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.

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Social and ecological crisis: it’s about living differently

September 21, 2021

Review by Simon Pirani of The Imperial Mode of Living: everyday life and the ecological crisis of capitalism (Verso, 2021), by Ulrich Brand and Markus Wissen

Download this book review as a PDF

Imagine, if you will, a British trade union branch that votes to oppose expansion of the local airport. After their meeting, some members head for the pub.

“That was a good decision. It’s not working class people flying in those planes”, says Tom.

“But working class people do fly”, says Richard. “My neighbour is a working class person. He goes to Portugal twice a year with his whole family. And he drives a BMW. We’ll never protect the environment if people like that don’t wake up.”

Harriet chips in. “Your neighbour is an exception. Most working class people will be lucky to get one holiday abroad during the year. And we’ll never win them to the cause of transition away from fossil fuels by asking them to make personal sacrifices. Why should they?”

For crying out loud, comrades. You haven’t even got the beer in yet, and you’re recycling stereotypes. You’re talking about individuals “waking up”, or about whether “we” (who?!) will ask them to sacrifice.  

Earth Day 1970: a student smells a magnolia through a gas mask in New York. Were the 1970s a missed opportunity?

At this point in the conversation – and believe me, I have sat through similar ones – I would be hoping for someone to remind us that it just isn’t that simple, to talk about the social and economic structures that underlie consumption … and to suggest that maybe it’s “our” thinking that needs to shift, towards better understanding these structures and the way they shape workers’ lives in rich countries.

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