Tourists walking by some of London’s most famous statues on April 18 might have noticed something was amiss: There was Queen Victoria, Isaac Newton, and Sherlock Holmes donning gas masks.
Greenpeace was behind it all, and their goal was draw attention to the poor quality of the capital’s air. They outfitted 17 statues around the city. Perhaps the most daring installations were done on Lord Nelson and Oliver Cromwell. Residents of the England will know that Cromwell resides in the fenced-off grounds of the Houses of Parliament, and that Nelson stands atop a 169-foot column in Trafalgar Square.
According to a Greenpeace release, eight of their activists were arrested after fitting Cromwell with a protective mask. One of the two climbers to scale Nelson’s Column, Alison Garrigan, had previously climbed to the top of London’s 1,000-foot Shard skyscraper in 2013, also on behalf of Greenpeace.
London’s air is filthy. A report commissioned by Transport for London and the Greater London Authority found that the levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air kill almost 10,000 people every year, with low-income residents living near roads in particular danger.
Greenpeace wants expanded an Clean Air Zone in the city. “The current proposal for an Ultra Low Emissions Zone—to come into force in 2020—only offers protection from dangerous air to residents and commuters in zone 1,” it says. Zone 1 refers to the innermost part of the city. Greenpeace also claims that some areas (Brixton Road and Putney High Street) are consistently three times over the limit for nitrogen dioxide and points to evidence that London exceeded the EU legal limit for emissions for all of 2016 in just eight days at the beginning of the year.
London is trying to improve its air quality, but progress is slow. It has electric double-decker buses that charge themselves wirelessly, and bike infrastructure has improved greatly over the last 10 years. But as long as private cars and delivery vehicles crawl through the city’s streets, filling the air with pollutants, London’s statues mightn’t be averse to keeping their new masks.
All Photos: courtesy Greenpeace