Activists still have a vital role to play in tackling aviation growth
The relationship between Labour and industry means that parliament won't do enough.
I was pleased that your leader (A different kind of turbulence, August 20) recognised the climate campers' scientific argument that inaction on climate change now will cost lives later. As the leading climate researcher Dr Kevin Anderson said last week, "the government cannot reconcile current aviation growth with its stated position on climate change. Even with the latest more efficient aircraft, the climate-change imperative demands that air-travel growth be severely curtailed." However, I was stunned by the Guardian's notion that because nowadays "nearly all politicians will at least pay lip service to green issues", the merits of "Swampy-style activism" have been undermined. Equally, the idea that there has been a "big political shift ... since 1996" is not reflected by the facts.
Arguably, the Labour government has been Britain's worst for the environment. Carbon emissions, previously on a downward trajectory, rose dangerously under Tony Blair's leadership. Yet the aviation industry and Gordon Brown's new government continue to play musical chairs. This was epitomised by the appointment to the cabinet of the aviation lobbyist Digby Jones - who called the climate change levy "crazy" and the Kyoto protocol "a cocktail of confusion". BAA's enormous power over policy is highlighted by its reported influence over the tests that will determine whether or not a third runway would breach the legal limits for pollution and noise at Heathrow. Last month the Conservative MP Justine Greening mockingly suggested that the aviation minister should be renamed "the minister for BAA". Such is the revolving door between the aviation companies and Labour. Meanwhile, the few remaining checks and balances built into planning laws are, on the recommendations of the CBI's Kate Barker, being stripped away by Brown in an attempt to bulldoze opposition to new roads, runways and coal-fired power stations.
With a playing field so tilted in industry's favour, it is naive to urge activists to "use parliamentary democracy as effectively as they can stage direct action" and too easy to attack those of us who feel that the political system has failed us and that we must therefore resort to taking more direct forms of action.
Your leader says "it was appropriate that last year's storming of the runway at East Midlands airport was carried out by the pressure group Plane Stupid, because that it precisely what it was". For some perspective, what happened that day? Twenty-four activists led by a Baptist minister cut through the perimeter fence of an unnecessary short-haul airport and peacefully sat on a taxiway (not a runway as you report), where they held a service of remembrance for the victims of global heating. It was hardly more dramatic than the blocking of a bus stop. Yet these Plane Stupid activists knew they could face harsh legal sanction. So why did they do it? Because with perhaps as little as eight years to stop dangerous emissions reaching a tipping point - according to a UN-appointed panel of climate scientists - we are the last generation who can still act to ensure that the new runways are halted, and that the last remaining wildernesses and the people of sub-Saharan Africa have a future.
This was first published in The Guardian on Wednesday August 29, 2007