Today, against the wishes of people locally, people around the world and against all recommendations based in scientific evidence, the UK government has decided to build a new runway at Heathrow. This is a disastrous decision for the climate and one that we will not allow to become a reality.
A new runway means climate chaos
We've said this so many times before, the UK government has set it's own legally binding climate change targets in the Climate Change Act 2008. At current rates of growth, the aviation sector threatens to take up most of the safe carbon budget by 2030, that's without any new runways. A new runway at Heathrow will emit the same amount of carbon dioxide as the entire country of Kenya, making it impossible for us to meet our climate targets. In Paris last year, the UK government signed up to the COP21 agreement to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees, in the hope of avioiding catastrophe. However, because this agreement was non-binding we knew that this was all just hot air. Now, with new runways being given the go ahead, as well as fracking, what we knew all along has become clear as day. This government will not do what is necessary to prevent climate chaos, therefore it is up to grassroots groups such as us to take direct action and ensure these dangerous projects don't happen.
Climate Change is happening now
The effects of climate change are becoming more and more difficult to ignore. According to the UN 300,000 people are dying each year due to the effects of climate change. This number will only increase if we don't reduce our emissions drastically now. The effects of climate change, however, are being felt disproportionately by those who had least to do with causing the problems. As Black Lives Matter UK highlighted in their City Airport #ShutDown last month, it is Black, Brown and indigenous people who pay the price first and hardest for this climate crisis. Extreme weather events such as Hurricane Matthew which has devastated Haiti are becoming more and more common, and it's countries who, as a result of unfair trade policies that amount to neocolonialism, don't have the resources to mitigate against such events.
Climate change is also one of the drivers of conflicts, such as the civil war in Syria, with millions fleeing as refugees. By 2035 it's predicted there will be 75,000,000 climate refugees. Yet, countries like the UK take little or no responsibility for this, and many who come here looking for sanctuary are locked up in detention centres like Harmondsworth or Colnbrook. The UK is causing the problems by expanding aviation, and then when people affected ask for help they are treated like criminals. As citizens of the UK, it is necessary that we take on the responsibilityour government has refused, and prevent this runway from being built.
Local people aren't going to accept this decision. They're sick of the noise and air pollution which is cutting their lives short already and they're not going to take and more. They've told us that they will have to be dragged out of their houses before they give up their homes and their communities, and we'll support them in resisting this runway. As they never tire of reminding us, Heathrow is one of the most famous airports in the world. It's about to get a lot more famous. This will be the biggest battleground in Europe in the fight against climate change. Any business linked to Heathrow, in any way, is a legitimate target. We pledge, out of solidarity with locals and people affected around the world, that we will not let this happen. This runway is undeliverable.
For three weeks local and environmental activists shut down the exploration mining on top of Engebø mountain in the west of Norway. The Norwegian government has given Nordic Mining permission for a open-pit mine, that will dump more then 250 million tonnes of mining waste, including chemicals and heavy metals, in the Førde fjord.
The blockade started on the 1st of febuary, and lasted until the 20th of febuary. During the three weeks over 100 people participated in the actions, and 80 people got arrested, with a total of fines close to 100 000 EUR. The activists blocked the entry road to the mountain and the exploration machinery through non-violent direct actions.
The second day of the blockade, the CEO of Nordic Mining, Ivar Fossum, told the media that «They do what they think is right. These are great and committed youths». On Tuesday 22. of February, two days after the blockade was finished, the same CEO confirmed that Nordic Mining will file a multi-million lawsuit against the activists.
The group of people who occupied the drilling machinery were between 16 and 62 years old, but the majority of us were youths and students. None of us have the kind of money that Nordic Mining is coming after us for. And if their lawsuit goes through, we stand in danger of losing our homes, any money we might have been able to set aside, and go personal bankrupt.
That’s why we can’t let them win, and we can’t let them get away with it. This is about so much more then the 80 of us who got arrested – it’s about the right to protest. And the importance of civil disobedience as a security valve in our democracy. If this lawsuit goes through, then we stand in danger of creating a dangerous precedent where big companies can go after activists when they dare to stand on the wrong side of the law – but the right side of history.
That’s why we need your help, and we need it now. We need to create a massive pressure against Nordic Mining, that will force them to drop the lawsuit. I’m hoping you can help us defend the right for non-violent direct actions, and at the same time help us from going bankrupt.
Here are some easy things you can do:
IF YOU HAVE 30 SECONDS:
- Sign the petition against the lawsuit at http://bit.ly/tellnordicmining
- Share the petition (http://bit.ly/tellnordicmining) with your friends and network
IF YOU HAVE SOME MINUTES
- Read more about the issue on www.savethefjords.com and share it on social media
- Go to Nordic Mining's Facebook page and write a review of them, telling them politely what you feel about the plans for a lawsuit
A big thank you to everyone! Together we can stop both the mining project and the lawsuit
Update: This was the last day of evidence. We're back at Willesden Magistrates Court on Monday 25th at 10am for closing speeches (until approx. 11am), then the judgement that afternoon at 2pm or later. Arrive 30 mins before.
“Was someone in your family at risk of impending death?”, “Were they in hospital at the time?”, “Had they emailed or phoned in the preceding days to tell you that?”.
During the breaks in the trial, everyone chatting outside the courtroom was bemused by the logic of these questions by the Prosecutor. He set out to prove that the defence in English law of necessity, properly known as “duress of circumstance”, is limited to immediately preventing imminent death of individuals you feel responsible for such as family, and that the defendants were not acting to protect family members. He got increasingly frustrated when many of the 13 defendants refused to answer in terms of having no particular named individual on their deathbed, instead saying that knowing groups of people in threatened regions was enough. And the judge today also seemed tired by the same debate happening time after time.
The first one up today to respond to this line of questioning was Edward Thacker, from Sipson. By now the defence barristers are pre-empting the Prosecutor's questions themselves and asked:
“Who do you know that is impacted by climate change?”
“In the Sahel region, at the periphery of the Sahara desert, there is starvation now.”
“Do you know anyone there?”
“Does that matter to you?”
“No. [pause] It's never been more apparent, our interconnectedness. If we cannot be moved by common humanity, what hope do-”
The judge interjected: “I think you've done enough of this.”
So the defence barrister moved on: “Do you know people affected by Heathrow?”
“In the community I live in there is distrust of Heathrow over breaches of EU air pollution limits, over promises not to expand-
The judge again: “I think we're now straying into political statements. I want to avoid that.”
So the barrister moved on: “How did you come to be motivated about climate change?”
“When I studied geography at university, I learnt about the 2007 forest fires in the Amazon rainforest. The scale of the fire unnerved scientists. They could forsee a time when the Amazon rainforest becomes a carbon source rather than a carbon sink. I learnt about these terrifying positive feedback loops of warming, described as climatic tipping points.”
The judge stepped in: “I can't see that any of this is relevant. The Amazon rainforest really has very little to do with what happened on the day. I can see that the defendants are genuinely concerned about climate change.”
The barrister: “Was your action reasonable?”
Eddy: “Yes. It was urgent. Scientists warn that above two degrees of warming, these feedback loops could make climate change irreversible.”
Now it was the Prosecution's turn to show that acting was not, legally speaking, necessary, as we chose whether and when to do it: “You've known about this issue for some time.”
And that we could not do enough to prevent death: “You knew you would only stop a small number of planes?”
“Yes, but there's a difference between the number of planes and the amount of carbon saved. A small number of planes are responsible for a vast quantity of carbon.”
Next up was Kara Moses, an outdoor educator and environment journalist.
Defence: “How did you come to be interested in a link between climate change and aviation?”
“I was teaching kids about the Zero Carbon Britain report, which shows that the UK can be zero carbon by 2050, using only existing, currently available technology. The only sectors that can't decarbonise are aviation and aspects of agriculture. If I can go into more detail?”
The judge: “No, I don't want to go into any more detail.”
The Prosecution: “You knew the authorities would remove you as soon as practicable, a relatively short time?”
“I thought I'd be there for most of the day.”
The judge intervened, as many of the other defendants had said they expected to stay for a few hours: “Is that really true? If you thought you were going to be there all day, how were you going to address basic needs?” She paused, then plucked up the courage: “such as going to the toilet?”
Kara replied: “We were wearing nappies, Madam,” amid giggles from the defendants in the dock.
The judge pressed on how long they had prepared to stay. Kara had described her position on the day, lying down with her arms locked to another defendant's arms within reinforced tubes. The judge asked: “Were you really expecting to stay in such an uncomfortable position all day?”
Kara explained: “A day of discomfort is a very small price I’m willing to pay. We live a life of privilege in the UK, compared to people in the global south who face the prospect of death and destruction of their homes every single day from climate change.”
“Why the 13th July?”
“The Davies report made me realise: I have to do something about this. The highest authorities are not going to do something about this. There has been a democratic failure. The biggest NGOs were working together on this, the now Prime Minister said it wouldn't happen.”
“Can you name people you know who are impacted by climate change?”
“When I was in Madagascar researching the links between primate behaviour, climate change and forest ecology, I met people who live in villages near the coast. They are in ongoing imminent danger of devastating cyclones.”
“Are there individuals you can name that were on your mind?”
“Yes, from when I did my research, there are individuals I can name if naming them is helpful. Shall I name them?”
The prosecution was a bit annoyed. Perhaps they feared that, like Rob's sister-in-law, the harrowing reality of their situation would not swing things his way: “No. We can assume that you are able to name people. Were you acting on any news recently received on 13 July that they were about to die?”
“No. Every single day they are in danger.”
“Did you receive an email or phone call from them warning of a cyclone?”
“Floods, droughts and cyclones are ongoing risks. Often they do not get warning of a cyclone, and they live in small rural villages and would not be likely to email or phone me even if they did.”
“I think we can accept that climate change generally increases threats to certain populations. I'm thinking of a particular threat to a particular person on a particular day. Was there one?”
“Often they don't get warning of a deadly cyclone.”
The judge stepped in: “Were you aware of one?”
“No. I'm aware there's a threat every single day.”
Next up was Richard Hawkins.
“How did you come to be motivated about climate change?”
“I remember it well. It was in the last year of my law degree, when I took a module on international environmental law. The lecturer said that essentially there is no international environmental law, or at least none that's worth the paper it's written on. Instead they'd just teach us about what appropriate laws would look like. That module changed my life.
“Have you worked professionally on aviation-related issues?
“I advised on how to communicate around a policy to, essentially, persuade people who fly 20 or 30 times a year to fly less. It was based on research that found that a small minority, 15% of flyers, take the lions share, 70%, of flights.
“And on climate-related issues?”
“I have worked with climate scientists on how to communicate their research, to make it accessible and motivational. I vividly recall the fear in the eyes of the climate scientists I've worked with when they described the impacts. A destabilised climate puts off the inbuilt cues that species' patterns of behaviour rely on.”
“Did that affect your decision to act on the 13 July?”
“I learnt that climate change is what's known as a stock problem, and not a flow problem. Put another way, the bathtub can still overflow while you're turning the tap off. We need to be turning the tap off fast. The Davies Report suggests the government wants to turn the tap on further. The Davies Report was the final straw, a signal of democratic failure on this issue.”
The prosecution pressed: “But the threat of climate change still remains?”
“So actions of the defendants did not remove that threat?”
“We removed the threat posed by the emissions we stopped.”
“Were you aware of a press release by or on behalf of the group?”
The prosecutor asked: “So media was a purpose of the protest?”
“Media was an ancillary purpose. The primary purpose was to stop emissions.”
“So it was a purpose?”
“Yes, I think this is semantic. it was a multi-purpose action with a primary purpose.”
The Prosecutor replied: “I don't think you and I disagree about that.”
Next up was Bec Sanderson.
“How did you come to be motivated about climate change?”
“My dad worked in the British Antarctic Survey. He wrote one of the first papers on the effect of climatic warming on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. In my professional life I work on the psychology of action on climate change, on why we choose to act or not to act. Like Rich, I have advised climate scientists in the UK on how they communicate.”
After running through some of the earlier questions, the Prosecutor put to Bec: “The regrettable reality for your group is that that problem [of climate change] still remains.”
“It was not in response to the impending death of anyone in particular was it?”
“300,000 people died last year. I don't know their names and addresses.”
This, at last, was the end of all 13 defendants, having been asked by the prosecution whether their had a family member on their deathbed and whether their action had succeeded in stopping climate change. The visitors still in the court public gallery were by now around a dozen in total, down from around 30 on Monday: parents, journalists, campaigners including a Harmondsworth resident whose home would be bulldozed and supporters including a Heathrow worker.
Next, solicitor Raj Chada summarised the expert report of climate scientist Alice Bows Larkin:
1.1: “However, unlike other transport sectors, the altitude at which aircraft fly, and the sensitivity of this part of the atmosphere to chemical input, means emissions released there contribute additional climate warming.”
2.6: “Heathrow airport is estimated to contribute a little under 50% of the total CO2 produced by domestic and international flights associated with the UK.”
3.3: “For most sectors, CO2 cuts in line with the ‘well below’ 2°C goal could feasibly be brought about through a combination technological, operational and demand-side changes (although this would be very demanding to achieve). However, within the aviation sector, there is a major barrier to any significant technical change in the foreseeable decades that will improve efficiency or carbon intensity to a level that outstrips anticipated growth sufficiently for a proportionate response to the 2°C goal (Bows et al 2008). This is a view that is echoed by other academics and many industry sources. It is also is why the UK Government’s own projections for 2050 at best show a 12% reduction in CO2 from aviation between 2010 and 2050.”
8.1: “The IPCC state that if climate change continues as projected in line with their Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP), the major negative changes to health compared to a no climate change future will include (inter alia):
• “Greater risk of injury, disease, and death due to more intense heat waves and fires (very high confidence)”
• “Increased risk of undernutrition resulting from diminished food production in poor regions (high confidence)”
• “Increased risks of food- and water-borne diseases (very high confidence) and vector-borne diseases (medium confidence)”(p713)”
“The World Health Organization (2014), through scenario analysis of future climate impacts, estimate the additional deaths due to climate change across a range of health issues known to be sensitive to climate change (heat-related mortality in elderly people, mortality associated with coastal flooding, mortality associated with diarrhoeal disease in children aged under 15 years, malaria population at risk and mortality, dengue population at risk and mortality, undernutrition (stunting) and associated mortality). Using a medium-high emissions scenario (this would be one that is relatively close to the current emissions track, and not a ‘well below 2°C’ scenario) they project an additional 250,000 deaths per annum due to climate change across this subset of potential health issues.”
8.2: In the recent Paris Agreement it was recognised that climate change “represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet”.
Next, Raj Chada summarised the witness statement of Bryan Tomlinson, a taxi driver from the Heathrow villages.
He says: “I have lived in Harlington, very close to Heathrow Airport on and off for 30 years.
“I have had asthma since I was a child but I have noticed that it has got worse in recent years. I believe that this is because of how close I live to Heathrow airport.
“There is only a chain link fence between my back garden and the airport grounds.
“I am certain the the pollution from the airport has affected my asthma. It is obvious. When I come out of my house I can smell burning rubber from the aircraft. When I wipe my face there is dust and grime on my face.
“I cannot go into my garden now because of the pollution and its effect on my asthma. I have to stay indoors or away from the area. This is becoming increasingly difficult as I have got older as I need to stay at home more frequently.
“The excessive noise from Heathrow Airport has also had a detrimental effect on my health. The noise from the aircraft taking off comes through the windows at my house. It drives me mad. This is another reason why I do not use the garden.
“The worse the noise gets, the more it causes me stress, which in turn affects my asthma and general health. It is becoming more and more depressing to live here.
“As a local resident I have just got used to Heathrow affecting my health. Everyone knows about it. It does not need to be said. You can tell by living here that it affects your health and that the life expectancy as a local resident of Heathrow is going to be shorter than for someone living elsewhere, which I have also read in studies.
“I have spoken to [the defendant] Sam about my health problems and the reasons I believe I am suffering from these problems, as outlined above.
“I am supportive of Sam and his actions, because of the impact the Heathrow has had on my health and on other local residents. I really do appreciate what Sam and the others have done. It means so much to me that they have put themselves on the line for us as local residents and for me personally.
“The noise and air pollution from the airport is getting worse and I believe that something needs to be done to prevent this increasing to an even more dangerous level.”
Next, the statement from Rob's sister-in-law was summarised, and then a statement from Philip Rumsey, a resident of Harmondsworth, the village that would be destroyed for the third runway.
“I visited Harefield Hospital as I was getting pains in my chest. They discovered I have a 99% blockage in two places in the Left Anterior Descending Artery. I am lucky to still be alive.
“I know that air pollution and noise can cause problems with blood clotting and the build-up of plaque in the arteries. No one else in my family have suffered with this. They all lived in South East London or the East End. I am the only one who moved to Harmondsworth. I have been here for 42 years.
“The effect on my life was that I could not walk quickly and could not walk uphill no matter how small the gradient. I have lost most of my energy and spend most days taking it easy. I had to rely on my wife to do all of the heavy work on our allotment and in the house.
“An operation that normally takes around 40 minutes took 2 ½ hours in my case.
“There is no guarantee that the blockage will not happen again. That would then entail a bypass to be performed.”
Next, statements were read out about the good character of the defendants.
This was followed by an impassioned battle between the defence and prosecution about whether MP John McDonnell's statement was admissible.
The judge said: “This will not assist me in my deliberations. The issue in the case is, 'Did the defendants honestly hold a reasonable belief that what they were doing was necessary to protect life and limb?'
Defence barrister Raj Chada argued hard that an issue in the case was what alternatives the defendants had. He said that the Prosecutor had put to a defendant that she should have persuaded elected representatives rather than taking direct action herself, and had then asked her whether she had stood for elected office.
McDonnell, he argued, was uniquely well placed to speak on the possibility of influence through the parliamentary process, as he has represented Hayes and Harlington constituency as an MP for 19 years. The constituency includes Heathrow. He was suspended from Parliament for five days after he protested in Parliament, calling the refusal to let MPs vote on a third runway “a disgrace to our democracy”. He launched a High Court judicial review that found that the Climate Change Act made plans for a third runway “untenable in law and common sense”.
So the judge asked the Prosecutor to simply agree the statement, to prevent defendants feeling “aggrieved”, but meaning McDonnell would not appear in court, saying: “I can understand this [the Prosecution position that the statement is not relevant] may be the case in law, but what harm does it do to your case?”
The Prosecutor was having absolutely none of it. In a feisty retort, he gave her short shrift: “Yes it is. That's the end of the matter.”
Although the judge tried again, the Prosecutor was dug in for war, bluntly stating “While I have some sympathy as a person for that argument, as a Prosecution lawyer I have none.” He paused. But he went on: “End of story.”
So the judge gave her ruling on McDonnell:
“In that statement, he [John McDonnell] talks about a number of things, including his views over the development of 4th terminal at Heathrow. His opposition to further expansion, based on the strongly held views of many constituents, living in surrounding villages. The concerns of local residents about the building of a third runway, for a variety of reasons, including the impact of increased air pollution. He talks about the deleterious effect of the expansion of the airport on climate change and confirms he has campaigned against further expansion of the airport.
“It talks about a High Court action in 2010 , which led to recommendations and promises from planning inspectors. He says that promises made have not been observed. He gives opinion on the debate about expansion of Heathrow and talks about the benefits of direct action, which he says are many, although it may cause short term inconvenience...
“Mr Chada's case is, in effect, that Mr McDonnell provides evidence that the democratic process has not worked and therefore it is relevant...
“Nothing in Mr McDonnell's statement assists me ... in relation to the threat to life or limb.
“I can say that I will find that each of the defendants genuinely felt exasperated that their very considerable efforts to draw the attention of those in authority to the very real threat that climate change poses have not been effective. I am therefore not going to to allow Mr McDonnell to give live evidence.
“I would say to the defendants, in respect of what you wanted him to say, you've already won.”
Next, Sian Berry, the Green Party’s candidate for the London mayoral elections, watched from the public gallery rather than the witness box, as her evidence had already been ruled as irrelevant by the judge. Four more campaigners were ruled irrelevant. Out of the eight total defence witnesses, only four had their statements accepted, and none were permitted to appear in person.
Timetabling finished the day off and we went to the pub, where they were showing on the big telly a programme about police interceptors (cops in action with cameras). There was a moment of silence and heads turned when one of the clips started with a police car driving down a runway that had various emergency services vehicles already at the scene. “Is that them?” “It can't be” As the police car got closer, however, it became clear that it was an incident involving a microlite aircraft, and we returned to our afternoon pints and orange juices.
The next day, Thursday 21st (when I finished writing the blog), Transport secretary Philip McLoughlin said on LBC radio there should be a third runway decision “I hope later this year”, implying there was still a chance that a decision on the zombie runway might resurface after 2016.
The same day, scientists from Kings College London advised Londoners with heart conditions or breathing problems to reduce exercise and to stay at home due to a particulate air pollution alert.
The second day of trial got off to a roaring start, with 5 more defendants giving evidence in the morning session, and 3 in the afternoon.
Amusingly, after getting schooled yesterday by Ella Gilbert on the use of “Third World”, the prosecution lawyer 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 have given evidence so far have 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 have detailed the lengths which they have gone to in order to change their own lifestyles – most of us have not flown in several years, do not drive and are actively involved in campaigning.
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.
Danielle 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 government's own statutory advisor, the Comittee on Climate Change, is being ignored when it warns that uncontrolled aviation expansion will wreck policy. 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, on hearing that Danni's family, who make a living growing apples in California, were affected because drought wrote off the apple crop:
“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. Tomorrow is likely to be the last day of evidence, with the final 3 defendants giving evidence. Judgement is expected to be delivered next Wednesday, the 27th January.
On Monday the 18th, 13 Plane Stupid activists stand trial in Wilsden Magistrates Court for occupying the Northern Runway at Heathrow in July 2015. All 13 have pleaded not guilty to the charges of aggravated trespass and being in a restricted zone. Their defence is based on necessity, that their actions were reasonable and justified in the face of climate chaos, which causes death and serious injury. Full details of the trial can be found here. Ultimately, climate defence is not an offence!
Responding to our call out, groups from around the UK and the world have been sending solidarity messages and pictures to show their support. Here is a selection of what we've received so far:
Official support from the Green party via Twitter
International support from the Northern Forest Defence in Turkey, who are fighting a 3rd Airport in Istanbul, which would devastate remaining forests.
More international solidarity from France, where the fantastic ZAD (Zones to Defend) movement have been fighting various forms of destructive industry for years. Most notably, the ZAD in Notre Dame des Landes is the largest land occupation in Europe, a giant cousin to the UK's Grow Heathrow. Together we say 'No airport expansion anywhere!'
From the UK there has been solidarity between different but connected struggles, including the Combe Haven Defenders who are fighting road expansions. No new runways, no new roads!
Also from the UK, a number of groups heading to the #J16 day of action against fracking in Upton also sent messages and images of solidarity.
Greenpeace's local group in Oxford call for the #Heathrow13 to be acquited - we agree!
Our hilarious comrouges Actually Stop the War sent this message:
'Actually Stop The War extends our boundless solidarity with the defendants and encourages anyone within reach to attend the rally outside Willesden Magistrates’ Court on Monday morning, called by Reclaim The Power.'
No War, No Warming!
Amazingly we got two solidarity messages in KNITTED FORM! A beautiful show of solidarity and creativity
This one from Ireland also linked war with aviation:
'Ireland is complicit in war as it allows US military aircraft the use of Shannon Airport for overs and refueling'
No to War and No to Global Warming!
And this one comes all the way from Aotearoa (New Zealand) calls for #ClimateActionNow
The Eroles Project, which combines art and activism, sends love and support from Spain.
Solidarity from Edible Landscapes London - aviation is the problem, growing our own food is a solution!
On top of all this there's been loads and loads of messages via Twitter and facebook. Here's a selection:
Thank you to everyone who has shown support and solidarity! We are really grateful!
Keep the messages of support coming and solidarity to you all!
Next week 13 people will stand trial for their role in challenging the climate crimes of Heathrow expansion. But who are the guilty ones? Ordinary people who risk arrest and personal liberty to stop carbon emissions and draw attention to the devastation of aviation expansion, or a rich business-government partnership that wants to build an unnecessary third runway that will crash our emissions targets, further damage the health of local communities and cause catastrophic climate change?
Last summer, shortly after the publication of the Davies report which recommended expansion of Heathrow, 13 members of Plane Stupid occupied Heathrow’s northern runway, constructing a sophisticated fortress in the early hours of the morning, with a polar bear seated on top of an iceberg in a cage and the rest locked on in various ways. They stayed in position for six hours, causing the cancellation of a number of flights, saving hundreds of tonnes of carbon being released into the atmosphere, whilst apologising for any disruption caused to passengers. They were eventually arrested and charged for aggravated trespass and being airside without permission.
The 'Heathrow 13' now face a two-week trial at Willesden Magistrates Court, starting next week (18th-29th January). All 13 have pleaded not guilty, and will be running a ‘necessity’ defence of preventing greater harm. They believe their actions were justified, necessary and proportionate in the face of the destruction and public health damage caused by Heathrow airport, and plan to draw on witnesses including leading climate scientists, politicians, prominent authors, campaigners and local residents to give evidence.
Court schedule and sentencing
Each defendant will be giving evidence, in turn from the 18th-21st January, with defence experts and witnesses giving evidence from 21st-25th January. Judgement will be given on 29th Jan at Uxbridge Magistrates Court (note change of location for final day). If convicted, the sentencing may be given a few weeks later.
Possible sentences range from fines and community service to up to 3 months in prison. Prison is a real possibility, following the recent imprisonment of peaceful protestors – such as the Love Activists who occupied the old Bank of England to highlight lack of support for the homeless, and Trenton Oldfield who disrupted the Oxford-Cambridge boat race in protest of elitism and inequality – which could indicate a trend towards more severe sentencing for people taking peaceful direct action. It’s a risk the defendants have said they are willing to take, noting that a short spell in prison is still a life of privilege compared to those living on the frontlines of climate change such as low lying Pacific Island states, facing the total destruction of their homes, communities and entire way of life.
Direct action is a vital part of any functioning democracy. It’s played a key role in many of the civil liberties we take for granted today such as the eight-hour working day, the weekend, women’s right to vote, equal rights for people regardless of race and ethnicity. Since the Heathrow action, the discourse around whether to expand Gatwick or Heathrow has shifted to include climate change. This is no longer a debate around which airport to expand, but whether to expand at all.
More runways means more climate chaos and air pollution
When you look at the facts, it’s clearly the Government and Heathrow airport that should be on trial. They cannot be relied upon to take action on climate change, instead going in the opposite direction.
The urgent need to take action is clear, given breaches of the Climate Change Act and EU limits on NO2, poor health and early death due to air and noise pollution from the airport, and increasing CO2 concentrations leading to catastrophic climate change, which is causing the sixth mass extinction event and, if action is not taken, will result in the displacement of 75 million people by 2035 and exponentially more beyond, as well as death, disease and injury to people - last year alone 300,000 people died due to climate change. Being one of the hardest industries to decarbonize, the only way to reduce emissions from aviation is to fly less.
Giving evidence for the defence is Professor in Energy & Climate Change Alice Bows-Larkin on the impacts of aviation on climate change, and Associate Professor Steven Barrett on air quality and public health impacts of UK airports. Bows-Larkin’s research found in 2005 that, if aviation growth isn’t reduced, by 2037 all of the carbon that it’s safe for the UK to emit will come from aviation alone. Papers by Barrett have warned of more than 50 deaths a year directly attributable to air pollution from Heathrow. They also found that every year UK airport emissions are responsible for 4,400 cases of respiratory symptoms in asthmatic children and 2,300 cases of asthma exacerbation in asthmatic children, as well as 16,000 lost work days and 89,000 minor restricted activity days.
The UK, and particularly London, has long been in breach of EU air pollution limits. Just this week, London breached EU air pollution limits for the whole year in just eight days. Environment ministers will soon be in court over inadequate plans to address dangerous and illegal NO2 levels. 93% of the population-weighted mean due to UK aviation emissions in Greater London is accounted for by airports. This means that 93% of the total aviation emissions (weighted for population) occurs in the Greater London area – and poor air quality is likely to be the dominant environmental cause of mortality in 2050 (even more than dirty water or poor sanitation). Aircraft emissions account for 27% of annual mean NOx emissions near (and 15% 2-3km downwind of) airports. Reports estimate that UK airport emissions at their 2005 baseline cause 110 deaths per year, which will likely rise to ~250 per year by 2030, even without expansion. Expansion at Heathrow would increase UK-wide health impacts due to air quality by 4% in 2030 relative to the baseline (again assuming no expansion). Aircraft emissions already result in approximately 31 deaths per year within 32km of Heathrow.
Perks for the few
The problem is not the average family taking an annual holiday, and that is not what is driving the expansion. Nor – despite what the pro-expansion lobby would have you believe – is it even business flights, which have been in decline for 15 years. What is actually driving demand for more runways is wealthy frequent flyers. The 10-15 per cent of the UK population who flew three or more times last year took a whopping 70 per cent of all of UK flights. 57 per cent actually took no flights at all, with the rest taking just one or two. And the strongest predictors of frequent flyer status? A salary of over £115,000 and ownership of a second home abroad. Not only that, the most popular destinations from the areas with the most frequent flyers are tax havens. The facts speak for themselves – this is about a rich minority living luxury lifestyles, while the rest of us pay the real cost.
Five years ago David Cameron unequivocally cancelled plans for a new runway with his now embarrassingly infamous "No ifs, no buts, no third runway" pledge. But he then found some profitable 'ifs' and 'buts' and commissioned Howard Davies to produce the £20 million Airport Commission to decide not 'whether' to expand or not, but 'which' airport to expand. Nowhere in the report was the option of 'neither'. Nowhere was the real impact on the climate and local communities seriously considered. The 'Heathrow 13' group took their action two weeks after the publication of the Airport Commission and before the government’s response to the report, which has now been delayed until after London Mayoral elections.
Support the #Heathrow13
The group has been receiving messages of solidarity from groups and individuals from across the UK as well as further afield such as Turkey and France, where the fight has continued for over 40 years against the proposed Notre Dame des Landes mega-airport near Nantes. Last weekend, on Saturday 9th January, 20,000 people, 400 local farmers on tractors, and 200 bikes blocked the Nantes ringroad in protest against the building of what would be Europe’s largest airport. A forest – known as la ZAD (Zone À Défendre) – has been occupied for years to protect it from the threat of destruction by the airport project. The same story runs through their struggle – local communities, wildlife and the climate face of devastating damage in the name of needless profit.
Supporters will also be outside Willesden Magistrates Court on the first day of the trial (Monday 18th January) for a solidarity demo organised by allies at Reclaim the Power. The theme is RED lines - lines which represent minimum limits for a just and liveable planet; lines that global leaders inevitably crossed in their genocidal deal, signed in Paris, and which Heathrow would cross in the building of a third runway. Defending those red lines is not a crime, and the Government has shown that it can’t be trusted to take action. The facts speak for themselves – it’s new runways or a safe climate; we can’t have both.
Plane Stupid will be covering the court proceedings on Facebook, Twitter and their website with daily updates. Support the #Heathrow13 by sharing updates on social media and/or come down to the court and join the solidarity demo on Monday.
Direct action works! That's why we do it. Our disruptive direct actions this year, combined with more conventional campaigning by other groups, have scored a big win against the pro-aviation expansion lobby , with the recent government announcement that the decision on aviation expansion is to be delayed another 6 months.
But after direct actions comes the court case, a tedious, sometimes costly and often lengthy process. Please support the Plane Stupid activists and community defenders at their court appearances, court solidarity means a lot when people are up against the unjust legal system, which penalises climate defenders as 'criminals' whilst protecting the interests of the rich and those who destroy nature and, in this case, inflict misery on the communities around Heathrow Airport.
The court dates for your diary are:
Wednesday 23 December 2015 – 1.30pm Uxbridge Magistrates' Court
Heathrow tunnel blockaders and local residents have their first court appearance, see details of their action in November 2015.
Monday 18 January 2016 – 9am Willesden Magistrates' Court
13 activists who occupied Heathrow Airport in July 2015 have their trial. The trial will last 2 weeks. All 13 activists are asserting their right to defend the climate and the communities negatively impacted by Heathrow, and are pleading not guilty. See details of their action in July 2015. The nearest Tube station is Neasden, get directions.
Bring cake and banners, or just yourselves!
The main road entrance to Heathrow airport has been blocked by climate change activists since 7.40 this morning. Three members of anti-airport expansion campaign group Plane Stupid parked a vehicle across both lanes of the entrance tunnel and locked their bodies to it, unfurling a banner quoting David Cameron's election promise: “No Ifs, No Buts: No Third Runway”. David Cameron has promised a decision by the end of the year on whether to build another runway at Heathrow.
Local resident Neil Keveren, a builder whose village, Harmondsworth, would be bulldozed for the third runway, arrived later at the tunnel. He was fined after blocking the same tunnel with his van on 2nd July. He said, “No one wants to do this. They feel they have to. People feel they have no choice. After we campaigned for years, David Cameron was elected promising 'no ifs, no buts: no third runway'. In 2010 the High Court ruled third runwayplans “untenable in law and common sense” because they breached the Climate Change Act. Now Cameron might just build it anyway. We have tried every other option. We have been forced to be disobedient just to be heard. To save our homes and our planet.”
Plane Stupid spokesperson Cameron Kaye said, “Airport expansion would wreck the legally binding Climate Change Act, risking wiping out 55% of species this century and displacing 75 million more people from their homes by 2035. if aviation growth isn't reduced, by 2037 aviation alone could emit all of the carbon it's safe for the UK to emit. The government needs to choose: build new runways or stop climate chaos: it's that simple.
“There is already airport capacity for families taking their yearly holiday. New runways only benefit the 15% of flyers who take 70% of our flights, cooking our planet. These are rich frequent leisure flyers. The most reliable predictors of frequent flyer status are a household income over £115,000 and owning a second home abroad, but it's the poorest people who suffer most from climate change.”
On 13th July Plane Stupid blocked Heathrow's North runway, reportedly causing 22 flights to be cancelled and hundreds delayed.
Photos can be used freely from twitter.com/planestupid
Contact the Plane Stupid press team:
 Aviation Environment Federation, 16 June 2015, 'All set for take off? Aviation emissions to soar under Airports Commission proposals', p.1, http://www.aef.org.uk/uploads/All-set-for-take-off-AEF-report.pdf
 Over 3.5 degrees, 40 to 70 per cent [average 55%] of all assessed species will be extinct. If no action is taken, this will happen by 2100.: IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007, 3.4 Risk of abrupt or irreversible changes, https://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/syr/en/mains3-4.html If no action: 3.7 degree rise by 2100 if representative concentration pathway 8.5 (RCP8.5) is followed. IPCC: Table SPM-2, in: Summary for Policymakers, in: IPCC AR5 WG1 2013, p. 21http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/report/WG1AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf
 Global Humanitarian Forum: Human Impact Report, 2009, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/may/29/1,http://www.ghf-ge.org/human-impact-report.pdf
 Page 5 of Growth Scenarios for EU & UK Aviation: contradictions with climate policy, Summary of research by Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research for Friends of the Earth Trust, Drs Alice Bows, Paul Upham, Kevin Anderson, The University of Manchester, 16 April 2005, http://www.foe.co.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/aviation_tyndall_summary.pdf
 Table ATT0601, Public experience of and attitudes towards air travel, DfT Statistical release, July 2014. Analysis by afreeride.org(passenger survey data), https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/335069/annex-a-tables.xls
 Air Transport Statistics, House of Commons Library Standard Note SN0370, p.9, http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN03760.pdf
Last month activists staged a peaceful direct action at Heathrow Airport – less than a fortnight after the Airports Commission recommended a third runway at Heathrow. The action itself involved occupying the northern runway and erecting a tripod and fencing which the activists locked onto. A polar bear climbed onto the tripod. The action stopped some flights and saved greenhouse gas emissions.
The science tells us that deep cuts are required from existing levels of emissions to tackle climate change, but successive governments have failed to respond. Direct action, therefore, is our only hope of securing a decent future for children everywhere. A new runway, and the hundreds of thousands of extra flights it would allow, would make the necessary cuts far more difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. In addition, Heathrow hugely contributes to illegal levels of air, and noise pollution, which have massive impacts on health for people living near the airport and for Londoners generally.
For defending the planet and human health, the activists have been charged with aggravated trespass and being in a restricted area of the airport without permission. If you want to show them your solidarity, please support them at their first court hearing on Wednesday 19 August 2015, at Uxbridge Magistrates Court (nearest tube: Uxbridge, on the Metropolitan and Piccadilly lines). A gathering is taking place outside the court from 8.30am.
For more updates, see https://www.facebook.com/events/480531532112107/
The full address for the court is:
The Court House
Hare field Road
The court hearing will probably last until at least lunchtime.
From Press Release:
12 climate change activists from anti airport expansion direct action group, Plane Stupid, got onto the north runway at 03:30am this morning at Heathrow Airport by cutting through a fence, in a peaceful protest against proposals to build a new runway.
The protestors say that going ahead with the recent Airports Commission recommendation that a third runway should be built at Heathrow will make it impossible for the UK to meet its climate change targets.
The skies above Heathrow are already the busiest in the world, and demand for flights is driven by air fares that are kept artificially low by generous tax exemptions. The activists say that if the aviation industry paid more of its environmental costs then there would be no pressing need for a new runway.
Nine of the top ten most popular routes out of Heathrow are short haul, including destinations such as Paris, Manchester and Edinburgh which all have existing rail alternatives.
Ella Gilbert, an activist from Plane Stupid who is on the runway, said:
“Building more runways goes against everything we're being told by scientists and experts on climate change. This would massively increase carbon emissions exactly when we need to massively reduce them, that’s why we’re here.
We want to say sorry to anyone whose day we’ve ruined, and we’re not saying that everybody who wants to fly is a bad person. It's those who fly frequently and unnecessarily who are driving the need for expansion, and we cannot keep ignoring the terrifying consequences of flying like there’s no tomorrow.
No ifs, no buts, no third runway. And we mean it.”