Tuesday’s protest against the expansion of London’s ultra low emission zone (ULEZ), which featured on the front page of two national newspapers, was led by a group with ties to conspiracy theories and climate science denial, DeSmog can reveal.
A reported 200 people attended the protest outside parliament on Tuesday as the ULEZ scheme to tackle air pollution by charging high emission vehicles was extended to Greater London.
The extension of the scheme has been the subject of fierce debate, and misinformation, since its alleged role in the Conservative Party’s win in July’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election.
These photos featured signs produced by a group called Action Against ULEZ Extension, which has more than 38,000 members on Facebook. The signs claimed that London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had “blood on [their] hands”, and featured the website address of the protest group.
DeSmog can reveal that administrators of the Action Against ULEZ Extension Facebook group have questioned established climate science and have promoted conspiracy theories about governments attempting to impose draconian lockdowns via green policies.
Leading members of the Action Against ULEZ Extension have been regularly quoted in the media, with journalists frequently contacting the group on Facebook for quotes, despite the page suggesting that anti-pollution and urban planning schemes could lead to the creation of “open prisons”.
It was also attended by haulage industry lobbyist and Reform UK’s London mayoral candidate Howard Cox, who has pledged to scrap the ULEZ scheme entirely if he is elected, despite evidence from City Hall showing that the inner London zone has reduced harmful pollution by 46 percent compared to a scenario without ULEZ.
Transport is the single biggest contributor to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the UK, making up 26 percent of all emissions in 2021.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading climate science body, has warned of false and misleading information which “undermines climate science and disregards risk and urgency” of cutting emissions.
Action Against ULEZ Extension and Reform UK have been contacted for comment.
A spokesperson for the Mayor of London told DeSmog: “The Mayor has always said that expanding the ULEZ to the whole of London was a difficult decision, but the right thing to do is to save lives and protect children’s lungs by cleaning up our polluted air and helping to fight the climate crisis.
“Nine out of 10 cars seen driving in outer London on an average day are already compliant with ULEZ standards and will not have to pay the charge.”
‘Robbing us of our Freedom’
Coverage of Tuesday’s protest in Westminster showed dozens of signs with “stop-ulez.com” and “anti-ulez.com”, the websites of Action Against ULEZ Extension, which link to its Facebook group.
The Facebook group’s “about” section says: “The group’s primary objective is to stop the ULEZ extension before it’s even started and to ensure that pay per mile, 15 minute cities and living under a dictatorship controlled regime never happens. Our children deserve to live a happy free life and not to be forced into living in open prisons.”
These claims about low-emission zones and 15 minute cities – an urban planning concept that promotes accessible local amenities – are part of a “climate lockdown” conspiracy theory advocated by climate science deniers.
In February, DeSmog revealed that the introduction of a traffic filter scheme in Oxford was being weaponised by an international network of climate and Covid science deniers, under the claim that local residents were “guinea pigs” in the UK’s first “climate lockdown”.
Nick Arlett, one of Action Against ULEZ Extension’s Facebook administrators, was identified by the Associated Press this week as an organiser of anti-ULEZ protests, and is seen in footage of Tuesday’s protest carrying a coffin onto which someone had painted the word “democracy”. Arlett has been frequently quoted in major media outlets about his objections to the ULEZ expansion in recent weeks.
In posts on Facebook, Arlett has cast doubt on human-caused climate change. In July, he posted a graphic, shared into the Action Against ULEZ Extension Facebook page, that said: “What is the similarity between God and man made climate change. You can’t prove the existence of either.”
The IPCC says it is an “established fact” that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions have “led to an increased frequency and/or intensity of some weather and climate extremes since pre-industrial times”.
Later in July, during record global temperatures, Arlett posted a picture of a TV weather report and commented: “Does the propaganda ever stop. Apparently 28 degrees and we are all going to burst into flames.”
Arlett has also spread conspiracy theories about climate policies being used as a proxy for imposing authoritarian measures.
In June, he shared a photo of a 2019 post on the government’s website about its net zero target, and said: “This unobtainable goal has been set to legitimise robbing us of our freedom.”
Arlett also shared a YouTube video in December that suggested a “climate lockdown” had been “planned in UK for 2024”. Commenting on the video, he said: “If anyone tolerates/bends over to allow this, they deserve every bit of control over their lives it will bring.”
Several other of the group’s admins have also promoted climate science denial and conspiracy theories.
One shared a video into the Facebook group in June headlined “there is no climate emergency”. This followed a post in April that claimed the World Economic Forum (WEF) – a recurring subject of anti-green conspiracy theories – was pressuring governments to adopt repressive policies.
He wrote: “And you thought it would end after ULEZ […] Our government is just a puppet for them to push their ideologies on”.
The same admin shared a post in February headlined “climate lockdown, 15 minute cities”, which warned of a United Nations and WEF plan whereby “residents will be confined into one of six zones to ‘save the planet’ from global warming”, “taking inspiration from the tyrannica [sic] days of climate lockdowns”.
In August 2022, during the UK’s record summer heatwave, another Action Against ULEZ Extension admin shared a story about cold temperatures in winter and wrote: “thought we was having a climate crisis, nothing load of scare mongering [sic].”
This week, the same admin also shared a Facebook post that included the caption: “Coming soon to a town near you, 15 minute cities, where you will own nothing and be happy, eating bugs and 24-hour surveillance.”
Another admin claimed on Facebook that ULEZ, 15 minute cities and other urban planning measures meant “total control and your children/grandchildren living in an open prison.”
In May, he shared a meme about 15 minute cities, warning of “digital ID” and people being “tracked” by the government. The image claimed that 15 minute cities would mean “no more camping holidays” and “no more family visits”.
This administrator, and several others, have promoted a badge online, and in the Action Against ULEZ Extension page, stating that “I withdraw my consent to be governed by any corrupt, compromised, belligerent, criminal parliament or government. I will not comply.”
“I don’t know anyone of any political persuasion who does not want clean air for themselves and their families to breathe,” Sian Berry, Green parliamentary candidate for Brighton Pavilion and London Assembly Member, told DeSmog.
“The debate doesn’t need to get toxic or disappear into the dead ends of conspiracy theories. We need political leadership that listens, hears concerns, and acts to address real problems… but holds firm to the end goal of clean air for all.
“In that way we can actually open up conversations about how best to create the world we all want to live in, which is sustainable, safe and respectful.”