Stuttgart, a medium sized German city in the state of Baden-Württemberg, is probably best known as the home of Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and, more recently, as the birth place of Miss Universe 2015, Pia Wurtzbach. It also just became the first city where residents reported their own mayor to the police for not doing enough to combat air pollution. Could the approach taken by the feisty citizens of Queen P’s home town be something worth copying?
Any person coming to Stuttgart from a place like Manila could be excused for not seeing what all the fuzz is about. Compared to the air quality in the Big M, the air above Baden-Württemberg ‘s biggest city looks positively clean, and thanks to all vehicles in Germany having to comply with strict European emission standards, seeing a smoke belching car or bus is about as rare as seeing a German who is late for a business meeting.
Nevertheless, air pollution still exists and to help measure it, a number of residents are taking part in an open data citizen initiative called Luftdaten (“air data”). Under this initiative, residents of the city are given air pollution sensors to measure the air quality around their homes. One of these citizens is Susanne Jallow and when she recently checked her pollution sensor and saw that the air pollution outside of her house had again breached EU standards, she contacted some friends within the group and they decided to take action.
Looking pretty: Stuttgart is home to Mercedes Benz, Porsche and Pia Wurtzbach
Instead of just politely asking local politicians to do something (an approach they had tried repeatedly in the past), Susanne and her neighbour Peter Erben, who is also part of the air data initiative, decided that more drastic measures are called for – so they proceeded to file a criminal complaint against the city’s mayor, Fritz Kuhn, and the district president, Wolfgang Reimer. The complaint accuses the officials on two counts: bodily injury with death as a consequence (due to air pollution), and lack of assistance. You can read the original German press release here. Quite drastic charges you may say, but their argument is that people are dying because the government isn’t doing enough to ensure the air in the city is clean and healthy.
The issue was quickly picked up by the media: “We wanted to highlight the bureaucratic apathy of the city administration. There is a pressing need for more proactive measures to combat air pollution. The existing ones are inadequate,” said Erben. The group is calling for stricter measures to protect residents from air pollution and while this is no doubt a bit of a publicity stunt as well, it may also provide a wake-up call to some politicians that more must be done to ensure citizens can breathe clean air.
Pollution over Metro Manila has reached dangerous levels.
Could this approach work in Metro Manila as well? In theory, probably yes. Republic Act No. 8749, otherwise known as the “Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999”, states that “it is the policy of the State to maintain a quality of air that protects human health and welfare.” and “the following rights of citizens are hereby sought to be recognized and the State shall seek to guarantee their enjoyment: a. The right to breathe clean air;”
While things are of course a bit more complex than that, there can be absolutely no doubt that air pollution is killing thousands of people in Metro Manila each year, and nowhere near enough is being done to change that. There are some people who got the message and are doing their part, such as the company behind the Comet electric Jeepney, but many more drastic measures are needed. Hopefully, those won’t have to include arresting any mayors.