Just before Christmas, 20 activists in Santa hats and tinsel blocked a roundabout in west London during rush hour, repeatedly creating grid-lock traffic. Their aim: to get Mayor Sadiq Khan to do more about the air pollution in the UK's capital, which they say kills between 9,000 and 10,000 Londoners every year.
After about half an hour, police arrived at the scene, although no arrests were made. Protesters handed out mince pies to drivers to thank them for their patience, while others involved in the blockade sang festive carols.
“All of our peaceful direct actions are done to bring an end to the 9,000 to 10,000 Londoners being killed every year due to toxic and unlawful levels of air pollution,” said activist Roger Hallam, also a PhD researcher at King's College London.
Three-quarters of the UK’s worst pollution hotspots are in London, a recent air quality study revealed, with Hyde Park Corner, Marylebone Road and Brixton Road in Lambeth among the worst areas. And in 50 locations last year, London was way above the EU legal limits for toxic air. Pollution is linked to the early deaths of 40,000 people a year in Britain.
“Between 25 and 27 people a day die an early death in London due to the toxic and unlawful levels of air pollution, with the lungs of thousands of others – particularly young children and even babies and the unborn – being permanently scarred,” said protester Dan Keeler. “This is an emergency situation that has been ongoing for years, yet it is not being treated as such, neither by the central government nor by our Mayor.”
In January 2017, London's air pollution levels even passed those of Beijing, notorious for its poor air quality. At the time, Mayor Sadiq Khan issued the highest air pollution alert in London for the first time, and said the capital’s ‘filthy air’ was now a ‘health crisis,’ and promised new air quality audits that he said would be a ‘strong step’.
Stop Killing Londoners don’t think he has done enough since then, a view shared by leading health experts, and plan to do everything they can to hold him to his word and tackle the capital’s ongoing killer pollution problem. “Our meeting with his advisers was very cordial and friendly,” said Hallam, “but ultimately non-committal and certainly not indicative that the Mayor’s office takes seriously the true scale of this health crisis. And for that reason we must hold his feet to the fire.”
Lizzia, 19, added: “We are prepared to go to prison, and a number of us were already held on remand for one week… Every day, men and women are getting criminal records, for the sake of all of our health. I would have thought an hour of the Mayor’s time would not have been too much to ask.”
With thanks to Clare Farrell
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