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The shock figures that show we’re choking to death

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Sarah Bates argues that the Tories’ inaction to prevent climate chaos is a major reason why air pollution rates in London are so high
Issue 2728
The capital’s air pollution from roads has high costs
The capital’s air pollution from roads has high costs (Pic: Wikimedia/Mariordo)

Londoners are paying the heaviest health price in Europe for toxic levels of air pollution.

But instead of taking meaningful action, the government is slashing funding and leaving green transport up to decisions made at a local council level.

The situation is dire for the 8.9 million people that live in the capital.

A new study has highlighted the damaging effects of air pollution from roads.

Researchers from consultancy firm CE Delft measured how pollution spewed out—particulate matter, ozone and nitrogen dioxide—was impacting people across 30 countries.

It’s worked out by measuring premature death, hospital treatment, lost working days and other health factors caused by road-produced air pollution.

They found that London suffered the highest “social cost” of £10.32 billion a year.

This is almost double the level of Bucharest, the next highest.

And the British government is moving too slowly despite the devastating results and its pledge to act on the climate emergency.


For instance, it’s vowed to ban the sale of diesel and petrol cars by 2035.

But they are set to be replaced by electric cars that still emit some pollution.

The Covid-19 pandemic has provided a fresh opportunity to look at how people move around cities.

Some 900 new walking and cycling schemes have been implemented since March this year.

In April, the Scottish government said it would spend £10 million to create temporary walking and cycling routes. And in Manchester, parts of the city centre have been pedestrianised.

“The pandemic has brought this ongoing discussion into sharp focus and created an urgency to accelerate change in the way we move around and live,” said Daisy Narayanan from travel charity Sustrans.

Just weeks after the first lockdown was announced, huge swathes of central London’s roads were fitted with new signage and bollards to make temporary cycle lanes.

But patchwork implementation of new cycle lanes is not enough.

They can funnel traffic onto already congested main arteries and divert cars from leafy rich areas to built-up, poorer ones.

And slow supply chains since the spring mean many people can’t get a new bike, or the parts to fix an old one.

The missing piece in the puzzle is a sustainable, publicly funded transport system.

Air pollution - a deadly truth about dirty capitalism
Air pollution – a deadly truth about dirty capitalism
  Read More

Bosses at Transport for London (TfL), which runs services in the capital, are warning that they are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said TfL would need £4.9 billion over the next 18 months just to keep services running.

The Tory government should be handing over cash to keep as many buses and trains going. Not only would this limit air pollution, but also the risk of infection during the pandemic.

Instead, transport secretary Grant Shapps has said the central government will take over TfL unless Khan agrees to new measures.

Shapps is pushing the mayor to accept further council tax rises, a larger congestion charge zone, further removal of concessionsary fares for under-18s and over-60s, and fare hikes, in return for a bailout.

TfL under the Tories’ rule is likely to mean privatisation, attacks on working conditions and poorer services.

This is set to make ordinary people pay for the coronavirus crisis. It places people directly in harm’s way by making it more dangerous to take a tube and more expensive to own a car.

The Tories’ moves show they are determined to ignore the climate emergency—and the health, financial and social cost will be borne by ordinary people.

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