Last night up to 250 protesters staged a “Die-in” outside the Department for Transport (DfT) headquarters in London over a lack of action over the “national health emergency” caused by air pollution.
The event was attended by Green London Mayoral candidate, Sian Berry, along with protesters who lay down in the road with dust masks and toys to signify those killed prematurely by poor air quality. Some passing taxi drivers sounded their horns in support of the protest.
Nationally it has been estimated one in ten deaths is caused by air pollution, and Stop Killing Cyclists called for urgent action from government.
Organiser and co-founder of Stop Killing Cyclists, Donnachadh McCarthy, said: “In London when European Union [air pollution] safety levels are broken this government says to people who are elderly or ill or children: stay indoors; they say to the disabled: stay indoors. What we say is that we want drivers to stay indoors when the pollution levels are high. We want a ban [on cars] when safety levels are broken.”
McCarthy criticised the government for cutting taxes on the most polluting vehicles, while raising taxes on green cars, and for investing billions on roads while “slashing the tiny budget” for cycling.
Sian Berry (pictured, above), Green candidate for London Mayor, told road.cc with its £15bn roads fund, national government has failed to learn the lessons of the past.
“At the moment the combined efforts of the government and Boris Johnson are only going to bring our air pollution below legal limits by 2025, which is 15 years too late. Meanwhile nearly 10,000 people are dying early in London each year from air pollution”, she said.
“We’ve got George Osborne saying ridiculous things like ‘driving to prosperity’. Previous Tory governments learned this lesson in the 1990s - that building more roads just creates more traffic - and yet they’re at it again, it’s like collective amnesia.”
“The first thing you do about air pollution is not make it worse,” she said.
Actuary Andrew Smith, who also played saxophone at the Die-in - Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, and Every Breath You Take, among others said an estimated one in ten deaths in the UK is attributable to air pollution.
“We know lots and lots about deaths from road crashes,” he said. “But we also know pollution kills a lot more than that - about 20 or 30 times as many people as crashes.
“We don’t know exactly, and the reason is that nobody has ‘pollution’ on their death certificates – they’re invisible. On your death certificate it says cancer, or heart attack, or lung disease. But statistics can show, by comparing people in more or less polluted areas, and controlling for other things like income, we can work out how pollution affects mortality.”
He said if most of the air pollution could be prevented, this would add an average 18 months to a person’s life.
Protester Gavin Hudson, who lives in Hackney, told road.cc: "When a cyclist dies in a crash it makes the news, but pollution kills not just cyclists - it kills everybody. It’s strange this is a cycling protest because it should be everybody: thousands of people in London die every year.
"If the same number were getting run over by cars there would be uproar."