By: Eden Chipperfield, News Writer
On September 2, BC’s first annual Clean Air Festival occurred at Trout Lake in East Vancouver. The event is supported by Protect Our Province, Safe Schools Coalition BC, Masks4EastVan, and Do No Harm BC. It promoted an accessible space where immunocompromised individuals can find sanctuary among peers who relate to ongoing concerns around airborne pathogens, like COVID-19, and pollutants that significantly affect air quality.
To learn more about the event’s significance, The Peak connected with festival supporter and organizer, Dr. Karina Zeidler, who believes everyone has the right to clean air, similar to access to safe drinking water.
Zeidler explained the enthusiasm for the festival began during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when anti-maskers opposed gatherings that enforced protective cautions like wearing masks. The festival sparked the idea that protecting each other should be considered a celebration, rather than what anti-maskers consider a “killjoy” movement, according to Zeidler. She continued by saying now is the perfect time to hold this festival as we are transforming into a culture that cares about one another and safety, bringing together a community.
Zeidler also elaborated on her comments regarding the “right to clean air.” She asked, “Isn’t it strange that we’re here, almost four years into the pandemic, asking for people to be permitted to breathe clean air? That we have to ask for that, for our children in schools? That it’s not a priority for the government?” The push for the Clean Air Festival is to encourage the government to acknowledge the right for clean air. Simultaneously, they want to let people know they are not alone in their air quality concerns and that gathering in a safe way can still be a fun time, especially when there is music and food provided.
Among the festival activities, there were opportunities for festival-goers to participate in DIY workshops to make air filters, decorate masks, and write postcards to encourage that masks be brought back into healthcare environments, a mandate which was ended in April of this year. The reasoning for the chosen activities at the festival is to “push for the right to clean air, for proper ventilation and sensible mask protection, to live our lives free of COVID-19 and the health impacts of worsening climate emergencies such as wildfire smoke,” said Zeidler.
The festival was initially scheduled to take place on August 20; however, with the worsening smoke conditions from the wildfires, organizers decided to postpone the festival to September 2.
“The fact that our governments are pretending to act to fight the climate emergency, while in fact, they are frantically expanding fossil fuel subsidies, is so similar to the way governments have pretended to ‘end’ the pandemic,” commented Dr. Zeidler. “In both cases, we see that the proof is in the pudding. If those in power care about clean air, why does it make our children and elders choke and cough to go outside? If the pandemic is over, why are so many people getting sick and not recovering?”
Postponing the festival was an important decision for Zeidler. It showed that health and safety is a priority, so they can continue to spread the message of an accessible event where people can breathe freely and fight for the right to clean air. “Building this festival has been amazing in the way it’s helped grow the COVID-safe community,” she remarked.
“We hope listeners out there will start wearing a proper N95 mask and that people will demand clean air, including mask protections, air filters, proper ventilation, and CO2 monitors in their classrooms and workplaces.”