Changes in London aren’t always down to politics. Sometimes, they’re down to the weather

Primrose Hill, north London, in the recent sunshine. Image: Getty.

I’ve got a reality check for politicians and civil servants in London: be aware that changes in your local area or city – positive and negative alike – are not always a result of your policies. The reality is that some changes in the capital are down to external effects beyond your control. And one of those is the weather.

As Brits, we love talking about the weather. It changes what we wear, how we travel, and our moods. But we don’t think about the broader implications for the city. And now new data shows the alarming impact that extreme weather events can have on things like crime, transport and air quality. The ‘Beast from the East’ also impacted our economy, with sectors like construction and retail hit by a lack of activity.

With climate predictions suggesting London is increasingly likely to experience more extreme weather patterns moving forward, how should we understand and respond to its impact on the day to day functioning of the city?

Crime in the capital is top of both politicians’ and the public’s radar given the spate of violent attacks and murders in the first few months of the year. A recent poll showed 67 per cent of Londoners thought that crime had got worse – a figure rising to 79 per cent for knife crime.

But figures for March suggest that the cold weather had a significant dampening effect on crime across the capital. Intuitively, this makes sense: in the cold, people are less likely to go out and less likely to be involved in crime of many types, especially violent ones. After years of rising, often at quite an alarming rate, total crime, violent crime and knife crime all fell in March this year, compared to the same month in 2017. Experience from international cities which typically get more snow than London, such as Boston, suggests this is not a statistical anomaly. And the hot bank holiday weekend, which saw several violent attacks in the capital, has led some commentators to suggest rising temperatures means more violent crimes.

There might, however, be seen to be a ‘peak temperature’ for crime. Analysis of Greater Manchester Police data suggests that, when the mercury rises above 18°C, crime rates begin to fall. So, while many people may complain about the increasing extremes in London’s weather, cold snaps and heatwaves may end up slightly dampening any increases in crime.

But changes to crime were not the Beast from the East’s only impact on the city. London’s transport network, despite some degree of preparation, also had a tough time.

 

The number of journeys on the tube and bus networks during February and the beginning of March was down compared to the previous year. Undoubtedly some of this was due to people staying at home during the snowy spell, as well as deficiencies in the network’s service as many train lines and bus routes ground to a halt.


And the roads fared little better, perhaps unsurprising given that the capital’s local authorities have cut winter service spending from their highways and transport departments by a quarter in the last seven years. The RAC suggests the snow will have longer term impacts, with a legacy of potholes developing as water froze in cracks on the road, a significant challenge for Transport for London and the boroughs. This effect of the snow was not good news for TfL, given its ongoing budget troubles and reliance on fare income – particularly the profit derived from tube passengers.

While recent cold weather has affected crime and transport, a longer-term view can show how weather affects other things in the city. One of Londoners’ top concerns is the poor-quality air in the capital, and Sadiq Khan has begun to introduce a range of measures to tackle the toxic fumes that come from London’s transport system and built environment.

While these policies are starting to take an effect, the monthly pollution levels continue to fluctuate, often down to the weather. High pressure and low wind tend to make London’s pollution worse, as damaging particles are not blown away from the capital, whereas low pressure can bring pollution from elsewhere into the city.

As Professor Frank Kelly points out, many of the mayor’s policies may fail to reduce pollution concentrations to legal and healthy levels, without complementary effects from national and even international legislation. London is not an island – the weather proves that.

So what can we learn from this? Policymakers at all levels should attempt to better understand how extreme weather will affect demand for services and their ability to provide these services, among a raft of other things. This is especially important given London’s likely volatile future climate, and can help them to better prepare for a more uncertain future.

These lessons are not just limited to modelling how the weather will affect the city, but can also be applied to areas such as population change or changing lifestyle habits. Some things will be easier to understand and prepare for than others. But the more we know, the less damaging their effects on everyday Londoners are likely to be.

The London Intelligence tells London’s story through data. Read the latest edition here.

 
 
 
 

In New Zealand, climate change is driving an eco-nationalist revival

The green and pleasant land of the South Island. Image: Getty.

“Ten years ago I would have called them settler f*****g land squatters,” Mike Smith, Maori-dom’s most tenacious activist, said last November as he reflected on the agriculture industry’s central role in driving climate change. “Now I have to try and get these people on board.”

Smith is infamous for taking a chainsaw to Auckland’s most prominent tree on a damp October night in 1994 in protest of the “Pākehā” – or white European –dominated government’s fiscal envelope restraining treaty settlements. Now he’s turned his hand to another cause close-to-home for the Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous population: the environment.

“We’re super vulnerable, like we are to anything,” Smith says. “When it comes to climate change it’s like the poorest people in the world are going to be hit the hardest first, and that’s a lot of us.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appears, at least rhetorically, the most sympathetic leader to his cause in a decade. In her campaign launch speech late last year, she made the future government’s position clear: “Climate change is my generation’s nuclear free moment.”

This message should resonate with followers of her Labour party: the NZ left has long nurtured an environment-orientated “culture-of-protest”. So Ardern’s call to arms was bound to gain her loyal support among children of the 1960s and ‘70s, who led the march against nuclear ship visits, spurring on the government of the time to wriggle out from the US nuclear umbrella, and place a ban on foreign nuclear ship visits.

Now, it is to the tycoons of deep sea oil exploration they aim to close NZ’s ports.

In this, Smith is not short of support locally, with marches run by grassroots organisations and international animal welfare funds beginning to gain traction with every day New Zealanders. In this, Ardern’s prediction is correct: the Coal Action Network Aotearoa (CANA), is reminiscent of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), an earlier cluster of left-wing pacifists and nature lovers who drove the creation of the nuclear free zone.  

In December, 15,000 passionate protesters marched through the capital. And with the government’s recent ban of offshore oil exploration projects, Jeanette Fitzsimons, former Green party co-leader and the head of CANA, is optimistic about similar change to the energy and farming sectors.

The Labour-NZ First-Green party coalition seems focused on setting a new global precedent, weaning NZ away from a United States which has jettisoned the Paris Agreement. The move replicates another 20 years ago, when New Zealand’s anti-nuclear movement was central to an upsurge in New Zealand nationalism. Now, the same sense of going it alone on foreign policy is apparent both locally and in Parliament.

Dr. Gradon Diprose, a senior lecturer at Massey University, argues that this echoes an older expression of colonial nationalism, that saw “New Zealand as a land of natural abundance”. This: “eco-nationalism” is centered on “protecting certain visions of picturesque landscapes and unspoiled natural beauty”. The slogan “Clean, green New Zealand” is prevalent in popular culture and tourism marketing. The public seems to have latched onto it too, and ranked keeping NZ’s waterways “clean and green” top of a recent survey of of kiwis’ top concerns.

Three decades ago, it was the 10 July 1985 sinking of the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior that thrust local activists’ fears into the public eye, resulting in an almost nation-wide expression of climate-protectionism.


The bombing, a French intelligence operation sparked by Greenpeace’s calls for an end to foreign nuclear testing in the Pacific, galvanised a great deal of change to New Zealand’s overseas defence policies. A lack of censure from New Zealand’s Western allies drove Wellington to distance itself from the United States, while the shock of seeing a friendly nation violate NZ’s sovereignty left many at home seething.

Thirty years on, the foreign policy split throughout the Anglosphere, regarding Russian-Western relations, globalism, and the old international rules-based order, is becoming wider. Climate change is just the tip of the iceberg.

Most Kiwis you talk to will shake their heads in disapproval at US president Donald Trump’s scandalous outing last year in Helsinki. But US defiance of internationally brokered climate resolutions is something they can see clearly reflected in rural communities across the country.

The country saw records broken at both ends of the extreme weather spectrum last year. As 2018 kicked off, Kiwis sweltered through the hottest summer on record, while in Golden Bay, a small inlet near the northern tip of the South Island, residents endured the largest flood in 150 years. So, when President Trump tweets “So much for Global Warming”, the majority of New Zealanders look back fondly on NZ’s 1985 decision to boycott the “ANZUS” treaty, putting New Zealand at odds with its war-time ally America on defence legislation.

Public calls to take the same track on environmental regulation have become louder in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. The former US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, received a frosty “unwelcome” while on a flyby to the capital in 2017, with the New York Times’ Washington correspondent, Gardiner Harris remarking: “I’ve never seen so many people flip the bird at an American motorcade as I saw today”. Protests against President Trump’s stance on climate change are beginning to gain greater traction further still, with the hundred-strong “march for science” setting the tone for the new government later that year.

New Zealand certainly isn’t afraid of radicalism, and its activists are persistent. It’s already banned single use plastics in supermarkets. Plenty more is to come, Smith says.

And yes, reform is going to inhibit sometimes vital industries: “It doesn’t matter which way you spin the dice on this, whatever’s being done is going to hurt. People who are looking for a painless way of mitigating climate change, [but] I don’t think there is one.”

But among Smith’s troupe of climate agitators, the feeling is that, without drastic change, “the land”, the heart of the Maori ethos, is going to be hurt far more.

Back in Auckland, NZ’s financial hub, an electric scooter craze is gripping the city. This, too, has gained the support of local environmentalists. In New Zealand, a national sense of pride is always coupled with a certain eccentricity. In a country this size, change always starts small.