In a week where temperature records were smashed, I spent some time visiting family in London. On Friday I toured London Docklands with my brother.
The first point of note was the travel cost. An all-day off-peak travel card cost me £9.50, not much more than two return trips by bus from my home to the Hallamshire Hospital! The trains were all frequent and we never had to wait for more than about 4 minutes. If only South Yorkshire were blessed with such an excellent transport system. The biggest difference is, in London, nearly everybody uses public transport. In South Yorkshire most people choose a car to get around very slowly on our congested roads, leaving those that can’t afford a car struggling on poor public transport. It is obvious that we need a publicly controlled transport system that works for both people and planet.
A visit to the Docklands Museum reveals much about the history of the area. One exhibition was on slavery. The trade of enslaved Africans and sugar was nicknamed the Triangular Trade. Slave ships travelled across the Atlantic in a triangle between Britain, West Africa, and sugar plantations in the Americas. One wall in the museum is devoted to the names of all the captains, destinations and ships that sailed from London to trade in enslaved Africans, whose names weren’t even recorded.
Between about 1500 and 1900, Europeans kidnapped millions of Africans and shipped them across the Atlantic in conditions of extreme cruelty. To refer to the Africans who were enslaved only as ‘slaves’ strips them of their identity. They were valuable members of their community and family, farmers, merchants, priests, goldsmiths and musicians. They could be Yoruba, Igbo, Akan, Kongolese or many other ethnic groups.
European slavers dispersed them across the Americas to lead lives of forced labour, degradation and brutality. Millions died in the process. As a result, people of African descent are spread throughout the Americas and Western Europe. This is called the African Diaspora.
I remember teaching this to a class of secondary school students in Dronfield. One of the young girls, incensed by the cruelty and injustice, asked me “Why didn’t people do something to stop it before?” I explained that most white people then accepted slavery and those that did speak out against it were thought of as dangerous radicals who would bring down the whole economy.
Today the docklands is the centre of another evil trade. The massive skyscrapers around Canary Wharf house the offices of banks such as Barclays, Citic, JP Morgan Chase and HSBC. JP Morgan Chase is the biggest offender having invested $382 billion in fossil fuels since 2016. Earlier in the week Doctors from XR had cracked windows here leaving the message “In case of medical emergency, break glass.” If this investment was directed to renewable energy projects we would be much closer to ensuring a livable planet in the future. Instead, the banks keep pouring more investment into fossil fuels, ensuring our emissions continue to climb and our climate becomes increasingly unstable. If we manage to prevent the collapse of society, tomorrow’s young people will be asking us why we didn’t do more to stop it. But climate activists are treated just like the abolitionists of the past. We are ignored, ridiculed and mocked. Many people can’t imagine our society being free of its addiction to fossil fuels and don’t want change even though they understand that without change we face extinction.
The next stop on the tour was the Thames Barrage. This amazing engineering achievement prevents London from flooding. The Thames Barrier has been closed 205 times since it became operational in 1982 (correct as of February 2022). The barrier was originally expected to be raised just once or twice a year, but recently it has been needed 6 or 7 times a year. It was raised 10 times in its first decade, 57 times in its second decade, 52 times in its third decade and 87 times in the last 10 years. As sea levels continue to rise and storms increase in both frequency and ferocity, new solutions will have to be found to keep London safe.
Next stop was London City Airport, where, if you have the money, you can charter a plane to anywhere in the world. The impact of private air travel is huge because a private jet emits roughly 10 times the amount of carbon dioxide per passenger compared to a commercial flight. Only the extremely rich can afford a private jet, yet they use them with impunity to travel wherever they want. Aviation fuel is exempt from taxes almost everywhere on the planet, in stark contrast to the price paid for fuel at UK pumps. How do we stop the richest members of society from having such an enormous impact on our climate? Is it time to ban private jets?
We returned to the south bank by cable car and finished at the O2, which as well as being a giant music venue is also a shopping centre where consumers are persuaded to buy more and more things they probably don’t need!
An enjoyable day out, but plenty of food for thought!