Cut motor traffic. Live better lives. Tackle climate change

September 16, 2022

By Simon Pirani

The borough of Greenwich, south east London, plans to cut car traffic by 45% by 2030 – but even that will produce less than half the greenhouse gas emissions reductions that climate scientists say are needed.

The proposal to cut back traffic is a good start to a conversation about transforming urban transport, I argued this week in a response to the council’s draft Transport Strategy. But only a start. (Download the full response here.)

Copenhagen. But coming to south east London soon. Photo by heb@Wikimedia Commons

Better still would be to set carbon budgets – limits on the amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted during specific time periods – and use them as a framework for transport and other policies.

Such budgets can concentrate minds on policies to improve people’s lives, while contributing to tackling climate change at the same time. Better, cheaper public transport and support for non-car ways of travelling, e.g. bikes and walking, all help.

Transport is the second-biggest cause of greenhouse gas emissions in Greenwich; heat, electricity and cooking fuel for homes and other buildings is the first. 

In 2019, Greenwich was one of many local authorities that declared a “climate emergency” in response to school pupils’ strikes demanding action on climate, and Extinction Rebellion’s direct action campaign. Even the UK parliament claimed to recognise this emergency.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Silvertown tunnel reinforces deadly climate doublethink

August 16, 2022

London mayor Sadiq Khan has lashed out at opponents of the Silvertown tunnel project, who are calling on him to pause and review the major infrastructure project at the eleventh hour.

Khan has filed a complaint against Newham mayor Rokshana Fiaz, after she shared on social media a claim by the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition that City Hall had used “lies and half-truths” to justify the scheme.

The complaint has gone to Clyde Loakes, Labour chief whip for London Councils, which brings together the leaders of 21 Labour-led councils in the capital.

The “banshees” street theatre group protesting against the tunnel project, July 2020. Photo by Ben Darlington / SSTC web site

The tunnel project has no discernible local support. Greenwich, Lewisham and Hackney councils are opposed, along with Newham, as are climate scientists, transport researchers, trade unions, community groups and thousands of local residents who have turned out on protests.

Yet preparatory work is already underway, and contractors working for Transport for London (TfL) are lowering pieces of the biggest tunnel boring machine ever used in the UK into its chamber. So political pressure to rethink is peaking.

If the £2.2 billion scheme goes ahead, it will exacerbate dreadful air pollution problems locally, boost road transport, and undermine efforts to tackle dangerous climate breakdown.

Read the rest of this entry »

Lower Thames Crossing? No. Stop this road-building madness

June 16, 2022

The UK government is planning a gigantic new road project – a six-lane, 22-kilometre motorway with a tunnel under the river Thames near Gravesend, Kent – while, laughably, claiming to be acting on climate change.

The Lower Thames Crossing would be the UK’s largest road project since the M25 motorway ring around London was completed in 1986. Cost: an estimated £8.2 billion.

It is the largest project envisaged in part 2 of the government’s Road Investment Strategy (RIS2) that covers the period 2020-25.

The Kent Downs area of outstanding natural beauty would suffer a “large adverse” impact from the Lower Thames Crossing, according to National Highways. Photo from the Kent Downs site

And it would blast another hole in attempts to meet the UK’s own inadequate greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, let alone meaningful targets set by climate scientists.

The Thames Crossing Action Group, which coordinates local opposition to the Lower Thames Crossing monstrosity, is asking people to write in to a consultation about the project (see below). Of course more direct forms of action may be needed, too.

The Silvertown tunnel project, which has faced opposition in east and south east London, is further ahead than the Lower Thames Crossing. Contracts have been signed with developers, and within weeks the tunnel boring machine could get going.

The Lower Thames Crossing is one more reason to stop the Silvertown tunnel. If one alien abomination is created, the other even bigger monster could follow.

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Greenwashed Silvertown tunnel pollutes, trashes the climate, and steamrollers democracy

June 13, 2022

London’s Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is pushing ahead with the Silvertown tunnel project despite evidence that it will worsen already chronic air pollution problems and undermine chances of meeting climate targets.

Campaigners opposed to the £2 billion-plus project, to build a new tunnel under the Thames between Newham and Greenwich in east London, gathered on Saturday at a Health Summit to hear researchers explain the project’s harmful health effects.

This article is based on a talk at the start of the meeting by SIMON PIRANI, about why, even at this late stage, the project can and should be stopped, and about some of the campaigners’ achievements.

The Silvertown tunnel, like all road-building projects, has to be considered in the context of transport policy as a whole.

Attendees at the Health Summit on Saturday. Photo by Clive Carter

The only arguments in favour of the tunnel are that it will reduce traffic jams at the Blackwall tunnel. These arguments isolate the problem of these jams from all other problems in the world.

Supporters of the tunnel ask us: “What will you do about traffic jams?”

We say: reduce the total number of cars on the road. Which we need to do anyway, to address the appalling levels of air pollution and the danger of global warming.

If you read the London mayor’s transport policy of 2018, it looks as though this is the plan. It has big headlines about non-car transport modes. But the small print, the reality, is very different. The reality is that road transport in private cars is subsidised and supported, and support for other modes is being eaten away.

Read the rest of this entry »

Ukraine. One day in the life of Dnipro

March 29, 2022

By ANATOLY DUBOVIK in Dnipro, eastern Ukraine

A facebook post from 22 March. The shops that sell manufactured consumer goods are starting to open now. Most are still closed, but the process is underway. Shops selling expensive clothes, on the other hand, are covered in signs saying “final sale” and “this shop is closing”.

Companies are also, bit by bit, starting work again. In the building where I work, there are nine or ten offices on our floor. We first opened up again a week ago, and today three offices are already functioning. These are all industrial companies, not trade or retail outfits.

The “stone women” at the Dnepropetrovsk Historical Museum

Private businesses are obliged to accept payments by bank card, they can not do cash-only. Breaches can lead to a fine of 3400 hryvna [105 euros].

Yesterday the evacuation of the Dnepropetrovsk Historical Museum got underway. It opened in 1849, on the initiative of a local schoolteacher. In 1942-43 the Germans looted it, but it was restored and is now one of the best in Ukraine. It has several hundred thousand artefacts, dating back to the paleolithic. There is even an Egyptian mummy. Where all this is being taken to is a secret, of course.

It’s a shame that it’s a long way from where I live to the museum. I don’t know when I’ll be able to go and find out whether they have taken away the “stone women” that stand (stood?) in front of the museum. Several of them are in the photo. My late first wife, Anna Dubovik, was involved in discovering the one on the left. That was when she was a student in the faculty of history, and did a practical summer course on archaeological digs.

For the first time, I met people in Dnipro who had been driven out of Mariupol: a family with children. Gloomy, exhausted. I offered to buy them whatever they needed. At first they didn’t accept, but I convinced them – because I was in a position to help. I took them sausage, bread, cheese, ryazhenka [a type of plain yogurt], apples and oranges.

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Liverpool: Stop the electronic war fair

August 13, 2021

RITCHIE HUNTER writes about Liverpool City Council and the electronic arms fair due to take place at the Exhibition Centre in Liverpool in October

Slave-branding in England, 1853. Photo from wikimedia commons / New York Public Library

During the slave trade, Liverpool Council spent thousands of pounds fighting the abolition movement and conferred the freedom of the borough on those who were the ‘spin doctors’ of the day. 

This was in a city where thumbscrews, branding irons, and fetters for use on slaves, with devices for opening their mouths when they refused to eat, could all be seen for sale in ships chandlers’ windows.

Fast forward to today and Liverpool City Council have decided not to cancel the arms fair planned for October, even though they own the venue.

This is the resolution passed by the Council on 21 July 2021:

Read the rest of this entry »

‘The Mayor won’t change his mind’

June 29, 2021

As opposition to the £2.2 billion climate-trashing, polluting Silvertown Tunnel project grows in east and south-east London, campaigners keep getting a message back from Labour politicians: “The Mayor won’t change his mind.”

That’s Mayor Sadiq Khan, one of Labour’s most powerful elected politicians.

Campaigners have asked him to pause and review the project, given the climate emergency that London has declared, the air pollution crisis, the pandemic, and Brexit, that have upended traffic projections.

But the Mayor says no.

As Len Duvall, leader of the Labour group in the London Assembly, put it in correspondence about the tunnel project: “He [the Mayor] is not going to review it!”

A march against the Silvertown Tunnel in Newham this month. Photo by Stop the Silvertown Tunnel coalition

To a warning that construction could be disrupted by civil disobedience, Duvall replied: “I suspect you’re right, there will be some form of direct action. And it [the tunnel] will still be built!”

Len, can I just remind you? This isn’t a mafia movie, or a third-rate Netflix drama about medieval burghers, in which you play the tough guy.

This is our life, and our children’s lives – they are the ones at the schools near the tunnel site, getting choked by particulate matter, remember? – in the largest city in Europe, in the face of a climate crisis.

Read the rest of this entry »

There’s still time to stop the climate-trashing Silvertown Tunnel

March 24, 2021

As the UK prepares to host international climate negotiations in November, London’s local authority is pressing ahead with a £2 billion-plus climate-trashing tunnel project that is incompatible with decarbonisation.

The Greater London Authority’s Silvertown Tunnel, together with the government’s £27 billion motorway upgrade scheme, makes a mockery of the UK’s claim to be “leading the way” on tackling climate change.

The tunnel project also shows that climate hypocrisy is bipartisan: it’s the biggest spending decision this decade by Labour’s most powerful elected official, London mayor Sadiq Khan. Labour,

Anti-tunnel demonstrators in Greenwich, September 2019

like the Tories, talks “green” – while piling up the most frightful problems for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The tunnel is deeply unpopular locally. The long list of opponents includes four local Labour MPs, four Labour-controlled local councils, eight Constituency Labour parties and 20 Labour branches, the Greens and Liberal Democrats in London, dozens of community, trade union and environmental organisations, groups of doctors and teachers, and a long list of researchers of climate science, air pollution and transport policy.

The tunnel, a terrible idea long before Covid-19, looks even worse now: long-term transport projections are being rewritten and Transport for London desperately needs financial and Read the rest of this entry »


Electric cars are no panacea. The government’s focus on them is a sham

February 23, 2021

By SIMON PIRANI

The UK government has put electric cars at the centre of its disastrous climate strategy, which doesn’t even aim for half the needed greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

The focus on electric cars – which goes together with a gigantic £27 billion road-building programme – is opposed by researchers of climate science, transport policy, engineering and urban planning. Their advice has in practice been ignored.

The Labour leadership is happy with the electric cars narrative, leaving researchers and campaigners outside parliament to point out that electrification, without an immediate, giant

The numbers need to go down

shift towards public transport, cycling and walking – and away from individually-owned cars – will never come close to decarbonising transport at any meaningful pace.

In the run-up to the international climate talks in Glasgow in November, it is vital that the government’s cynical PR strategy is unmasked.

Support for electric cars was a highlight of the government’s ten-point plan for a “green industrial revolution”, announced in November. Sales of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned from 2030 – that is, after the most vital decade for action on climate has already passed.

The plan includes a promise of about £2.8 billion to subsidise manufacture of, and infrastructure for, electric cars – just over one-tenth of the cost of the £27 billion national road-building Read the rest of this entry »


Hydrogen for homes is a terrible idea. We should fight it

October 30, 2020

A plan to pipe hydrogen, instead of natural gas, to millions of UK households is being pushed hard by the fossil fuel industry. It sounds “green” – but could wreck efforts to make homes truly zero carbon, using insulation and electric heat pumps.

Oil and gas companies support switching the gas grid to hydrogen, as a survival option in case of decarbonisation, as hydrogen is usually fabricated from gas.

But the hydrogen strategy cuts across the approach recommended for years by housing

The gas grid: better to replace it with heat pumps. Photo by Ran-Allen / Creative Commons

policy wonks and architects: to use insulation to slash the amount of heat needed, and install electric pumps (which work like fridges in reverse).

Leeds Trades Union Council (TUC) last month launched a campaign in favour of retrofitting homes with high-quality insulation and heat pumps.

It’s an issue many people can unite around – those fighting for better housing and tenants’ rights, campaigners against fuel poverty, trades unionists fighting building industry cuts, and all of us who want to tackle climate change.

And there’s a choice to be made we cannot avoid.

If the gas grid is switched to hydrogen, that will block for good the electrification-and insulation approach, that heats homes better, more cheaply, with technology that we know works, and is truly zero-carbon. We cannot have it both ways.

We will be locked into extra dependency on fossil fuels, instead of speeding the shift away from them.

That gas-to-hydrogen switch is being planned in north-east England by Northern Gas Networks (NGN): its H21 project would convert 3.7 million homes and businesses by Read the rest of this entry »


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