(CNN) Duncan Enright never imagined he would get death threats for a plan to do so Reduce city traffic.
But that is exactly what happened to the UK’s local politician, who found himself inundated with offensive messages on social media and by email over his involvement with a proposed proposal. Traffic filter test run in the city of Oxford.
The plan, designed to reduce use of the city’s busy roads during peak times, requires residents to obtain permits to drive through filters, enforced by cameras, on six major roads.
He said the accusations against Enright were wild and varied, mostly from people with no connection to Oxford. Many were from outside the UK.
They claimed he wanted to confine people to their neighborhoods and accused him of being part of a malicious international plot to control people’s movement in the name of climate action.
“It was very unsettling, I’ve never had anything like this before in my many years of local government,” Enright told CNN.
Enright got swept up in a conspiracy theory, which is gaining pace around the world, that has renamed its plans to cut traffic, reduce air pollution, and increase walking and cycling in cities as “climate shutdowns.”
Oxford has become a hotspot, in part, because its plan to filter traffic has been combined with a separate proposal in the city to create “15-minute cities,” the main focus of conspiracy theorists’ ire.
Which cities are 15 minutes away from?
Type “15-minute cities” on social media and be prepared for a barrage of claims that the idea will do Usher in a dystopiathe people He will be fined to leave “their territory” or that they “urban prison. “
However, the concept is quite simple: everything you need should be within about a 15-minute walk or bike ride of your home, from healthcare and education to groceries and green spaces.
The goal is to make cities more livable and connected, with less use of private cars – which means cleaner air, greener streets and lower levels of pollution from a warming planet. About a fifth of the world’s human-caused pollution leads to global warming comes from transportationand passenger cars more than 40% Who is this.
Carlos Moreno, a professor at the Sorbonne University in France, is credited with coining the term 15-minute cities, but the broad concept isn’t new.
“This idea has been inspired by many urban scholars, starting with Jane Jacobs, who in past decades has advocated for urban environments that are compact, vibrant and therefore more walkable,” Alicia Calafiori, Lecturer in Urban Data Science and Sustainability at the University of Edinburgh.
It has been gaining traction internationally. In Paris, Mayor Anne Hidalgo has based her 2020 re-election campaign, in part, on a plan for 15-minute cities. The city has banned cars from parts of the Seine, added hundreds of miles of cycling routes and created small parks.
Ottawa has Suggested neighborhoods for 15 minutesMelbourne in Australia plans to adopt Neighborhoods 20 minutes and Barcelona, in Spain, are implementing a car-free “big block” strategy.
Some American cities have even embraced this idea. Portland neighborhoods entered 20 minutes away more than a decade Prior to that, while ofallon, il, i recently posted a strategy For “growing from a typical suburban community to one with everything you need within 15 minutes.”
The pandemic lockdown has helped boost the popularity of the concept as people, confined to their neighbourhoods, have been forced to re-evaluate their local area.
“We are becoming more aware of how important it is to live in well-served areas,” Calafiore said.
However, just mentioning 15-minute cities on the Internet would bring in a large number of angry commenters.
“This planning has become the conspiracy theory of 2023, who would have thought?” asked Alex Nurse, a lecturer in geography and planning at the University of Liverpool, who was then inundated with letters His last article is about 15-minute cities in conversation.
“My inbox is dead,” he told CNN.
The birth of the conspiracy theory
So how did this somewhat mundane strategy become a flashpoint for a escalating climate-related conspiracy theory?
said Jenny King, head of climate research and policy at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a think tank focused on disinformation and extremism.
Before 2020, they struggled to gain traction, she told CNN.
That changed with the pandemic.
A series of media articles arguing that we must rebuild a post-Covid world that can sustain declines in planet-warming pollution have been seized upon to fuel a narrative claiming that governments want to curtail freedoms in the name of climate action.
The World Economic Forum’s “Great Reset” initiative, which has been described as an effort to tackle inequality and the post-pandemic climate crisis, I lit a fire.
The term “climate insurance” has begun to swirl around, spurred on by right-wing think tanks and climate-sceptic media personalities. From there, King said, he moved on to the more extreme conspiracy communities, including QAnon affiliates and anti-vaccine groups.
Fox News covered it, along with Eminent climate deniers.
Ordinary people were swept away, too. King said the pandemic has left millions with real trauma and real fears about government overreach. “And that has been weaponized by a vast ecosystem of bad actors.”
Disinformation is opportunism
The idea of 15-minute cities fits neatly into the “climate insurance” conspiracy theory, in part because it’s so easy to spin that way.
Carlo Ratti, an architect, engineer and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he directs the MIT Senseable City Lab, told CNN.
But he said he misinterpreted the idea. It “gives people the freedom to live locally, but does not force them to.”
However, King said that “disinformation is opportunistic,” particularly when it comes to climate. Anything can become a blocker to artificial controversy, she added, and when an issue begins to gain attention, “a bunch of different actors pour into the space”.
In December, a Canadian clinical psychologist and climate skeptic Jordan Peterson published a tweet Attacking 15-Minute Cities: “The idea that neighborhoods should be walkable is a wonderful idea. The idea that idiot tyrannical bureaucrats can decide by imperative where you are allowed to drive is probably the worst perversion of that idea imaginable.”
In early February, British politician Nick Fletcher teased the plot in Parliamentdescribing the 15 Minute Cities as an “international socialist concept” and claiming that it would “cost us our personal freedom”.
And this past weekend, internet theories spilled over into real-life protests, such as thousands of peopleMany from outside the area took to the streets of Oxford to protest the traffic clearing and the city’s proposals for 15 minutes.
There is of course much criticism of 15 Minute Cities, including its ability to divide cities, which exacerbates existing disparities between richer and poorer regions.
And Enright, in Oxfordshire, acknowledged that local residents had legitimate concerns about the traffic filtering scheme. He said they would continue to consult.
This successful spin of a mega-conspiracy theory, by misunderstanding the intentions of 15 Minute Cities, has troubling long-term ramifications for climate action, King said.
She warned that governments, both local and national, may find it very difficult to implement any policies that even touch the climate crisis. “They are the most vulnerable right now to this massive surge of hostility and general mobilization.”
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