Tuesday 17 May 2016

Why did Boris Johnson bury that damning air pollution report?

In 2013 the consultancy firm Aether completed a report for the Greater London Authority on the state of air pollution in London and submitted it to Boris Johnson's administration who then sat on it for two and a half years until his successor Sadiq Khan uncovered it shortly after taking office.

The Analysing Air Pollution in London report contained an awful lot of damning information about the state of pollution in London, including the fact that 433 London primary schools were located in areas where levels of the toxic pollutant 
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) exceeded European Union pollution limits.

Nitrogen Oxides

Nitrogen Oxides are toxic pollutants that most often come from road pollution, especially from diesel engines. Other sources of Nitrogen Oxides include electricity generation and industry.

Nitrogen Oxides are proven to trigger asthma, coughing, skin irritation, aggravate bronchitis and pneumonia. Repeated exposure can cause permanent damage to the lungs and reduced lung capacity. It is estimated that Nitrogen Oxide pollution causes thousands of premature deaths per year in London alone.

Nitrogen Oxides are also linked with the formation of ozone
which occurs when Nitrogen Oxides and volatile organic compounds react in the presence of heat and sunlight. Children, the elderly, people with lung diseases such as asthma, and people who work or exercise outside are at risk for adverse effects from ozone, including reduction in lung function, respiratory illnesses and respiratory-related hospital admissions.


Some of the most shocking findings in the report were the disparities in pollution levels between poor areas and wealthy areas. 83% of the schools with illegally high levels of Nitrogen Oxide pollution were classified as "deprived" (40%+ children on free school meals). Meanwhile less than 20% of the schools located in areas below the pollution limit were classified as "deprived".

This means that over 80% of the schools suffering illegal levels of pollution were in poor areas, and over 80% of the schools with acceptable air standards were in rich areas.

The research also showed that over half of the very poorest areas of London suffered illegal levels of pollution, while the illegal pollution rate was just 1% of the very richest areas of London.

Why did it get buried?

Nobody but the most rabidly right-wing sociopath could try to claim that it's perfectly acceptable that tens of thousands of primary school children, mainly from poor and ordinary backgrounds, are being poisoned with health destroying pollutants.

Once the information that this is the case in London would have reached the public domain it would have meant that Boris Johnson would have had to either take the incredibly unpopular stance of doing nothing about the inequality on the grounds that the affected primary school children should have had the good sense to be born into richer families, or actually try to do something about the problem.

Boris Johnson and the Tories clearly didn't want to do anything about the appalling inequality between levels of air pollution in poorer parts of London and richer areas, but neither did they want to be seen to be doing nothing. Hence the logical course of action from a self-serving Tory perspective was to bury the report so that the public had much less evidence on which to base their demands for action.

Cherry-picking the good bits

The decision not to publish the report was clearly a political one because despite deciding to not bother publishing the full report, Boris Johnson's team were happy to cherry-pick and publicise some of the positive conclusions in the report, whilst completely ignoring the bits highlighting the severe inequality in exposure to air pollution.

The director of the company that produced the report Katie King said that "The crux of the report was about understanding the inequalities of air pollution, so they chose not to make public the findings regarding inequality ...The information that they did take from the report was the positive, that exposure was predicted to fall in the future".

There's no way that the decision to cherry-pick the best bits of a scientific report, whilst completely ignoring the negative parts can be seen as anything other than a display of the worst kind of cynical political opportunism.


I really do pity people who are so lacking in political insight that they can't see Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson as the ruthlessly self-serving political careerist that he so clearly is, rather than the harmless foppish buffoon he pretends to be. In 1951 (13 years before BoJo was even born) Bertrand Russell warned of the dangers of politicians like him when he said "our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man, and our politicians take advantage of this prejudice by pretending to be even more stupid than nature has made them".

Boris Johnson is a man so lacking in principle that he refused to answer the charge that he wrote two completely different versions of his famous Telegraph article, one opposing the EU and one supporting it, then chose the one that he thought would be best for his own political ambitions.

He's so lacking in basic human morality that he buried a report into the toxic environments suffered by tens of thousands of primary school children because to publish it would have negatively impacted his own career, yet had his team cherry-pick good bits out of the report to make him look good.

The reason Boris Johnson failed to publish the damning report into air pollution levels in London schools is obvious. It's that he's one of the worst examples of the ruthlessly self-serving over-privileged Tory careerist type. It's just a damned shame that so many people fall for his foppery act and allow themselves to forget who he actually is, and what he actually represents.

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