Opinion: Extinction Rebellion protest in Tooting Broadway against dangerous air pollution levels

  Posted: 13.06.21 at 23:00 by Caroline Hartnell

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At 1pm on Saturday, June 12, members of Extinction Rebellion Wandsworth gathered at Tooting Broadway to protest about illegal air pollution levels in the borough.

Some wore hazmat suits and gas masks and held ‘Toxic Air Zone’ signs. ‘Ghost Buggies’ – children's buggies painted white – carried stark messages about the dangers of air pollution such as ‘Toxic Air, No Thank You’, ‘Help A Child Live’ and ‘You Exhaust Me’. ‘Green man swarmers’ held up banners proclaiminwg ‘Think Before You Drive’. Others handed out leaflets to mostly supportive passersby.

And it wasn’t just those walking by who were supportive. The King Edward statue played its part, holding a 'Toxic Air Zone' warning sign for all to see, while a friendly bird was also keen to join in the action.

A ‘Green Man Swarm’ doesn’t stop any traffic. Protesters move into the road with banners when the ‘green man’ pedestrian light stops the traffic and then move back onto the pavement when the green man goes off.

The protest is part of Extinction Rebellion Wandsworth’s 'Wake Up Wandsworth' campaign in response to the council’s inaction around the climate and ecological emergency, which it declared in July 2019. The campaign was launched on Wednesday 7 April, when four demands for addressing the climate emergency were posted on the doors of Wandsworth Town Hall and protesters declared themselves to be ‘in open rebellion against Wandsworth Council’.

The first of XR Wandsworth’s four demands of Wandsworth Council is to reduce air pollution to within legal levels by May 2022.

King Edward joins in the protest

It is estimated that air pollution is responsible for around 36,000 premature deaths annually in the UK, and up to 9,400 in London as well as having many other adverse effects on health. Poor air quality is a social justice issue, as people who live in deprived areas are on average exposed to higher levels of air pollution.

Four out of ten of London’s worst air pollution hotspots are in Wandsworth - two in Putney, one at Wandsworth Town Hall, and one on Lavender Hill near Clapham Junction. And air pollution in Wandsworth is actually getting worse despite some respite owing to the national lockdown.

On December 16, a south London coroner made legal history by ruling that air pollution was a contributory cause of the death of nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah in February 2013. The coroner said she was exposed to nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter (PM) pollution in excess of World Health Organisation guidelines, the principal source of which were traffic emissions.

The solution is at one level simple and straightforward: reduce car use and increase reliance on cycling, walking and public transport. Wandsworth Council must support Wandsworth residents to make fewer car journeys.

However, policies to achieve these ends are by no means simple to come up with. The key issue is that buy-in from local residents is needed, and policies are seen as fair and necessary. This is why XR Wandsworth is demanding a Citizens Assembly be called to consider how to reduce air pollution.

XR Wandsworth’s other three demands are around trees and green spaces, food waste collections and divestment from fossil fuels. Ahead of the next election of Wandsworth Councillors in May 2022, XR Wandsworth will assess hether the council has met our demands.

We look forward to sharing the council’s successes – and will not hesitate to share their failures – with the electorate, the local press, social media and any other means necessary to ensure we reach every household in the borough.

This little bird wants to be part of the action too

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