Having campaigned against this for nearly a decade, the decision to expand Heathrow comes as a huge blow, even though I have always suspected it would happen. It is particularly poignant that I am writing this on the train back from a conference in Switzerland (because why fly when you can take a train?) where I presented the results of my research on the rapid melting of ice shelves in Antarctica to a packed room of climate scientists from around the world. It was because of environmental activism that I realised I wanted to be one of those people, and that by being a climate scientist I could contribute more to activism and environmental progress than I could by doing sit-ins in banks, occupying HQs or locking on to runways (although of course I have done my fair share of that, too, and we need people to fight this from every angle).
As an environmental movement, we have fought so hard against the third runway at Heathrow, and against airport expansion in sum, using all the tools at our disposal – some of them fluffy and some of them less so. This decision demonstrates the contempt with which the government holds us all. If we fail to meet our climate targets, it will be everyone that suffers: not just local residents, but the poorest in society – in the UK and across the world; people everywhere feeling the effects of sea level rise, fishery collapse, drought, flooding and extreme weather events; and most of all, future generations; who will bear the brunt of this backward-thinking, regressive and heartless decision to prioritise short-term profit over the preservation of people and planet.
We have to keep fighting, because Boris clearly isn’t going to help us lie in front of those bulldozers.
Fuck the Tories, amen.
This is one of those papers that makes you sit up and evaluate what you’re doing, or at least it did for me. It’s short but seminal, and it made me terrified for the future, but also more resolutely committed to learning more about the climate system, and taking action to mitigate against the kind of nightmare future that this predicts.
Here’s a link to the paper I’m talking about. I’d highly recommend reading it. Full citation here: Trusel, L. D., Frey, K. E., Das, S. B., Karnauskas, K. B., Munneke, P. K., Van Meijgaard, E., & Van Den Broeke, M. R. (2015). Divergent trajectories of Antarctic surface melt under two twenty-first-century climate scenarios. Nature Geoscience.
This one goes out to all the roadmen, the van drivers, and the lads lads lads out there (and everyone else too). Anyone who has ever made lewd and obscene comments, or worse still, noises, at someone (me) publicly, get 2 knoe.
Do you think I need you to point out that I have a massive arse? Don’t worry mate, I am in fact aware – I’m the one who has to wrestle it into my clothes every day – so I don’t need your insightful comments to graciously bring my attention to it. Trust me, I’ve also heard all of your shit jokes and hilarious one-liners, just like every other woman you shout them at.
Don’t tell me to smile, you have no ownership of my body and no right to tell me what to do with it – and I won’t smile just because it makes you enjoy looking at me more or because you think I exist purely for your pleasure.
Maybe it’s time to think about what you’re actually saying when you casually look me up and down and make some kind of judgement about the way I look. Because it’s not a compliment, regardless of how much you might protest that it is. No, it’s an assertion of power, and a statement that says: “I am a man, and I have the right to treat your body like an object to be consumed”.
It’s not about me necessarily; it’s about your own fragile masculinity and the need to demonstrate to other men that you are hyper macho. It’s about keeping women in their place – because women who are not oppressed represent a threat to male dominance and the crumbling fortress of patriarchy. It’s a display of power which is intended, however subconsciously, to humiliate women and remind them that they are second-class citizens.
That’s why these type of comments are so much more common when they’re likely to go unanswered – like when you’re driving by or I’m cycling past you (and yes, I’m cycling faster than you can bro: it’s not an affront to your manliness, I’ve just got killer quads).
Here’s why: because if she had the chance to reply, you’d be forced to confront the idiocy and disrespectfulness of your actions towards that woman you shouted at like a dog. You’d have to ask yourself why you’re expressing such contempt for another human being, why you’re actively trying to make someone feel uncomfortable and unsafe in the space you’re temporarily sharing.
And don’t get me wrong – you’re as much a product of our very strange, fractious society as I am. You might have grown up thinking that it’s OK to treat women as if we are inferior to men – it’s an understandable perspective given the onslaught of information to that effect that we are bombarded with through the media, porn and advertising. You might have been brought up by people who reinforced those values, explicitly or implicitly, and ended up emulating the behaviour of the role models you had in your life.
But while that might be an explanation, it’s not an excuse not to think about what you’re doing.
Patriarchy hurts men as much as it hurts women, albeit in a completely different way. It teaches men that they have to be strong, to provide for their families, to never show weakness or emotion, to be the picture of buff, manly, physical prowess. It’s a lot to live up to.
And when, inevitably, you cannot be all of those things at once, you need to disguise this and compensate by reasserting your masculinity, imposing yourself on someone you perceive to be weaker than yourself, because it’s easy and it makes you feel good.
But that isn’t going to make anything better. Patriarchy will continue to oppress people of all genders as long as there is a vanguard to protect and perpetuate it by behaving in the way you’re behaving. I’m not suggesting it’ll be easy to smash such an engrained and hegemonic system, but we’ve got to at least try, right?
In the meantime, think about what you just said to me, and whether you would kick off if someone said that to your sister, or daughter, or mother, or friend.
And while you’re doing that, I’m gonna keep learning to wolf whistle so that hopefully soon when you whistle at me I will be able to make more than a feeble, spitty whooshing noise in return. Table flip, bitch.
Until recently I had known very little about la ZAD, aside from the fact that it is an occupied area of land in Brittany where a new airport is proposed at Notre Dames des Landes. Happily, this changed this weekend when myself and two of the other Heathrow hooligans decided to visit for a little holidarity (or hoolidarity, to be more precise). It was an inspirational experience which demonstrated the similarities between the UK and French political contexts on multiple levels. For one, the resistance to airport expansion: Grow Heathrow could learn a lot from the occupation tactics and mass mobilisation abilities of La ZAD. The level of support from all sectors of society in the local area is amazing, and a fantastic example of a unifying struggle – la ZAD encapsulates the fight against new runways, against capitalism, against land grabs, against environmental destruction, and attempts to build a new, more inclusive and compassionate future. Although there are many reasons why la ZAD is so interesting and iconic in the French context, some stand out particularly. La ZAD represents a resistance to the status quo, the repression of the state, and to capitalism. More than this, the ZADists are building a better alternative. It is a collective project, which means there is huge, far-reaching support. This support extends beyond France, too: la ZAD is outward looking as much as it is inwardly focused. On a wider scale, it has become even more apparent to me of late that we must strive to link up our battles to sustain a unified attack on capitalist exploitation across the world: the relationships and connections we build are crucial to success.
The feeling of excitement that I felt when we got to la ZAD was similar to the buzz underlying an activist camp like Reclaim the Power or Climate Camp – that same sense of lawlessness, restlessness, and boundless productive energy of people actively working to create positive change. On the one hand, the mood of resistance is palpable as the threat of eviction is omnipresent: the Gendarme set up checkpoints and raid occupied buildings regularly. This weekend, another Farm was re-occupied after it had been evicted some years ago. On the way back to Nantes station we passed seven or eight vans of Gendarmes on their way to la ZAD, probably to evict the squatters again. It is therefore very much a live battleground, and you can feel it: everything feels sort of semi-finished, rough around the edges, and impermanent. Despite this, there is an amazing creative energy. The way veteran ZADists talk about la ZAD is always in terms of “projects” – people are always trying to create things, build things, and change things for the better. It’s that energy that will allow us to create a new world in the shell of the old, and la ZAD feels like an experiment that might actually work. Even though of course it has its flaws, it is admirable that people are trying to create an alternative reality that works on principles of equality and collectivism rather than individualism and exploitation.
If there was a theme that I had to say underpins the entire ZAD struggle, it would be collectivism. Everything is organised in collectives: each occupied farm or building is run by a collective, and la ZAD as a whole is run by weekly meetings of their members. The farms are run collectively as well: take this for an example. In 2012, Bellevue, one of the farms, was evicted. A group of local farmers got together and re-occupied the land, and now run the farm together, allowing it to stay a functioning farm that produces food for its occupiers and la ZAD more broadly. Food production and land struggles are woven into the fabric of la ZAD – after all, it is an agricultural area and much of the local support for the occupation comes from farmers. But la ZAD has much broader support, because its issues are not just local ones. Resistance to the proposed NDDL airport has been simmering for forty years, and the struggle has become iconic across France. It has inspired widespread collectivism, far beyond the Breton countryside. Across France (and Europe), ZAD committees organise and support the project. When we were there this weekend, a 100-strong meeting in a local village comprised mainly of committee members from across France; in fact only around 15 of those people were actually local. It demonstrates the enormous support la ZAD has across the country, and goes some way to explaining why they have such huge mobilisation power. On Saturday 27th February, a massive demonstration was called (which was ostensibly the reason for our visit – we got a chance to address the crowds from the back of a tractor; amazing), which attracted something like 50,000 people to shut down two major highways around the proposed airport site. In January (bearing in mind that Brittany in winter is wet, muddy, and rainy – even more so than England – and la ZAD is essentially a swamp) about 1000 people turned up in response to a call-out by la ZAD to help with a work weekend. 1000 people! It’s astounding. The ability they have to mobilise seems to me to come from a) the culture of resistance and trade union membership in France b) the length of time the struggle has been established over and c) the broad coalition of groups who support the movement. This last point was evident at the demo on Saturday – as well as the classic anarcho contingent you’d find at any UK demo there was a massive amount of ‘normal’ people, lots of farmers (driving tractors), many more older people than I am used to seeing at marches, and generally a very broad spectrum. Protest is part of French culture, and it is evident.
Although the French political context is different, there is a lot we can gain from internationalism. The similarities between the anti-aviation campaigns in the UK and France are striking. Both are resisting capitalist exploitation of people and of the environment. Both are campaigning against the extraction of profit from the land for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many. Both are instrumental in preventing climate change as a result of airport expansion and land degradation. Both are resisting state repression. Both governments wish to suppress these movements because they threaten the profit-making ability of the elites that run these countries. The common ground is enormous, and the differences are circumstantial. Yes, the French have higher union membership and are more used to taking to the streets to protest, but also their political climate means that these forms of ‘legitimate’ protest are safer and more acceptable. The military police in France are so much more violent than in the UK – they can use tear gas and rubber bullets for one thing, and don’t seem to regard the safety of peaceful protesters as something worth worrying about. This means that direct action, which has a long and colourful history in the UK, doesn’t happen in anything like the same way. In short, it’s much more dangerous to lock yourself to something because they don’t seem to care if they break your neck or not while removing you. Nonetheless, there is a lot we could learn from each other: a sustained campaign of non-violent direct action such as is undertaken by groups like Plane Stupid could be an incredibly effective form of protest at la ZAD. Similarly, the tactics of occupation, the construction of structures, and mass mobilisation strategies could be readily applied in the UK.
We went as members of Plane Stupid and of the Heathrow 13 to extend our solidarity with la ZAD and to form linkages between us. We found that there are many shared experiences and that we can learn from each other. Airport expansion is another symptom of a capitalist agenda that seeks to extract maximum profit from the environment and people to concentrate in the hands of the few in power, at the expense of the majority. We must do everything we can to resist exploitation on all fronts. Solidarity forever! La ZAD partout!
Originally published on the Norwich Radical.
I’m writing this in something of a state of shock. Yesterday, following a hastily shortened trial, and alongside twelve others of the #Heathrow13, I was found guilty of aggravated trespass and being ‘unlawfully airside’ (as it’s known in the biz – whatever that biz may be) and told that it was “almost inevitable that you will all receive immediate custodial sentences”. Everyone else was evidently shocked too. There were gasps in the public gallery as this bombshell was dropped, and cries of “shame on you!” from supporters watching.
The verdict in itself was certainly no surprise, as we had expected our necessity defence – that the action was justified by the devastating impacts that will be be caused by climate change and air pollution – to fail on legal grounds. However, although we had been prepared for custodial sentences on the advice of our barristers, we had not expected it. The previous week, the judge had given positive indications that she might be lenient – suggesting that she wanted the matter to go away quickly. Unfortunately it seems as though it was us that she wanted to go away quickly. I heard some people speculating that she may have come under political pressure over the weekend, given her apparent change of tack. However, the judge has a track record for harsh sentencing – she was drafted in for emergency sentencing following the 2011 London riots and is well known for public order cases. Unluckily for the Plane Stupid activists who blocked the Heathrow tunnel last December, she is also presiding over their case in March. The precedent she set yesterday was not a happy one.
The background is this: in July last year we entered the northern runway at Heathrow and locked ourselves together, erecting a tripod and harris fencing cage to resemble an iceberg. One of us sat on top wearing a polar bear outfit, using classic climate change imagery to underline the link between aviation and climate change. We occupied the runway for six hours, causing 25 flights to be cancelled, and in so doing saving hundreds, if not thousands, of tonnes of CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) from being emitted.
Heathrow airport is – or at least was in 2012 – the most highly polluting airport in the world. It is responsible for half of the UK’s emissions from aviation (i.e. it emits the same amount of greenhouse gases as all other UK airports put together). Aviation is responsible for 6% of the UK’s CO2 emissions, but this figure is misleading because the pollutants are emitted at altitude, where they have a more significant climate effect – the figure is therefore usually cited as being 2.7 times larger. That makes aviation responsible for somewhere in the region of 15% of UK emissions, and Heathrow responsible for half of that. After from the notorious Drax coal-fired power station, Heathrow is the largest single point emitter of CO2 in the country.
A recent study also found that within a 32 km radius of Heathrow, 31 deaths each year were directly attributable to emissions of NOx from aircraft. This term is short hand for Nitric oxides (NO and NO2), which are implicated in respiratory illnesses like asthma and the infamous ‘Heathrow cough’ which defendant Sam and defence witness Bryan spoke about in their evidence.
In short, Heathrow airport is killing people – both locally through air pollution and globally from climate change. However, it operates in a legislative vacuum – because a company that contributes £7 billion to the UK economy (apparently) doesn’t have to abide by the same rules as the rest of us. Aircraft fuel is exempt from VAT, and aviation has not been included in any national or international climate change legislation, essentially because no one can agree on how to do it. The EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) recently included aviation in its mechanism, but only flights that originate and arrive in the EU are accounted for: that’s just 11% of global aviation emissions. Heathrow airport regularly violates legal air quality limits for NOx and ozone particularly – in 2013 illegal levels of ozone were recorded at Harmondsworth monitoring station (the only monitoring station in the area) on eleven occasions. Heathrow is permitted ten breaches per year.
Judge Wright in her judgement lingered on the effects to passengers and the UK economy. This is unsurprising – the legal system is not equipped to deal with the unchartered territory that climate change presents. The law does not yet have the vision to see that people can (and are!) act pre-emptively to prevent serious harm from threats as nebulous and enormous as climate change. Although we may not know their “names and addresses”, we know that people are dying every day from climate change – hundreds of thousands of people.
We will be – if sentenced as she suggests – the first people in UK legal history to go down for aggravated trespass exclusively. This charge was devised in the nineties to catch protesters, and it is the most common charge I have seen on my activist friends’ rap sheets. This is unprecedented, and we are being made an example of – peaceful protest is very rarely rewarded with prison time except in “exceptional” circumstances. The judgement is intended to deter others, and is symptomatic of the tightening of restrictions on protest and dissent under the guise of austerity – because remember, we are all in it together. Except some of us are more in it than others, and private property trumps human life, every time. The example that is being set is that you cannot cost companies an “astronomical” amount of money, without going down for it.
However, by doing this, Judge Wright has done something for the campaign that we could never have done ourselves – she has martyred us. Although this in itself is problematic, along with being called ‘heroes’ and compared to the suffragettes and Chartists, that is a whole other can of worms for another time. For now, I’ll happily be a Heathrow hooligan.
We have all been asked whether we would do it again, and I think the answer is the same. We all stand by what we did – doing what we could to fight climate change in the face of considerable adversity and against the will of the rich and powerful, using the only resources we had available to us – ourselves. The #Heathrow13 may be the first, but we will certainly not be the last. As long as airport expansion is on the table, anywhere, Plane Stupid will be there. We’re in it for the long haul.
Originally published on the Greenpeace blog.
Last July, I was part of a Plane Stupid direct action on Heathrow’s Northern runway. The action was part of long-running campaign against the third runway at Heathrow, and against UK airport expansion more generally. Today, we were found guilty of aggravated trespass and entering a security-restricted zone of an airport. Sentencing is expected on February 24th. We took action because we saw that it was sorely needed. When laws are unjust, ordinary people must take action to change them. Like the ‘Delta 5’, who were recently charged with stopping a coal train in the US, we acted to minimise the climate impacts of a hugely polluting industry. Although the legal system does not yet recognise that climate defence is not an offence, in the words of Judge Wright, we have “already won”.
On the 1st July, the long-awaited Airports Commission report was released, recommending the construction of a third runway at Heathrow. If the government acts on this recommendation (which appears likely) it will represent another massive U-turn on their part: in their 2010 pre-election manifesto, David Cameron’s Tories asserted that they would not back a third runway at Heathrow, “no ifs, no buts”. This promise was made at the height of the campaign against a third runway when there was significant pressure to oppose further development at Heathrow. Now in power, they clearly realise airport expansion is still an unpopular topic for Londoners. The decision is evidently a political one, with little consideration of the environmental impacts or necessity for more runways. Despite claims that airport capacity in the Southeast is at its limit, in a 2012 Parliamentary Transport Committee meeting, the chiefs of four of the region’s largest airports gave evidence to the effect that there is spare capacity at many airports in the UK. The final decision has been delayed until after the London elections in May so as not to hamper Conservative mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith’s chances, as he represents the Richmond Park & North Kingston constituency which sits under the flight path.
The environmental case against airport expansion – not just at Heathrow – is clear. The sector is stubbornly difficult to decarbonise and efficiency savings are far outstripped by increasing demand. If it were a country, the aviation industry would be the 7th most polluting in the world. According to DfT figures, aviation accounts for 6% of UK CO2 emissions but this figure is misleading because it doesn’t account for the amplified effects of emitting pollutants at cruising altitude, where they are much less readily removed and have more significant climate effects. Add to this the emissions of non-CO2 pollutants and a more accurate picture emerges, though policy-makers are still reluctant to accept that aviation is damaging to local health and global climate.
Aviation and shipping have so far been the elephant in the room when devising climate legislation, both national and international. Excluded from the 2008 Climate Change Act and Kyoto agreements, the trend has been followed at every climate summit to date – and Paris is no exception. Although included in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme from 2012, only flights that both originate and arrive in the European Economic Area are included – or around 11% of global aviation emissions. The International Civil Aviation Organisation, the specialised UN agency that regulates the aviation industry, makes noise about efficiency improvements and climate change targets but achieves very little. Those in power are taking very little action to tackle aviation’s significant contribution to climate change, so we must.
Last week, we gave evidence as part of our trial for charges of aggravated trespass and entering an aerodrome without permission. I gave evidence first, and found the line of prosecution far less hostile than I had imagined. Happily, the judge is also considerably more sympathetic than I think any of us anticipated, even making judicial note of the fact that climate change’s effects are “devastating” and that aviation is responsible for emissions – according to our barristers, potentially a first in legal history.
An incredible demo on Monday morning attended by such prominent figures as Natalie Bennett got us off to a flying start (excuse the pun), and support has been pouring in from all quarters. It’s been incredible, and we are very grateful for all the statements of solidarity we have received. We have been lauded as heroes and defenders of democracy, and I think the level of praise has been unexpected for all of us. We are, in the words of defendant – and fellow ‘hooligan’ – Mel Strickland, “13 ordinary people who find ourselves in an impossible situation…with the colossal problem of climate change. We don’t have the power, influence or resources that Heathrow does and there is no political will to change things via legal procedures.” Given the immovability of the government on the matter, we were all faced with a choice – to do nothing, or to take direct action.