Stop Killing Londoners: Direct Action Environmentalism

The name of new anti-pollution campaigning group Stop Killing Londoners is not just designed to grab attention, but reflects what is actually happening. A report by King’s College, London gave a figure of 9,500 deaths caused by air pollution in 2015. Another study by the Royal College of Physicians in 2016 gives 40,000 deaths a year across the UK. Politicians and the car industry try and downplay these figures and say that no one actually dies of air pollution.

However, the point is that air pollution has a serious impact on everyone’s health, causing and aggravating asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and cancer, and is especially dangerous for the elderly and the young. In addition, the Institute for Public Policy has estimated that drastically reducing pollution would bring £800,000 of economic benefits.

But despite having all the facts before them, the government has done little, putting the interests of the car industry ahead of public health. Targets have been set for the far distant future, eg banning the sale of diesel and petrol cars by 2040! Khan promises zero emissions by 2050! But the situation is urgent — not just for people’s health but for climate change in general. Stop Killing Londoners is demanding that measures are taken immediately: pollution to be reduced 80% by the end of 2018 and all the money saved by a clear air strategy reinvested in future clean air measures. Rather than lobbying politicians they have adopted a campaign of direct action. They have already organised three events this year and are planning more.

The road block disco is part of an escalating campaign to mobilise ordinary London communities to take matters into their own hands. We want people to adopt and adapt peaceful and creative direct action tactics to carry on the fight. We are aiming at London-wide actions involving ordinary people and small communities acting together to get the authorities to stop messing about and act on air pollution.
~ Stop Killing Londoners

Direct action is a tactic often adopted by anarchists. This is because we believe it is a strategy for winning. The environmental movement began to use direct action when it became apparent that the traditional methods were not enough. Thatcher’s ‘biggest road building programme since the Romans’ was contested at Twyford Down with the campaign to stop the M3 extension which would destroy an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, two Sites of Scientific Interest and two Ancient Monuments. By 1992, the Twyford Down Association had spent years, with the help of Friends of the Earth, lobbying politicians and fighting court cases. But when the diggers began to move in, they realised that unless they did something drastic, they had lost their fight. Some of the residents, not your usual activists but often Conservative voters, decided to join forces with the Dongas, a group of young people living an alternative lifestyle near the site of the motorway development, and with Earth First! activists. It was not a question of people ‘parachuting in’ from outside but instead was an alliance of all who cared about the environment.

They lost this fight but the result was that Thatcher’s massive road building programme that she had launched in 1989 was in shreds. According to Earth First! this huge road building
programme, “was slashed three times by a third and countless places were saved from the onward march of car culture.” The growing anti-fracking movement is using similar tactics. Local residents and activists are resisting invasion of our countryside by fracking companies. Camps have been established at places such as Leith Hill in Surrey and at Preston New Road in Lancashire.

So whether on the streets of London or in the countryside, direct action is the way to win the battles for the health of both people and the planet.

This article appears in the latest issue of Rebel City, a free anarchist paper jointly produced and distributed in London by the Anarchist Federation, Haringey Solidarity Group, members of Solidarity Federation, the Industrial Workers of the World and Feminist Fightback