Cities are doing it for themselves*
Last night we went to the launch of Sadiq Khan’s new book, Breathe. Tantalisingly described as The first book from the Mayor of London, Breathe offers actions for tackling the climate crisis, Khan was in conversation with the journalist James O’Brien. The event took place at The Royal Festival Hall in London’s Southbank Centre and while it wasn’t a sell-out event, there must have been about a thousand people there.
Air quality is clearly a deeply personal issue for Khan. He talked about being indifferent to environmental issues until he was diagnosed with adult-onset asthma while training for the marathon, at age 43. It’s also deeply political, and much of the conversation was about how to campaign on green issues and overcome opposition. He compared it to other shifts in public policy such as banning smoking in public places: he was clearly worried some of his policies could be reversed whereas he argued that public opinion would never allow the smoking ban to be reversed, even though it was hard to push through at the time.
We first got an inkling of an eventful night was when Khan came on stage and a few people started booing. If you haven’t been following, the Mayor’s plans to extend the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) has been met with controversy, and last night some protestors wanted to make their voice heard. Several people were removed from the audience by security including one person who brought along a whistle for maximum effect.
One of the main points made during the evening was that of silent majority versus vocal minority, as exemplified by the scenes in the audience. Khan talked about the half of Londoners who don’t own a car often being the same families that live in the places most impacted by air pollution, and the racial and social injustice of that situation.
Khan paid tribute to Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, a nine year-old girl who died in 2013, and her mother Rosamund who has since campaigned - with Khan - to improve air quality. Ella was the first person in the history of the UK to have their cause of death listed on the coroner’s report as Died of asthma contributed to by exposure to excessive air pollution, with the coroner noting that The principal source of her exposure was traffic emissions. This report and her mother’s campaigns have helped to raise awareness, which has increased hugely in the last few years.
In other news
We are still waiting for our node to be installed and are now looking at different locations that might enable it to be put up more quickly without impacting the Rec’s listed building status. We’re started to plan for Clean Air Day (15 June) and are in touch with the Rec and the nursery to plan events. We contributed an article for Air Quality News over the weekend; and even had a photo shoot for a new exhibition on air quality and children. It’s been busy!
*Joke courtesy of Sadiq Khan