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The scandal of illegal and toxic levels of air pollution is finally starting to hit the headlines. It is now clear that it is the biggest killer of humans around the world. In the UK, it is responsible for around 40,000 deaths a year and causes untold suffering to hundreds of thousands of others who suffer from loss of lung capacity and diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and cancer. While ministers block sensible policy responses at every opportunity and car companies avoid any financial responsibility for this health emergency, the NHS is burdened with picking up the bill for their criminal negligence.
In London, around 9,500 people die each year from air pollution. Researchers from King’s College, London attributed 5,900 of these deaths from exposure to nitrogen dioxide and 3,500 deaths due to exposure to particulate matter. And polite conventional campaigning involving petitions, rallies and meetings with government officials has failed to dent the overwhelming power of the multinational car and oil corporations. Faced with this deadlock, myself and other
‘Stop Killing Londoners: Cut Air Pollution’ is a new direct action campaign which demands concrete and dramatic policy changes. What is needed is disruptive and sacrificial direct action which creates a public drama around this issue of universal moral importance. The question is this – what is more important, the right of car companies to promote polluting vehicles or the right of London’s children to clean air? We now know that thousands of this city’s young people are scarred for life with disfigured lungs, condemning them to a lifetime of suffering and a premature death.
Our campaign addresses this crisis by blocking the most polluted roads in London. We’ve been holding short ‘road block discos’ around every two weeks since July. These road blocks make it very clear to politicians that we are not prepared to see the appalling situation continue. Just as the early trade unionists, the Suffragettes, and the black civil rights activists broke the law to make a fundamental moral point, so we are continuing this tradition of undertaking peaceful and open civil disobedience. The right to a healthy life is far more important than peaceably obeying laws which protect only the interests of car companies and fossil fuel conglomerates.
The air pollution crisis is linked to the greatest moral challenge of our time: the prospect of civilisational collapse in the face of the coming breakdown of the climate. This in no longer some vague and long-term problem, but a concrete and immediate threat to our society. London is choking from the pollution of petrol and diesel vehicles that clog its streets on a daily basis. Although scientists have told us for thirty years that we have stop using fossil fuels to power our transport systems, nothing concrete has happened. As a consequence the world is now 1.2C warmer than pre-industrial times. Without massive reductions in fossil fuel use, the prospect of staying under 2C is unlikely and temperature rises of at least 3-4C look certain. Increased emissions of greenhouse gases will trigger greater warming, weather chaos, disruption of the food supply and accelerated sea level rises. London will be at increased risk of flooding in coming decades.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has to decide whether he has to moral courage to break with the criminal denial of the political class and come clean with Londoners on the grave threat of air pollution to the city. If he claims to be a man of the people then he has a responsibility to go to central government and demand a wholesale change in transport policy. We need to remove all fossil fuels from our transport systems within the next decade. We have written to Sadiq Kahn with a list of our demands. We will escalate our disruptive actions until the Mayor decides to meet with us to discuss these demands. From next week, we will block the most polluted streets in London until we are arrested. We will stand up in court and confidently state our case. These actions will continue and we are prepared to go to prison if necessary. We are putting ourselves on the line and call on Sadiq Khan to take urgent action.