Trial round-up: DAY II
Day 2: evidence
Amusingly, after getting schooled during my evidence on the use of “Third World”, sassy McGhee has rather taken to using the term “Global South”. If nothing else, that’s an achievement in itself.
The Prosecution has been trying to prove that any effect we had on emissions was minimal in the grand scheme of things. Those who gave evidence on the second day refuted this by comparing the emissions saved by cancelling 25 flights to the energy usage of individuals and households in the UK, and confirming that in absolute terms, the figures are astounding. Stopping a flight is probably the most significant action an individual can take to reduce emissions, if you consider that the average UK citizen generates 9.4 tonnes of CO2 in a year, and the average household uses 20.7 tonnes (and a flight emits about 11).
All the defendants are Virtuous Activists – most of us have not flown in several years, do not drive and are actively involved in campaigning. It’s a shame we have all come across as being so painfully middle class but I think this probably plays into the judge forming more positive opinions of us. Besides, a lot of us ARE painfully middle class. The number of degrees between us is a bit sickening. It means, however, that we are in a position to utilise the privilege given to us by the patriarchal, imperialist and oppressive capitalist system.
Mel Strickland kicked off the day’s proceedings, delivering measured, sincere and impassioned evidence. She emphasised that the actions of Plane Stupid on the 13th of July were a direct action, which directly reduced emissions from aviation by preventing aircraft from taking off. She drew on expert testimony from Alice Bows-Larkin to show that this was a reasonable and proportionate response, given that Heathrow represents 48% of UK emissions from aviation, and that aviation cannot be decarbonised.
“We are 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.”
Mel told the Prosecutor in her cross-examination that it is those who are unrepresented and have no stake in the political process, the millions who are suffering as a result of climate change, and local residents breathing poisonous air who she had in mind on that runway.
Amazingly, at this point, the Judge acknowledged that CO2 emissions cause climate change, with potentially “catastrophic” effects, and that aviation contributes to this.
Mel went on to say that efforts beyond the law are essential to democracy, and she exemplified, “That’s why you’re a Judge, Madam, because of the efforts of the suffragettes”; hands-down most badass retort to the judge all day (or any day)!
She ended on another powerful note: “This action was a carefully considered minimum possible response to total political failure to tackle climate change. We felt it was a basic moral commitment to act.” BOOM!
Next up, Dr. Rob Basto gave an emotional and clear testimony. He was typically modest, underplaying the understanding he has as a result of years of work and the small matter of a PhD in atmospheric physics. As he mentioned, the Arctic may be nearly ice-free in the summer by mid-century. Rob cited reading about this 15 years ago (when it was nowhere near as certain) as one of the pivotal and terrifying moment when he really became aware of climate change.
Rob also spoke emotively about the impacts of Heathrow Airport’s toxic air pollution on his sister-in-law’s health. He drew a useful analogy with smoking – we have a law against smoking inside. By preventing one person from smoking, you are improving the health and life outcomes of everyone in the room. Just because there is no identifiable person or effect does not mean the law to prevent people smoking inside is any less valid. Cancelling flights is like this – one less plane is 11 tonnes more CO2 that is not emitted.
We all have a responsibility to act, and the danger is now, and Rob isn’t going to stand idly by while people die, and neither will any of the other defendants.
Graham Thompson is a veteran climate campaigner, and he explained at length the negative effects of emissions from aviation, particularly at high altitude. As he noted, Heathrow is a huge point source of emissions, second in the UK only to Drax Power Station.
Judge Wright’s patience began to “wear thin” after Graham continued to elaborate on climate change’s relationship with Heathrow, but again she noted that she was prepared to believe that all the defendants feel passionately about the issues and feel they’ve been “banging their heads against a brick wall.”
Edge-of-the-seat stuff! What a result! Graham’s best quotes were tough to decide; it’s a clincher between these two:
“I’m sometimes concerned that I’m not doing enough, but I’ve never been worried I’m doing too much”
“I don’t believe I am entitled to break the law generally. I felt like breaking the law was not the most serious issue in this particular instance.”
The Judge keeps coming back to the issue that the emissions prevented were a tiny fraction of those emitted globally – however, this doesn’t detract from the fact that the world is 250 tonnes of CO2 better off as a result.
Next up: the polar bear (AKA Cameron Kaye). Cameron is a community campaigner who lives in the Heathrow villages and is involved with grassroots groups like HACAN and SHE. He restated that the Davies Report had been the final straw in terms of the campaign.
When pressed by the Judge, he described the difference between a direct action such as ours and a protest. Direct action stops the issue that one is concerned about, whereas a protest is more about raising awareness and lobbying. On the issue of necessity: “I felt like I didn’t have a choice any more.”
Comically, Cameron was grilled about why he was dressed as a polar bear – this mainly focused on the visual connotations and imagery associated as a means to suggest our actions were a publicity stunt. Perhaps it was useful to explain that the imagery was intended to be an iceberg (surrounded by people in blue – ahem – ‘the sea’) because it seems like we were the only ones who got that part. Something to work on next time, I suppose.
Danni Paffard, a “Professional Environmental Campaigner”, took to the witness box next. She came out swinging with some comparisons and statistics on climate and aviation emissions. As she pointed out, 2015 was the hottest year on record and contained news of Indonesian forest fires, floods in the UK and droughts in California.
Before Danni could get much further the judge interjected to prevent the trial becoming a “political platform”.
Even the people we hire to think about the impacts of aviation and climate change are being ignored by government. This represents a “huge failure in democratic processes [around Heathrow] and actions needs to be taken”. There are no other avenues to take. As Danni aptly put it, “Given the scale of the challenge, I think it was completely reasonable. Given the scale of the challenge, I think it was completely necessary.” Every tonne of carbon counts, especially when we’re running out of time.
The award for the best out of context quote for the day goes to District Judge Wright:
“Were you taking action in order to save the apples?”
Lucky number 8, Alistair Tamlit, focused on the failure of the political process, and the effects of climate change on people in the global South who are not responsible for emissions from aviation. He defended our actions as “absolutely” necessary and “absolutely reasonable in the face of the scale of climate change.”
Sheila Menon rapidly followed, hailing climate change as a “human rights issue of gargantuan scale”. She reminded us that the window of opportunity to act on climate change is rapidly closing and therefore reinforced the urgency that underpinned our decision to act. Ordinary people are paying with their lives because economic growth and prosperity are prioritised over life and limb, and people around the world are discounted in decisions, alarmingly.
Sheila then highlighted the inadequacy of the Davies Commission’s findings in that they investigated which airport to expand rather than whether to expand at all. Deciding to fly more planes represents a “suicidal” decision, given that we are currently on track for 4°C warming, which would have severe implications across the world. Even sitting in the shade in the hottest parts of the world could lead to death from exhaustion and heat stroke.
The day concluded abruptly and somewhat dramatically with the Judge rescheduling and shortening the trial. This meant an early finish and an impromptu trip to the pub before training. All this court stuff is doing wonders for my boxing career; I should do this more often!
A similar version of this has been published on the Plane Stupid website.