Trial Round Up: DAY I

Warning: contains severe facetiousness

Day 1: the beginning

Despite having to wake up seemingly about ten minutes after I went to sleep and mission across London to Willesden, the morning was amazing. The solidarity demo called by Reclaim the Power outside the court was fantastic. I was exceedingly pleasantly surprised that nearly 100 people turned up on a Monday morning in deepest darkest (ok fine, it’s zone 3) West London to support us. In fact, it was so much more rowdy than I anticipated and I don’t think any of us could help but grin sheepishly as we rocked up en masse to chants of “no ifs, no buts, no new runways!”

I accidentally-on-purpose wore all black, which I’m going to blame on the fact that my red coat got ‘borrowed’  at the last minute, so I didn’t exactly fit in with the #redlines theme, but, y’know, swings and roundabouts. At least black has gravitas. A statement was briefly read about the effects of climate change across the world as well as the effects closer to home of air pollution on life under the Heathrow flight path.

After a bit of running around doing media stuff and saying hello to a million lovely and wonderful people, we decided it was time to go into court (although we did have to stand in a queue awkwardly for an agonising few minutes while a single, elderly security guard sedately checked our bags).

The prosecution (aka sexy/sassy/cunty McGhee – delete where appropriate) began the case by establishing the (undisputed) facts of our presence. He helpfully provided the court with a comical compilation video supplied courtesy of the Metropolitan police with some of the most hilarious mugshots I have ever seen alongside footage of a polar bear atop an iceberg tripod, and come chuffed-looking activisty types perched on a runway.

The first witness evidence came from two Heathrow employees who seemed to have literally no expertise in anything the defence barristers asked them about. The first was a particularly sad looking head of business resilience, who claimed we had caused loads of disruption to the airport. However, he didn’t really seem sure about whether or not you could separate the effect of bad weather later from our actions. He had obviously been told to say he wasn’t an expert in response to any difficult question and he dutifully trotted out the company line on about 6 occasions. Not really sure what he was an expert in – maybe looking morose in a suit. The next guy looked like a nervous little mouse and had to be asked to speak up a few times. Poor little squeak had only been in the job a year, and admitted that Heathrow has never grounded aircraft because of concerns over environmental regulation or violations thereof. Funny that.

There wasn’t much more after that and I sat in the defendants’ box psyching myself up to be the first person to give evidence and hoping the judge was hungry and wouldn’t make me start before the break. Luckily my wish was granted and I went off to get my head in the game.

* * *

I’d never sat in a dock before. In all honesty I was relieved that the side of my head facing the judge didn’t have any sneaky leopard print peeking out. I was billed to speak for two and a half hours but in the end it probably wasn’t quite that long. Thankfully.

Our defence barrister lead the evidence-in-chief – that’s essentially the stuff that you want to say – and began by establishing who the hell I was and what I was doing there. I felt like a bit of a wanker when I said it but decided to go to town on the fact that I have two degrees in climate science – that is why I was there after all. I intended for my evidence to comprise primarily of scientifically based reasoning, to show the judge that climate change is a real and dangerous threat.

Although our lawyers had got a bollocking earlier about the sheer volume of evidence we had submitted for me to refer to (and I assure you, it was a drop in the ocean in terms of published climate literature), she allowed me the pleasure of having to hand the HUGE lever arch folder we’d prepared. It’s big enough to bludgeon someone to death with. At least you can’t say that the science doesn’t carry some weight…


And to think – that doesn’t include the IPCC report at all.

I highlighted some of the pivotal papers that had informed my knowledge of the climate science. These included Manabe & Wetherald (1967), widely considered by climate scientists to be the most important seminal paper on climate change (Carbon Brief did a great story on this); Hansen et al. (2015) which calls warming of 2°C “dangerous”; several papers by Alice Bows-Larkin, who also happens to be our expert witness, which relate aviation to climate change; the IPCC’s 1999 assessment of aviation’s impact on climate, and a helluva lot of papers on impacts. I’m going to do a post in a few days with more of the science I talked about, so hang tight, bros.

In brief, the argument is as follows: we were on the runway to prevent emissions from aircraft. Aviation is known to generate emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants. Greenhouse gases cause climate change. Climate change is killing people, now, and will continue to kill people in the future unless we act to prevent that happening. Same goes for air pollution. Ergo, we were saving lives. The effects of air pollution are local primarily, while climate impacts are more nebulous and global in nature.

Miraculously all the quotes and numbers came to me like a dream: that climate change is “unequivocal” and “unprecedented on timescales of decades to millennia” and that warming of 0.85°C was observed between 1880 and 2012. Check me out – who needs the IPCC SPM when you’ve got Gilbz’s brain???

I went through the legislation on climate and aviation – mentioning that the Climate Change Act 2008 sets out the UK’s legal obligation to reduce emissions by 80% on 1990 levels, and that by 2050 aviation could emit a quarter (or more if demand isn’t capped) of the UK’s total carbon budget.

Lastly, it was important to note that the effects of climate change are – and will become more so – devastating. Sea level rise, collapse of ice sheets, increases in vector-borne diseases, decimation of crop yields, a rapid acceleration in the number of extreme events – all things that will cause death and serious harm to people across the world, primarily in poor countries and low-lying areas where people bear little responsibility for fucking the climate quite so catastrophically.

After we went through the rigmarole of establishing that climate change is a Bad Thing, the prosecution took over to try to take my argument apart. It’s a shame he has a nice face because generally he is of a nasty disposition. Misleading advertising, I’d say. McGhee assumed his barristerial pose (do they all have one of those? I think they definitely do. Watching lawyers is amusing) and began his cross-examination. He wasn’t actually too hostile to me, and the judge was probably a better prosecution lawyer than he was – she asked me more difficult questions about the statistics I’d used. Essentially, she wanted to prove that the relative number of flights (read: emissions) we’d stopped was minimal. I argued that in terms of an individual’s actions, and in absolute terms, the amount of flights we got cancelled was huge.

It was at this point, I think, that she asked why we didn’t occupy the M25 instead: “now, I’m not suggesting you do this of course”. Giggling from the hooligans. Again, statistical nitty gritty but I feel like I held my own. In terms of emissions, one flight is a hell of a lot of cars.

I think then it was all over. It’s all a bit of a blur. We had a break and I had loads of people I’d never met congratulate me on my evidence. I basically have no idea what I said but I’m pretty sure I didn’t fuck up. Actually, I’m pretty sure I bossed it as much as I could have. A good precedent to set.

Sam continued in this vein and absolutely smashed it too. I was a bit too full of adrenalin and relief to remember much of what he said in detail, sadly. He grew up under the flight path and has lived in the Heathrow villages for about 3 years. He churned out an impressive barrage of stats on the effects of air pollution locally (such as the ‘Heathrow cough’) and on the effects of climate change.

We came across passionately and knowledgeably enough for the judge to concede that she has no doubt about our genuine beliefs that climate change is the largest threat facing humanity today, and that our motivation was founded in that belief. Incredible.

Court adjourned and I trotted off to boxing to get my nose smashed by a 15 year old. FANTASTIC!! WHAT A MONDAY!!

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About shakkka

Londoner, climate scientist, extremist. All views are my own.

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