A road in central London was bought to a standstill last night, as protestors held a die-in on a busy London road. The #PollutionProtest, organised by a group of campaigners called Stop Killing Cyclists, saw the road around the British Department of Transport shut down to highlight the dangerous levels of air pollution in the English capital.
Nearly 9,500 people die early each year in London due to long-term exposure to air pollution, more than twice as many as previously thought, according to research conducted in 2015. A further 95,000 of us are living with terrible lung diseases, heart problems, cancers, asthma, emphysema and lung infections thanks to dirty air.
“I’m here because I’m a cyclist and I’m really aware of the terrible air quality in London”, Sarah Walton told us, as a Professor addressed the crowd from a mic. “People in my family have got asthma, I’ve got friends who have developed respiratory problems since coming to London, and I think this is the time that we can do something about it and hopefully this protest will bring it to people’s attention.”
With the speeches over, protestors lay down in the road in silence, a haunting spectacle that reminds you just how real air pollution related deaths really are.
The demands being put forward by the protestors had been agreed in advance: better funding for cycling, car free days in major cities, and a ban on all non-zero emission private cars from cities on days where pollution levels are predicted to rise above EU safety levels.
Calls were also made for diesel powered vehicles to be banned in city centres within five years, and fossil-fuel powered vehicles to be barred within a decade.
With the die in in full swing, William McNally explained why he’d braced the cold to lie on the tarmac. “It’s quite disgusting that we have to cycle in the city whereby we’re being poisoned as we ride.”
After 15 minutes of near silence, the die-in started to wake, and a final round of speeches got underway. Standing in the crowd was Sian Berry, the Green Party candidate for London Mayor.
“I’m running for mayor and I think I can get London’s air clean by 2020”, she tells me, “but if the government and the Department for Transport joined in we could do it much sooner.”
Sian explained that she’s measured the air pollution where she lives in North London, on a busy junction, and found that there was 71 micrograms per metre cubed of nitrogen dioxide at one time, and 73 at another.
“The legal limit is 40, so where I leave there is nearly double the acceptable amount of air pollution, and many many people are worse off than me.”
“In the whole of Newham and Tower Hamlets basically, children cannot walk to school except in illegal air, and that’s really not right in a city that ought to be one of the greatest in the world.”