Why we need a fossil free London

Fossil fuels underpin a breadth of injustices in London, writes Finnian Murtagh. They also offer an opportunity to unite our struggles.

April 23, 2018
6 min read

Fossil Fuelled London

Fossil fuels occupy a disproportionate space in our city. The fossil fuel reserves listed on the London Stock Exchange would blow the UK carbon budget ten times over. The dirty energy complex sprawls across Mayfair, the City, and Canary Wharf. From London, fossil fuel money flows freely around the world, rolling out an extraction model which drives people off their land and perpetuates colonial relations, then forces those in the Global South to face the impacts of climate change before the North, with greater severity and less resources.

Fossil fuel profits are piped back into the city, to be hoarded away in unoccupied property. Gobbling up vacant housing and propelling prices skyward, fossil fuel money drives Londoners further and further from the heart of the city. Oil barons launder their money in London’s skyrocketing property market, often in boroughs with huge inequality. Simultaneously we find we must toil away in an energy system which laces the air with poisonous nitrates and deprives a raft of homes of warmth through prohibitive energy pricing. Affected communities are disproportionately deprived and/or non-white.

When we turn to our government for action, we realise it’s often the same people slipping through the revolving door, undermining democracy with back room deals and railroading fossil fuel projects through community opposition across the country.

Fossil Free goes mainstream

Fossil fuels are increasingly political. Thanks to unbridled support from a certain mogul-caricature-cum-president, and periodic disclosures of fossil fuel misconduct, the industry is more contentious than it has likely ever been.

We’ve recently seen our own Mayor make a call for local councils to remove their investments from fossil fuels. This follows on from the hugely significant New York City decision to fully divest from fossil fuels and sue the top 5 companies to boot. The fossil fuel divestment movement is now increasingly mainstream and securing major victories to attest to it.

‘Identifying where our campaigning aims overlap through a fossil fuel lens will enable us to…transform our city on a grand scale’

A Chance to Unite Our Struggles

In an age of overlapping crises and accelerating climate breakdown, opting for incremental change is now the risky option. What’s left to us is to propose an alternative social vision and to unite across our silos, as Naomi Klein argues in No Is Not Enough. Her example of the Leap Manifesto, a platform drawn up by a coalition of indigenous groups, unions, activists and progressive campaigning organisations in 2015, united millions around “A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another”. We are not there yet. But launching Fossil Free London, a new collaboration of groups campaigning for social, economic and environmental justice across London, is an attempt to move towards this. It’s a frame we can use to unite our struggles, for clean air, for warm homes, for an end to dirty energy.

A Fossil Free London, specifically, is one in which all of our city’s institutions have divested from fossil fuels. It’s one in which its banks cut off funding for extractive projects. It’s one that accelerates the transition to a new, just, clean energy economy, and works for everyone by supporting community-led energy solutions. It’s one that guarantees affordable, warm housing for all, one that’s free of industry lobbyists, one whose museums and galleries are free of fossil fuel sponsorship, and one where the colour of your skin or the size of your bank account doesn’t determine the quality of your air.

Identifying where our campaigning aims overlap through a fossil fuel lens will enable us to expel the industry on a grand scale, and in turn enable us to transform our city on an equally grand scale- fairly, cleanly, and democratically.

Fossil Free London is organising an event on Saturday 28th April with the aim of building the movement to make a #fairgreenlondon and inviting in new people to build our power. Join in on Facebook and get a free ticket on Eventbrite.

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