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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!

Heathrow13

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.

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BOB CROW DIES AT 52

Bob Crow. RIP comrade

Ian Bone

Very sad. The one decent trade union leader we had. Not many working class heroes left. Memory of him dancing for joy like a kiddie on the Tolpuddle march a few years back……..happy to be marching with his class. RIP.

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Electric Highwaymen

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Jumping the meter wall in Phase 3

 During my trips to Payatas I learned a lot about something which is at best a sideline in my research, but which goes far deeper than it superficially appears. Illegal electricity abstraction is fairly common in certain areas of Payatas, particularly closest to the dumpsite, and in Phase 3. ‘Jumpers’ who connect wires to the grid cables to extract electricity run the risk of electrocution, house fires and death – the month before we were there someone died from fixing a dodgy connection. The need to connect to an electricity supply in order to be a part of the modern world is just that – a need, albeit produced by globalisation (which is extremely visible in the Philippines). It is not exactly like the appliances people use are decadent – a single light bulb to illuminate what are often dark houses because they are all built so close together; an electric fan to move the sweltering air and keep the mosquitoes away; a TV to feed the desire to consume and reinforce the inequality that is already so huge; a fridge to reduce the drudgery of living literally hour-to-hour, day-by-day. All of this of course if they can afford it. The electric company that supplies Payatas, Meralco, already has most expensive rates in the country, and there are no alternatives in the area except home-generation, which precious few people can afford in the city, let alone in Payatas. Furthermore, they have specific conditions about what type of buildings they will connect to the grid; namely that a dwelling must have a discernible kitchen and C.R. (bathroom). However, the poorest people often live in poor-quality housing that does not satisfy these conditions, making them ineligible for a legal, metered electricity supply. To access the modern world in even the most minor of ways these people must therefore obtain their electricity via a profiteering intermediary, who charges extra for an illegal sub-metered connection to a legal mother-meter, held under a Meralco account. Of course these intermediaries may also be victims of the system of poverty themselves – not racketeering but merely scraping a subsistence wage – but their existence simultaneously perpetuates the system whereby the poorest are charged the most for electricity, and is a symptom of it. It is a clear expression of what Oscar Wilde and Robert Tressell called “altruism” and “philanthropy”, respectively, describing the wage-slavery of the British working classes at the turn of the last century. The poorest people are charged the most money for energy, their money lining the pockets of fossil fuel magnates and corporations in a country that still has an ongoing problem with corruption. This, while the richest ex-pats and elites in their gated sub-divisions and third homes avoid fully paying taxes and electricity rates via creative accounting, reporting and golden hand-shaking. The system that allows companies to enforce poverty by only providing energy to those who are considered to be living in ‘proper’ dwellings, while depriving those very people of such decent housing is itself corrupt, and moribund. The ‘jumpers’ and the middlemen may be doing something illegal in ‘stealing’ electricity in the eyes of the legislature that upholds the status quo, but they are truly victims of an immoral and deformed system; a system that is stealing from them.

7107 islands

After my month doing research (and having fun) in the Philippines, I thought it was only fitting to write down some of my experiences. Mostly I have put things into sections, but some of it is a splurge. Here’s the first instalment (more when I have time to type):

 

yellow head

 

Research

I went to the Philippines primarily to do research for my final year of university. Admittedly it was also a very good excuse for a wicked holiday, but as I got funding for it, it was decidedly more research-orientated. I spent a solid 2 weeks meeting shiny bureaucrats and engineers and took wind measurements twice every day, all for jokes, obviously. I was well angry because I dragged a HUGE water flow meter all the way from Norwich (on my bike) to London, to the Philippines, and then got it to the river, where it was way too dangerous to use because it was rainy season. I couldn’t have been more miffed, honestly, but I can’t say I didn’t expect it. In all, my research went swimmingly – mostly because I had a lot of help in the way of things like Tagalog translation, introductions, moral support, and anemometer readings – thanks Josh. Going in person to meet all of the people that mattered is obviously the way to get things done – as I suspected. Well, it shows you mean business, and sadly in the developing world a well-dressed white girl with a mean look on her face can go a longer way than nameless emails can.

Bureaucracy

If there’s one thing the Philippines does well, it’s bureaucracy; as I found out to my detriment. I got more annoyed than I probably should have done by the amount of red tape surrounding everything, which would be enough to hang an elephant with room to spare. I should have known from the outset when my emails to various government bureaucrats got repeatedly bounced between different offices in a bizarre kind of secretarial ping-pong match. Some Department of Energy officials have something nuts like seven secretaries – that’s the assistant to the assistant to the assistant to the assistant to the assistant to the PA of the secretary to the officer in charge of their specific section, and there are a helluva lot of those… Well, it’s one way of filling an office I guess. To visit the DOE, I had attempted to get in contact for weeks, but to no avail. The department seems to have enveloped itself in an impenetrable thicket of red tape to ensnare all but the most well connected or determined. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I was the former – it took a phone call from a rich Christian bigwig in the PNA who I happened to encounter through Josh’s connections with the charity to a school friend of his to get me a meeting. I was expecting a five-minute splurge, so it seemed odd after all that to see how eager and willing to help these guys were. The man I intended to meet seized a passing colleague, who had more answers than I had questions – he was still going long after my list had been exhausted. They then proceeded to take us on a tour of the whole renewables department, introducing me to (and I don’t mean this lightly) literally everyone he knew in each office. He picked up his friend from a basement office and the two of them – both funny little old men – gibbered away unintelligibly in English (not either of their first language), holding hands and taking us to every office to meet various workers. We only didn’t meet Big Boss Mario, who curtly replied to my emails by palming me off to his underlings, because “he doesn’t have the time for the likes of us”. Josh and I exchanged incredulous looks and suppressed the giggles rising in our throats while we were paraded around through the shiny hallways, cramped offices, and cafeteria.

Egypt: “Do not let the army fool you” – independent union leader speaks out

MENA Solidarity Network

Statement from Fatma Ramadan, member of the Executive Committee of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions  – original Arabic here
Thanks to Sara Ajlyakin for the translation, edited by Anne Alexander

Al-Sisi’s “Permission” is a Deadly Poison

My comrades, the workers of Egypt are struggling for their rights and for a better Egypt. Egypt’s workers dream of freedom and social justice, they dream of work at a time when thieves who are called businessmen close down factories to pocket billions. Egypt’s workers dream of fair wages under the rule of a governments that are only interested in promoting investment at the expense of workers and their rights, and even their lives. Egypt’s workers dream of a better life for their children. They dream of medicine when they are sick, but they do not find it. They dream of four walls in which they can take shelter.

Since before the…

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America’s first climate refugees

Watch out America, this is only the beginning…

Grist

Sabrina Warner keeps having the same nightmare: a huge wave rearing up out of the water and crashing over her home, forcing her to swim for her life with her toddler son.

“I dream about the water coming in,” she said. The landscape in winter on the Bering Sea coast seems peaceful, the tidal wave of Warner’s nightmare trapped by snow and several feet of ice. But the calm is deceptive. Spring break-up will soon restore the Ninglick River to its full violent force.

In the dream, Warner climbs on to the roof of her small house. As the waters rise, she swims for higher ground: the village school which sits on 20-foot pilings.

Even that isn’t high enough. By the time Warner wakes, she is clinging to the roof of the school, desperate to be saved.

Warner’s vision is not far removed from a reality written by climate change…

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Happy Mayday

May you be full of the joys of spring and class solidarityImage