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Protesting Against Air Pollution Crisis, Extinction Rebellion Stalls Rush-Hour Traffic in London
By Jessica Corbett
Dozens of students, parents, teachers and professionals joined a Friday protest organized by Extinction Rebellion that temporarily stalled morning rush-hour traffic in London's southeasten borough of Lewisham to push politicians to more boldly address dangerous air pollution across the city.
The demonstration was just the first in a series of actions Extinction Rebellion (XR) is planning for the "Let Lewisham Breathe" campaign. Lorna Greenwood, who protested Friday despite being nine months pregnant, told the Guardian that "the idea was to stop traffic temporarily to put pressure on all of our politicians — Lewisham council, [London Mayor] Sadiq Khan, and the government — to confront the air pollution crisis."
Though Khan has called the air quality issues that plague his city a "health crisis," he criticized Friday's action. A spokesman for Khan told ITV: "The mayor recognizes we face a climate emergency and shares the protesters' passion for tackling this issue. But he is clear that causing disruption for Londoners in this way is unacceptable."
Commuters were reportedly more supportive. Toting signs that declared "This Air Is Killing Us," campaigners handed out leaflets and cake to drivers, and urged them to shut off their vehicles while they waited at the three locations of the sit-ins, according to organizers. They also warned of the disruption in advance, both online and with banners along the affected routes, and notified local schools and emergency services.
"There was some backlash but not as much as you would expect because people in the area know how bad the problem is," Greenwood said. "Lewisham suffers really badly with air pollution so it's at the forefront of everybody's minds and it's something that really unites people. It doesn't matter what job you do or how old you are, people have to breathe the same air."
"The environment catastrophe will far outweigh the damage caused by a few roadblocks on a Friday morning," 35-year-old demonstrator Harry Gibson, who also participated in XR's London demonstrations in April, told the Evening Standard.
"The planet's not going to last, it's not protected with the way that we're going," he warned. "We need to look to the future for future generations."
Pete Pello, 32, concurred. "I'm here because I can't ignore the facts anymore. I don't feel comfortable standing by and letting future generations deal with the world we are creating for them. It's something I feel I have to do," he said in a statement from XR.
"It's been amazing so far," Pello added. "People are being patient and waiting. We've had a few angry shouts but most people are pretty relaxed and supportive. There's a really great mix of people here from school children to older people. For lots of them, it's the first time they've done anything like this."
Freya, a 13-year-old protester, told the Evening Standard: "I'm here because lots of people don't care. Most adults don't listen to the children. They can't stop polluting. This is the only way to make change."
"We are in a climate and ecological emergency that requires a change in all aspects of society," protester John Hamilton told MetroUK, pointing out that "Lewisham Council themselves passed a motion declaring the borough to be in a state of climate emergency."
This Is Local London reported Friday that Lewisham Councillor Sophie McGeevor, cabinet member for the environment, said, "As one of the first councils in the country to declare a climate emergency, we share the same goal as Extinction Rebellion — to save the planet and clean up our air."
"We understand that without action the planet is heading towards a climate catastrophe," she said. "We are taking bold action to improve air quality whether that is: supporting the ULEZ and campaigning for it to include the whole borough, investing in cycling and walking infrastructure, proposing to make the most polluting vehicles pay more for parking, installing green walls outside schools, increasing the number of electric vehicle charging stations, or investing in Lewisham's award winning green spaces."
McGeevor added, "We want to go further and faster to meet this challenge, but with local government having gone through nearly a decade of austerity we need central government support to do so."
In addition to calling on Khan and the U.K. government to do more to tackle air pollution and the climate crises, members of XR are also urging the Lewisham Council to follow the lead of the Oxford City Council in establishing a citizens assembly to weigh in on how the government should address the issues.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Will Sarni
It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.
The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future
We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.
"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.
One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.
Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.
Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.
These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.
We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).
We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.
We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.
Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.
Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.
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