16 September 2018
The summer of 2018 has been a very busy one for Greenpeace activists - not that surprising, given the record-breaking global heatwave that affected most areas of our world this summer:
Global temperatures, summer 2018
Barclays and Volkswagen: a local Greenpeace activist’s summer diary
At the end of July - as reported elsewhere on our website - I was pleased to be one of the Greenpeace activists who paid a ‘surprise visit’ to Barclays HQ in Canary Wharf, to highlight their continued willingness to fund three new toxic tar sands oil pipelines in North America. Because this type of fossil fuel is TWICE as bad as regards greenhouse gas emissions as conventional fossil fuels, Barclays has now been named as ‘The Dirty Bank’!
Then, less than a month later, on 20 August, I was one of over 40 Greenpeace activists who paid a ‘surprise visit’ to Volkswagen’s UK HQ in Milton Keynes. This action - a protest about diesel emissions - was aimed at persuading Volkswagen to commit to phasing out the production of diesel vehicles and, instead, to move towards producing electric cars.
Volkswagen and air pollution
At present, 1 in 5 of all new diesel vehicles on UK roads are produced by VW. This Greenpeace action was a follow-on from the recent ‘Dieselgate Affair,’ in which VW falsified emissions tests on its diesel vehicles. The company was found to have manipulated laboratory tests for 11 million diesels worldwide, including 1.2 million in the UK. This was the biggest scandal to affect the motor industry for decades.
Unlike their competitors - such as Volvo, Nissan and Toyota, which have already committed to end production of diesel vehicles - Volkswagen has, for over a year, refused even to discuss this with Greenpeace.
As Mel Evans, Clean Air Campaigner at Greenpeace, pointed out in an interview on the day:
“As the UK’s biggest seller of diesel cars, Volkswagen is complicit in an air pollution crisis that’s filling up emergency departments and GP surgeries. Volkswagen sold us a lie about diesel being clean. Its diesel addiction is seriously harming people’s health.”
More than two-thirds of people now believe car companies, like Volkswagen, should be held to account for toxic diesel pollution, and be made to contribute to a Clean Air Fund. A recent study found an ‘absolutely clear’ link between episodes of high air pollution and spikes in hospital admissions and visits to GPs.
The impact of air pollution is particularly acute for children. High exposure to polluted air at a young age - especially from diesel - can cause chronic health problems. Research shows it has negative effects for lung function, respiratory conditions like asthma, and can even result in stunted lung growth. Currently, such air pollution is causing an increasing amount of horrendous suffering across the UK which, in particular, is storing up a lifetime of poor health for children.
Levels of harmful nitrogen dioxide air pollution in the UK have broken legal limits every year since 2010 - and diesel vehicles on UK roads are responsible for 90% of this. Volkswagen, however, are not the only villain in this: the Tory government - and, before them, the Tory-LibDem coalition - are complicit in this, by not obeying the law and so failing to give people the clean air they have a right to expect.
The actions and its outcomes
After arriving at Volkswagen’s HQ, about 25 activists set up a ‘mock’ diesel pollution health clinic - staffed by genuine medical professionals, comprising 2 doctors, one nurse and one paramedic. These offered advice to staff and to members of the public, and also provided lung-capacity checks. Other activists handed out information leaflets:
Greenpeace’s air pollution ‘health clinic’
Once the police had arrived in sufficient numbers, these ‘free-standing’ Greenpeace activists were quickly removed from Volkswagen’s property. However, in addition to these, 24 of the Greenpeace activists who had turned up at Milton Keynes at just before 7.00am, took part - in pairs - in what turned out to be a 7-hour ‘lock-on’ in front of the many entrances to the building, thus preventing more than 800 VW staff from getting into the offices. I was one of the 24 who had volunteered for this role - this was, in fact, my first Greenpeace lock-on role, since being trained by them in the techniques of non-violent direct action in the summer of 2016:
Greenpeace activists ‘locked-on’ in front of the main entrance of Volkswagen’s HQ, Milton Keynes.
After just over 7 hours - the 24 of us involved in the lock-ons having been officially photographed, videoed and then ‘reported’ by the police for aggravated trespass - Greenpeace called off the action. Once we’d been ‘escorted’ off the site by the police, we found out why the action had been ended earlier than initially planned: at the same time as our action was taking place in Milton Keynes, a routine boardroom meeting had been taking place in Volkswagen’s global HQ in Germany. As soon as news of the action reached them, Volkswagen contacted Greenpeace to say they would, after all, have a meeting with them, AND would discuss… plans to phase out new diesel production!
Currently, those of us who did the lock-ons are now waiting to see if the police do, in fact, intend to prosecute us for the offence of aggravated trespass. So… watch this space!
Time for a local Greenpeace group?
The sorts of issues Greenpeace focuses on are to do with opposing extreme fossil fuel projects (such as fracking or tar sands oil), or protecting rainforests and the oceans - and the various sentient beings (such as gorillas, orangutans and whales) which live in these habitats.
Of course, not all of Greenpeace actions involve breaking the law - most revolve around gathering information, collecting signatures on petitions, handing out leaflets, or some ‘brandalism’ (putting stickers on Barclay ATM machines, or on weed killers such as RoundUp). Plus it’s important to note that only volunteers get involved in actions that might break the law - no one is ever under any pressure to do anything they feel uncomfortable with.
At present, the nearest local Greenpeace group is way down in Preston. A few of us now think it’s time to have a Greenpeace group in North Cumbria.
If YOU would be interested in finding out more - and possibly joining such a local Greenpeace group - please do send me an email: