London’s air pollution is criminal. That’s why at 71 I’m risking prison | Genny Scherer | Opinion

For more than 50 years I have loved living in London: but I am now more and more worried about the pollution. I’m worried about the pollution in the water, the pollution in the ground, and the pollution in the air from the busy arterial roads and airports. It’s affecting me and it will affect the crops on my allotment. I have a bike, but in order to go out on a bike now I have to wear a mask which, with my asthma, makes it difficult. When I was arrested last week for spraying “air pollution is criminal” on City Hall, the mayor of London’s office, I was singing “maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner” – I don’t believe Londoners should have to suffer these conditions any longer.

People need to be made aware of the issues of air pollution and climate change and start communicating with each other about them. I’m taking this visible action because I want to give people something to talk about; we are calling on the mayor to sit down with community groups and discuss solutions to air pollution. There are already thousands of people in this country and across the world standing up to say now is the time to act on the climate. I am standing up with them, and risking time in prison, to pressure our politicians into acting now.

Along with other clean air defenders, we sprayed “air pollution is criminal” on the walls of City Hall five times last week and were arrested every time. At the police station, the police officers were respectful to us in spite of clearly being overworked and understaffed. In some cases there was even genuine understanding of our action for clean air, even if they did not approve of the methods.

Taking action in the way we did, a kind of “art drama” politics, is a rollercoaster of emotions. Part of me says why bother, why not just enjoy the rest of my life, but my awareness of the danger and future damage won’t let me. I have not given up on provoking people to act on what is happening, to work to cut air pollution and avert climate breakdown. For instance, so far a dozen London community groups have started working in coalition to put increasing pressure on Sadiq Khan to take urgent action. The London Coalition for Clean Air is holding an open introductory meeting on 17 April and I hope that more people and groups will get involved with it. If that happens, then our actions last week will have been worth it.

The mayor should be providing ways for people to get involved and excited about fixing our air pollution crisis – something that is so crucial to the health of all citizens. Money needs to be used to spur people to be creative around technology and to change our cities so we have room for all people to move through them without these deadly health risks. Room for disabled people, room for cyclists, space for people who go slow or fast. I want to see lots of trees, and every house using alternative energy, with plants growing everywhere. Open the parks, don’t close them.

We must get rid of pollution. We need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground. We need an urgent transition; we should all be demanding it and encouraging others to do so too, whether that is through acts of protest, writing to our politicians or talking to our neighbours. This pollution is causing more than 9,000 Londoners to die prematurely every year. Stop killing Londoners.

Genny Scherer is a 71-year-old anti-pollution activist