Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists called for a “swarm” at a roundabout near the approach to London’s Blackwall tunnel on the busy A102 on Friday.
The action, in protest at the building of yet another road tunnel, is part of XR’s “summer of uprisings” against climate change.
The proposed Silvertown Tunnel would add to problems at one of London’s worst hotspots. Residents in the boroughs of Newham and Greenwich already suffer some of the highest levels of air pollution and highest numbers of children with asthma.
Local campaigns against this billion pound project go back six years. The Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition has upped its activity this year. Campaigners have taken letters and petitions to City Hall challenging London’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan’s decision to go ahead with the tunnel.
Protesters in Newham who joined the XR swarm were given new hope that the project could be blocked.
The action at the Angerstein Hotel roundabout was very well organised. Over a 90-minute period starting at 7.30am, protesters blocked the road for four-minute intervals behind a large XR banner.
Others leafletted the lines of drivers, talking to them about the issue. The tailback from the action was substantial, but the vast majority of drivers were very supportive.
Victoria Rance, co-ordinator of Stop the Silvertown Tunnel, said,“The first driver I spoke to had driven her son to hospital with an asthma attack the evening before. She thanked us for our action.”
Greenwich resident Vanessa carried a sign reading, “Tell Sadiq Khan to say NO.” She said her dad could halve his medication when they got out of the borough to the coast. And she knows that her child is breathing in illegal levels of pollution.
XR’s direct actions appeal to wide layers of people who are frustrated at the lack of progress over climate change. Joseph had come down from Cambridge to join the protest.
He said, “This is great actually creating change. I have learnt so much since becoming involved.”
Luke from Ashford had been drawn into XR from being involved in activity over other issues such as animal rights. He said, “We need a movement of all movements coming together to make change.”
Many protesters felt the action was a success, and argued for similar actions on a bigger scale.
Stop the Silvertown Tunnel has challenged Transport for London’s backing of the project. It dismissed TfL’s traffic and pollution forecasts as “an elaborate fiction designed to draw attention away from the fact that the cost-benefit analysis for the scheme doesn’t make sense”.
The matter is urgent. The contracts with RiverLnx Consortium are due to be signed by the end of this month.
Projects like this need to be halted. It is wrong to go on building for more road transport. We need a complete rethink in the light of the climate crisis.
We have to develop new strategies centring on public transport and zero carbon emissions. XR has given new life and energy to campaigns. Now we need to take on a system that is hellbent on destroying the planet.