Pudding Lane was always one of those places that conjured up pleasant images of bread and cakes. It is famed for housing the bakery that started the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Surprising then to find that the origins of the pudding had nothing to do with such pleasantness but instead referred to the containers used to take raw sewage and offal out to the dung boats on the River Thames.

Over many centuries the river was treated as a glorified sewer, causing all sorts of ill health – including regular outbreaks of cholera. Only in 1858, following what became known as the Great Stink, when politicians in Parliament got the full odour coming off the river, was the decision taken to act. Engineer Joseph Bazalgette was commissioned to establish a sewer system that took the waste elsewhere and cleaned up the river.

This story of the Thames illustrates how human beings can know the damage that is being done by their activities but continue regardless, waiting until things hit epidemic proportions before they act.

The equivalent of the poisoned Thames today is the climate crisis. Human beings know that the lifestyles of today cannot be sustained. Carbon emissions are destroying the planet. Biodiversity is being destroyed at an incredible rate. Pollution kills 9,500 a year in London – 50,000 countrywide each year.

These are things that most of us know but carry on regardless, literally consuming the world’s resources with little regard for our fellow human beings, let alone future generations. The economic model pursued worldwide is predicated on using stuff up and throwing it away.

Now, we have reached the Great Stink/Cholera outbreak level of awareness. People are beginning to act, but still too slowly.

At the next council meeting on June 20, Wanstead Village councillor Jo Blackman and myself will bring a motion calling for the council to recognise the climate emergency. The motion will call for very real action to be taken to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 and be carbon free by 2050. The motion will call for a green audit of council services. There will be commitments to ensure that future buildings will be zero carbon. Single use plastics will be banned from council premises, with this ethos being promoted on the high streets of Redbridge.

There will also be a commitment to a more proactive attitude to biodiversity, encouraging tree plantings, wild areas, wild flower planting, green walls and roofs and community gardens.

This motion will really put the urgent nature of the need to address the climate emergency on the council agenda. There will then be the challenge to ensure that the commitment is fulfilled in the actions of the council. A job for councillors and officers.

These are all encouraging signs of the urgent nature of the climate crisis being recognised and acted upon in Redbridge. But maybe to finish, it is time to return to the Thames.

The great river may now be clean. The puddings of sewage are no longer taken out and dumped. However, the Thames is also being affected by global warming as sea levels rise. The Thames Barrier that was opened in 1982 to protect London and control water flow was shut four times in the 1980s, in more recent decades it has closed more than 75 times. Failure to act on climate change will see water levels continue to rise – then the Thames could once again become a real danger to us all.

  • Paul Donovan is a Redbridge councillor for Wanstead village and blogger. See paulfdonovan.blogspot.com