Planning permission has been granted for a new cruise ship terminal in Greenwich. Ships moored in port run their diesel generators to provide power, and this creates terrible air pollution. Yesterday the Radio 4 programme ‘Costing the Earth’ investigated the situation. The answer is simple. Connect the ships to shore based electricity supply so they don’t need to run their generators. This requires some additional investment, but when planning a new port like Greenwich’s cruise liner terminal at Enderby Wharf providing such infrastructure should clearly have been a condition of the planning approval. Los Angeles was the first port in the world to build such a system, back in 2004. By now it ought to be standard practice. Radio 4’s Tom Heap interviewed lots of people in making the programme, but nobody from either local or national government, or the developers, were prepared to talk to him. As ever governments and commercial developers drag their feet, hounded by community groups, health professionals and environmental activists.
London has long had air pollution problems, dating back centuries. I was born not long after the Great Smog of 1952 and one of my earliest memories is of my family replacing open coal fires with gas ones as a result of the 1956 Clean Air Act. By the 1960’s pollution from cars was a big issue. On the 1971 ‘O’ level English paper, one of the questions was ‘Should the car be banned?’ I argued that it should. The many disadvantages, including local air pollution, climate change, accidents and communities divided by roads outweighed the benefits. This, I recall, became the policy of the Ecology Party, first called the People Party, (later, the Green Party) when it was formed in 1972-73. Since that time the evidence of the damage to human health has grown very much more detailed.
Air pollution from various forms of fossil fuels has long been a problem, for London, and for all big cities. As an issue it has periodically risen up and slid down the media agenda. Now at long last the Cleantech Revolution means that we can still have the many benefits of modern city life, but with radically reduced pollution. Technically much is possible. What is needed is for governments to understand this and take action. Tragically they seldom do, unless forced to do so by the valiant efforts of campaigners and activists, with the support of wonderful organisations like the activist lawyers of Client Earth and insightful radio programmes like ‘Costing the Earth’.