Coronavirus and the Meltdown of the Construction Industry: Bloated, Socially Oppressive and Environmentally Ruinous

Part of the massive development site at Nine Elms in Vauxhall, photographed on April 16, 2020 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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Just for a while there, it was bliss. The roads were almost entirely empty, the air was clean, birds could be heard singing in central London, and, most crucially, the din of huge construction sites was almost entirely silenced. Construction sites not only generate vast amounts of noise and pollution; they also choke the roads with hundreds of lorries carrying material to them, or carrying away the rubble from buildings that, in general, should have been retrofitted rather than destroyed.

This is because the environmental cost of destroying buildings is immense, and we are supposed to have woken up to the environmental implications of our activities over the last few years, because, in 2018, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned us that we only had 12 years to avoid catastrophic climate change unless we started arranging to cut our carbon emissions to zero, and, in response, the activism of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion helped to persuade central governments and local governments to piously declare “climate emergencies”, and to promise to change their behaviour.

Little has been seen in terms of major changes since these “climate emergencies” were declared last year — until, that is, the coronavirus hit. Since then, global pollution levels have dropped significantly — 17% on average worldwide, by early April, compared with 2019 levels, with a 31% decline recorded in the UK.

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Nine Months After the Entirely Preventable Grenfell Tower Fire, UN Housing Rapporteur Says UK Government May Have Breached Residents’ Human Rights

The Silent Walk for Grenfell, December 14, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.





 

Today, survivors of the Grenfell Tower Fire last June — and supporters from across London —  are taking part in a Silent Walk that begins outside the offices of Kensington and Chelsea Council and ends by the blackened skeleton of the tower, where over 70 people died. The fire should never have happened, but did so because safety standards have been fatally eroded over many years by those responsible for the safety of tenants and leaseholders — central government, local government, management companies that have taken over the management of swathes of social housing, and contractors.

For me, the fire was the defining moment of 2017, and in summer I wrote a song about it, remembering those whose lives were “so needlessly lost”, and calling for ”those who only count the profit not the human cost” to be held accountable. Three members of my band The Four Fathers — myself, Richard Clare and Mark Quiney, accompanied by my son Tyler beatboxing — were recorded playing the song by a German film crew in autumn. We released it as a video in December, and I’m pleased to note that it currently has nearly 1,500 views on YouTube (posted below) and on Facebook. Please watch it, and share it if you like it. We hope to make a studio recording soon, and would be delighted to hear from anyone in the Grenfell community who would like to be involved, as we would love it to be used to help the survivors.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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