being around and about. There was a certain quality to the air she felt like she could taste, but didn’t think much of it. Years later, it took a 5 minute google search while reporting on the upcoming London Olympics to find out that the air quality in London was much worse than where she’d lived previously. This shock had lasting effects and eventually coalesced into a heap of research that turned into her book, Choked.
The book is a wonderful read—if not shocking, with chapter titles like 9416, which is the number of people that died in London in year from air pollution. Globally it’s 7 million. Locally in Europe, a part of this is due to diesel cars—and an event called Diesel Gate, where companies like Volkswagen were lying about how much nitrogen dioxide was being emitted by their vehicles. They were caught in the US and fined billions of dollars and forced to recall cars—but we haven’t had the same teeth to enforce regulations here in the UK. Beth believes that if the people demand it, we will hold companies responsible for the environmental impact. But it does have to be demanded.
Now with a respiratory virus pandemic—air pollution is being highlighted as the two intersect and feed off of each other. Beth hopes that people will become more aware of how our environment impacts us on a daily basis—and even may have another work in progress touching on another major pollutant: plastics. You can pick up Choked at your local bookstore or over on Amazon, and I highly recommend you give the stories inside a solid read.