Judgment Day

Verdict? Innocent

Legal verdict? Guilty.

As we prepare ourselves for the likelihood of an unusually harsh sentence on February 24th  - the Judge told us to prepare for prison, and implied it could be the maximum of 3 months - we sit reeling from the institutional failure of the legal system to address the biggest and deadliest problem of our time.

A guilty verdict may have been a forgone conclusion in the eyes of the law, but today has been an extraordinary day for climate change activists the world over.

The issue of climate change, its connection to the aviation industry, and its resultant massive loss of life have not once been disputed in the proceedings of the trial. In her closing remarks, Judge Wright said: “There can be no doubt that the defendants are very committed to tackling the problems of climate change and that they acted as they did on the 13th July in what they genuinely believed was in the best interests of the public and society as a whole”. She called us “principled” and “passionate” people.  She accepted that climate change was a problem and that we were doing what we could to stop carbon emissions.

This acceptance, however, appears to have had no bearing whatsoever on the verdict we have received, and the sentencing we now face. After warning us to prepare for prison, the judge said 'I cannot think of a more serious case of aggravated trespass', implying that she may give the maximum, which is 3 months inside for our charge (aggravated trespass). If we had been taken to court for more serious charges (eg, public nuisance, which we arrested for), we could have had a trial by jury. Unlike judges, juries have previously found people not guilty for similar actions.

With his opening statement this morning, the prosecution lawyer attempted to paint us as crusaders against democracy, taking the law into our own hands and seeking a defence based on “criminal self-help” rather than necessity.  His summation ran into the following confusing circularity: “sober and reasonable people don’t break the law”, and “it is my job to decide whether a sober and reasonable person would have broken the law in these circumstances.”  Well, no surprises then when he decided that they wouldn’t have. But that was a forgone conclusion. A system that defines reasonableness as following the law can’t acknowledge the possibility of a reasonable breach. 

 Defence lawyer, Mr Greenhall, put it well when he said (I paraphrase):

Suppose our small group had just learned that Chernobyl was about explode, Madam, and had tried to do something to prevent the inevitable and catastrophic impact on human life.  Suppose our group felt compelled to act, and that they decided to chain themselves to the reactor in an attempt to physically prevent further leakage and future explosion.  This group would have had both the support of the public, in whose interest they were acting, and also the support of the law. Even if the deaths from Chernobyl were somewhat removed in both space and time; even if they could not name the people who would be affected; even if the group had waved banners warning about the dangers of future expansion of the plant, the necessity defence would have been open to them, and they would have won. Their actions would be reasonable to prevent loss of life. The #Heathrow13 find themselves in a very similar situation. And this is the defence that should prevail today.

 Unfortunately, it has not prevailed.

When Lawyer Mr Chada ended his statement with some words from Robert Kennedy, the Judge was still to announce her decision.

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and, daring those ripples, build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” 

These words feel all the more powerful now the verdict has been made.

Climate change has already claimed many lives, and it is the continued negligence of governance that forces citizens to act in their stead. We are not hooligans. We are not heroes. We are ordinary people who acted against the letter of the law in the face of complete failure of the authorities to act in the service of what we, and many, many others, know to be the major issue we face today.

#Heathrow13 Trial Verdict - Press Release

Runway Occupation on Trial – Verdicts

Monday, January 20th, 2016, London – Today in Willesden Magistrates Court, the thirteen Plane Stupid activists who occupied Heathrow’s north runway for six hours on the 13th of July last year were all convicted of aggravated trespass and being airside without lawful authority. The Judge has asked them all to return in 3 weeks on the 24th February for sentencing and has advised all defendants to prepare for immediate custodial sentences. 

The thirteen defendants released the following statement, in response to their convictions:

“Today's judgement demonstrates that the legal system does not yet recognise that climate defence is not an offence. We took action because we saw that it was sorely needed. When the democratic, legislative and processes have failed, it takes the actions of ordinary people to change them.”

“We are very grateful for all the messages of support and solidarity we have received from all over the world, and are immensely proud of the action we took to combat emissions from aviation. Climate change and air pollution from Heathrow are killing people now, and the government's response is to spend millions making the problem bigger. As long as airport expansion is on the agenda, Plane Stupid will be here. We're in it for the long haul.“

Most of the defence’s witness evidence was not heard in court, and none of the witnesses were allowed to appear in court. John McDonnell was not heard in full due to the Judge having already accepted the points he was addressing, and therefore ruling the statement irrelevant.

Her ruling on John McDonnell’s evidence is available here –

http://planestupid.com/blogs/2016/01/20/judge-wrights-ruling-john-mcdonnells-witness-statement

And John McDonnell’s full statement is available here –

http://planestupid.com/blogs/2016/01/20/witness-statement-john-mcdonnell-mp

Statements from three local residents from the Heathrow area were read out, detailing the debilitating and life-threatening medical conditions they were suffering from as a consequence of living near to the airport.

Character references for the defendants were also read out in court, from a variety of public figures including High Court Judge Peter Jackson and a long list of barristers and solicitors.

Alice Bowes-Larkin, one of the UK’s leading climate scientists, and a specialist in the climate impacts of aviation, submitted a statement which was read to the court. It mentioned that Heathrow “is the airport with the highest CO2 contribution in the world in terms of combined international and domestic flights” and “this puts Heathrow expansion at odds with the UK Government’s commitment to avoiding a ‘well below’ 2’C target, unless a major programme of efficiency and biofuel development are delivered in tandem.”

Sian Berry, the Green Party’s candidate for the London mayoral elections, came to court to support the defendants, despite her evidence having been ruled as inadmissible by the judge. Her statement is available here –

http://planestupid.com/blogs/2016/01/20/sian-berry-statement

George Monbiot’s statement was also ruled inadmissible, and is available here –

http://planestupid.com/blogs/2016/01/20/george-monbiot-statement

Writing on how the activists will be seen in the future, he said:

“They will be regarded not as outlaws and subversives, but as democratic heroes. Succeeding generations, struggling with the impacts that our government’s failures to take action on climate change bequeathed them, are likely to be amazed that they could have been seen in any other light.”

In all, of the ten defence witnesses, only four had their evidence allowed, and none were permitted to appear in court.

The runway occupation, under the banner of anti-aviation expansion group Plane Stupid and the first on a Heathrow runway, lasted six hours and delayed or cancelled dozens of flights. The activists, who are all pleading not guilty, are accused of aggravated trespass and trespassing airside without authority.

The defendants are Sheila Menon, 43, of Hackney, east London, Rebecca Holly Sanderson, 27, of Machynlleth, Powys; Richard Steven Hawkins, 32, and Kara Lauren Moses, 31, both of Heol y Doll, Machynlleth; Ella Gilbert, 23, of Finsbury Park, north London; Melanie Strickland, 32, of Waltham Forest, north-east London; Danielle Louise Paffard, 28, of Peckham, south-east London; Graham Edward James Thompson, 42, of Hackney, north-east London; Cameron Joseph Kaye, 23, Edward Thacker, 26, Alistair Craig Tamlit, 27, and Sam Sender, 23, all of West Drayton, west London; and Robert Anthony Basto, 67, of Reigate, Surrey.

ENDS

Contact

Plane Stupid on 07745 207 765 or press@planestupid.com 

www.planestupid.com

@planestupid

#heathrow13

#nonewrunways

-----

NOTES

Previous coverage:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/20/heathrow-third-runway-protesters-trial-freedom-fighters

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/12105559/Plane-Stupid-activists-accused-of-chaining-themselves-to-Heathrow-runway-hold-protest-outside-court.html

http://www.itv.com/news/london/2016-01-18/trial-begins-for-13-climate-activists-over-heathrow-runway-protest/ 

http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/635836/Plane-Stupid-demonstration-Heathrow-runway-three 

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jan/17/john-mcdonnell-evidence-heathrow-climate-activists-trial 

BACKGROUND 

Defence summary

The defendants have all pleaded not guilty and argue that their action was necessary due to the airport's contribution to life-threatening climatic changes. Furthermore, Heathrow expansion is inhumane to the local residents and those at the sharp end of climate change, and hugely environmentally destructive. The fact that it’s still being considered at all is a testament to the superiority of corporate lobbying over democracy and scientific evidence. The defendants are represented by barristers instructed by Mike Schwarz of Bindmans, and Raj Chada of Hodge Jones and Allen. Defence witnesses (if not deemed inadmissible by the court) will include politicians, scientists, local residents and prominent authors.  

Heathrow is a big issue

Heathrow’s third runway has been the biggest iconic battleground for both climate change activism and local resistance to imposed national infrastructure. The issue has become such a political hot potato it has been kicked down the road by every government for decades.

This was the first, much anticipated runway occupation at LHR

After years of scare stories from the press that climate activists were planning to occupy the runways at Heathrow, in July 2015 it finally happened. There was international coverage in 2007 of Climate Camp pitching up on Heathrow’s doorstep for a week, and ten years of continuous pressure from Plane Stupid, Greenpeace and other groups, who occupied various runways but never Heathrow. But last July, David Cameron’s grinding slow-motion U-turn on the issue drove thirteen activists to occupy and close the north runway at Heathrow at 4.00am on July 13th, 2015, for the first time.

Activists including a climate science graduate and many with no previous convictions, all risking three month prison terms

Some of the activists were new to aviation protests, some were more experienced activists, like 67y/o atmospheric physicist Rob, and 23y/o climate science graduate Ella. Some are residents of Sipson who have and continue to campaign against the third runway in a variety of ways, like 23y/o Cameron and 26y/o Eddy, some from London, like 32y/o Melanie who works for a health charity, and the first Plane Stupid activist to ever be arrested in 2005, 42y/o Graham, others from further afield, including three from Wales. Most of the activists have no previous convictions. They are all facing up to three months in prison.

Action was effective, disruptive and difficult to move

The occupation took the form of a sophisticated ‘lock-on’, with the legs of a tripod of scaffolding poles piercing a triangular cage of Heras fencing, with one or two activists locked to every corner, and everything connected to everything else, to make the whole structure as immovable as possible. It took the specialist police extraction squad over six hours to remove them from the runway, during which time many flights had to be cancelled.

Runway is ‘all or nothing’ issue

The reason Heathrow is such a unique, iconic battleground in national politics is that it has come to represent the big test of a government’s seriousness about climate change. Dirty energy infrastructure can be replaced with clean, local issues can be resolved by relocation, but aviation is always extremely dirty, with no clean tech version in production. Local residents oppose Heathrow and Gatwick, as well as other airports around the country which had expansion plans before the problems of aviation expansion became well known. And they are campaigning not for the new runway to be somewhere else, but for there to be no new runways. The third runway is all-or-nothing, there is no room for compromise.

HTW’s emissions are illegal, 3rd runway would be more so

The environmental progress made globally, in Europe, and in the UK prior to 2010, has left a legislative trail. Heathrow’s air quality is the worst outside central London, with NOx and other pollutants well above the legal maxima (and London breached its EU air pollution limits for the whole year in just eight days). And the 2008 Climate Change Act includes legally binding emissions targets which ‘business as usual’ expansion of aviation would wreck. Heathrow’s current operations are illegally polluting, and a new runway is not going to improve things.

Broad opposition led to runway cancellation, and will again

The intensity of the opposition to Heathrow, which encompasses MPs, cabinet ministers and all the London mayoral candidates from all parties, as well as the current London Mayor, the local councils, residents’ groups, green NGOs and direct activists like Plane Stupid, finally stopped what had only a few years earlier been seen as an entirely inevitable development in 2010. David Cameron, between hugging huskies and declaring his government the greenest ever, made the now infamous election pledge ‘no ifs, no buts, no third runway’, and many west Londoners voted for that pledge. That huge coalition of opposition is ready to come back together to oppose a new runway in the courts, at the ballot box, and on the ground.

Runway pledge Cameron’s last shred of integrity, tories’ last shred of greenery

Now his supposed opposition to the third runway is the last flaky patch of greenwash still adhering to the tory brand. As foreign leaders and UN officials voice their confusion at Cameron’s government trying to shut down the clean tech sector and prop up the industries of the last century, as Britain sweeps up the debris from the climate impacts already hitting us, and as the entire world from the US to China, agrees to a more urgent climate stabilisation programme, Heathrow is the last memory of Cameron’s ‘modernisation’ programme for his party.

System doesn’t work, so we need direct action

The government continues to promise to deal with climate change, most recently at the COP in Paris and in wellies in Cumbria, whilst continuing to make it worse and hope no-one puts two and two together. The thirteen activists, all facing possible prison sentences, have watched the continuous parade of lies and broken promises from Heathrow and successive governments, and realised that no amount of scientific evidence will be enough to make them stay within the law or safe emission limits, and citizens need to stand up against the lobbying power of major industries before it’s too late. When the Prime Minister is set to break a ‘no ifs, no buts’ pre-election and manifesto pledge, civil disobedience is needed to uphold democracy. The runway occupation is what democracy looks like.

#Heathrow13 Trial: Day 3

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?”

“No”

“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.”

“Yes.”

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?”

“Yes.”

“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?”

“Yes”

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.

#Heathrow13 Trial: Day 2

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.

#Heathrow13 Trial: Day 1

Today saw the beginning of the #Heathrow13 trial of the thirteen defendants who, on the 13th July 2015, occupied the North runway at Heathrow Airport. In doing so they cancelled 25 flights and saved an estimated 250 tonnes of CO2. In doing so, they argue that they have saved lives in the face of climate chaos. All thirteen are pleading not guilty, as this action was reasonable and justified in the context of climate change.  Climate defence is not an offence!


Solidarity Demo

The day got off to an amazing start. Around 100 supporters came to show solidarity in a demo called for by the national campaign network, Reclaim the Power. The demo began with a statement from the #Heathrow13, in which they explained why their actions were justified. They argued that the effects of climate change due to emissions from aviation are happening now and are being felt locally and globally, predominantly by those in the Global South who have least to do with causing climate change. They also stated that the failed "no ifs, no buts" promise of David Cameron further jeopardises our future. A video of the full statement can be seen here.

In addition to this there was singing from a radical choir, massive inflatable #redlines cobblestones and solidarity banners with international struggles against aviation, such as la Zad in France.

The #Heathrow13, then, proudly entered the court to chants of “No ifs, No Buts, No new runways!”, reminding everybody of David Cameron's previous election promise.


The Day's Proceedings

Inside the court, the day began with a discussion about the expert witness, Alice Bows-Larkin, who is a climate change and aviation expert. Unfortunately, it was decided that she would not be allowed to give evidence in the court. On the plus side, however, this was because Judge Wright declared that the fact that aviation fuel is linked to climate change is indisputable, which is a huge statement for a Judge to make.


Prosecution

Next, the Prosecution put forward their case. This was fairly straightforward, mainly confirming the facts that the 13 activists were: on the runway, created a structure of mesh fencing and a tripod, and that people locked-on to this structure in a variety of different ways in order to prevent as many flights as possible from taking off. A Police video was played in court showing this. Chuckles may have been heard when a polar bear on top of the tripod came into shot. None of these facts are contested by the activists.

The Prosecution then called 2 witnesses: Mr Oxby - Head of Business Resilience, and Mr Thomas - Flow Manager. They mainly gave evidence about the supposed level of disruption caused to the airport. On cross examination, however, it was made clear that despite causing 25 flights to be cancelled, the impact on passengers could not be separated from the effects of weather, nor was it likely that the number of passengers supposedly affected was accurate given that most flights cancelled were short haul and therefore it is likely that passengers could be moved onto later flights.


Mr Oxby claimed that Heathrow airport contributes around £7bn to the UK economy. He was unable to answer, however, if this took into account the negative impacts of climate change, for example, the £5bn cost of the recent floods in the North of England, which scientists from Oxford university say has a 40% probability to have been caused by climate change. Nor could he say if it took into account the cost of
3,000 hospital admissions every year due to London air pollution.


Defendants' Evidence

In the second half of the day, the first two defendants gave their evidence in court. This first began with Ms Ella Gilbert who, having two climate change related degrees, brought the science of climate change into the courtroom – quite literally as the lawyers presented a huge ring-bound folder of peer-reviewed science, which Ms. Gilbert said was only a selection of the most seminal papers which have informed her decision to take part in this action against climate change.

She stated that papers such as the IPCC's 2015 report laid out the science clearly; that the evidence was 'unequivocal' that climate change is 'human induced' and that the recent warming is 'unprecedented'. Thus, the need for radical action.

She further highlighted the impacts of climate change on sea level, the spread of disease, agriculture, and extreme weather – all of which are going to hit the Global South hardest.

She also added that that following the 2008 Climate Change Act it has been recommended that a cap on aviation emissions be set at 2005 levels. However, aviation is the fastest growing source of CO2 in the UK, and we are set to miss the 2050 targets at this rate.

The second defendant to take the stand was Mr Sender, who grew up under the flight path and has lived in the Heathrow villages for around three years. This meant that he has personal first hand knowledge of the impacts of Heathrow on local health, such as the 'Heathrow Cough', the increased levels of asthma and the fact that every Londoner has their life expectancy cut short by two years due to air pollution.

Judge Wright pressed both defendants on why they chose to stop emissions from aviation when other transport such as cars cause a larger amount of CO2 in the UK. It was mentioned, however, that in the area surrounding Heathrow, the majority of traffic is related to the airport and therefore cannot be separated. (Also, perhaps we should also fight roads and cars too – like the Combe Haven Defenders do!).

Both defendants came across as knowledgeable, passionate and reasonable individuals. So much so that Judge Wright repeatedly stated that she had no doubt about the genuine beliefs of the activists in taking this action.

The trial continues tomorrow, in Willesden Magistrates Court, with around seven more defendants giving evidence.


Stop Aviation, Stop Co2lonialism

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First to die, first to fight

The predicted impacts of climate change are well known by now. If emissions and temperatures continue to rise at the current rate it is likely that global temperatures will be 4 degrees above pre-industrial levels. This is double the 'safe' increase of 2 degrees, after which the changes become irreversible and catastrophic, leading to increased severe weather, sea level rise and biodiversity loss. In fact, the effects are being felt now: from severe flooding in the UK to the Arctic being 50 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than usual.

The impacts of climate change, however, are not experienced equally. Those who had least to do with causing the problems are the ones who are and will continue to feel it worst. From the small island nations in the Pacific Ocean to refugees fleeing war-torn Syria (where the conflict has been found to have had links to climate change, amongst other causes), to the predicted 75 million climate refuges by 2050. Primarily the victims of climate change are black and brown poor communities in the global South, and the impacts are often worst for women.

Not only are these communities feeling the effects of climate change, they have long been suffering the negative impacts of the extractive industries (oil, gas, coal and now 'unconventional sources' such as tar sands): the very industries which are driving climate chaos. Rarely do local communities see any benefit, with profits being extracted by the corporations and/or corrupt officials. The Niger Delta, for example, is a clear example of this. Estimates suggest that over the past 50 years over 9 million barrels of oil have been spilt in the Delta, equivalent to 50 Deep Water Horizon disasters. Since 2009, Shell has been responsible for over 1,000 spills, but continues to make a profit of over $15 billion in 2014. The effects of this amount huge number of oil spills has had unimaginable impacts on local communities’ health, their ability to grow or hunt food and their overall wellbeing.

Communities around the world who are suffering at the hands of extractive industries and climate chaos, however, are not sitting idly by. Resistance movements are being led by those affected most. In the Niger Delta, for instance, despite widespread repression of peaceful movements (including the high profile murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others), those fighting Shell have reduced output in the region of 30 per cent a year. In (so-called) Canada, it is indigenous communities who are leading the fight against pipelines from the Alberta Tar Sands, which need to pass through territories that were never signed over to the colonial government. Blockades such as the Unis'to'ten camp are ensuring that these projects, which would have devastating impacts locally and globally, don't go ahead.

Root Causes

Though the particular effects of projects such as the tar sands pipelines may only have been a threat in recent years, the drivers behind these projects have much deeper roots. The reason that the negative impacts of climate chaos are distributed in the way they are is linked to three intersecting processes: capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy. Not only are these systems are premised on massive inequality that take hierarchy, be it based on wealth, race or gender, as a necessary condition to function, but they have an insidious way of trying to convince us that this oppression is the natural order of things and that ‘there is no alternative’.

Capitalism, with its need for never ending economic growth, requires ever increasing amounts of natural resources and energy, which always leads to increasing pollution and waste. That is why the only time in recent history CO2 emissions have decreased globally is during the financial crisis. Capitalism relies on exploitation. Exploitation of labour and of nature. Colonialism was a key driver of the shift to capitalism, with much of industrialization being made possible due to slavery. Similarly, as Siliva Federici shows, the evolution of patriarchy was key in in the expansion of capitalism and colonialism. This happened in various ways: from relegating women to the domestic sphere, which allowed for men’s labour to be exploited in industry; to taking away women's power over their reproduction, meaning birth rates could be controlled for the good of state and capital; to the horrific violence that occurred to hundreds of thousands of women through the burning of 'witches'. All of this oppression reinforced the power of the state and capital, and the techniques for doing so – for example torture and burning of witches – were often put on trial in one setting e.g. the colonies and then brought back to Europe – and vice versa.

The overall result of these processes is that profit becomes more important than life, especially if you are black, brown, indigenous, a woman or a non-human organism. This can be seen clearly in historical examples such as the Late Victorian Holocaust in India, where 10 million people died of hunger whilst the East India Company exported vast amounts of grain. More recently, speculators placed bets on commodity food prices leading to price spikes, food riots and mass hunger in 2008. Naomi Klein outlines in This Changes Everything how trade and profit trumps climate in international agreements. This could easily be re-written as profit trumps life.

Co2lonialism continues

The overall pattern of benefits being gained in the North and impacts being felt in the South continues to this day. Whether it be through 'free trade' agreements, which provides cheap goods by outsourcing production where there is little or no labour regulation; outsourcing dirty production, onto those who have the least voice; land grabbing practices, which take away space for growing food in order to produce bio-fuels or through offsetting carbon emissions by building mega-dams and displacing local communities – it seems as if only the scale gets worse. With the COP21 deal being deemed 'half assed and half baked', by former NASA climate scientist James Hansen, for a lack of any binding or enforceable emissions targets (and excludes any commitment on aviation), this trend can only continue. The costs of our unsustainable lifestyles will continue to be externalized on to those that our culture deems unimportant. This pattern will undoubtedly continue, that is of course, unless someone fights back, as frontline communities are doing.

Stop Aviation, Stop Co2lonialism

It's in this context that the climate justice movement, including the fight against aviation expansion, needs to stand in solidarity with those most affected by climate change. And with the big NGOs clearly needing to decolonize themselves, with organizations like AVAAZ forcefully attempting to silence the Wretched of the Earth bloc at the most recent climate march in London, it's down to the grassroots to show real solidarity.

The links between aviation and continued co2lonialism couldn't be clearer. Not only is aviation the fastest growing source of CO2 in UK, which means more and more extraction, but the gulf between those who do and don't fly couldn't be wider. Globally, a mere 5 per cent of the population has ever taken a flight. So those arguing for expansion are doing so for the benefit of a tiny elite. Even within the UK, 70 per cent of flights are taken by just 15 per cent of the population. Aviation is a clear example of the North-South divide. Communities in the global South suffer twice: first from extraction and then from the effects of climate change, whilst the global North primarily uses aviation as a form of leisure or to expand processes of capital accumulation.

Aviation expansion isn't even about family holidays for those who are relatively privileged in a global perspective, it's about a continued pattern of privilege for the very few at the expense of the many. This, if we are to have any semblance of justice, must stop.

This means that there can be no third runway at Heathrow, no second runway at Gatwick and certainly no 'Boris Island'. No, there can be #NoNewRunways in the UK. It also means looking globally to places like Mexico. Just outside Mexico City, in Atenco, local communities have been resisting a sixth runway airport and have suffered awful treatment at the hands of the police. This airport is being designed by Fosters + Partners, the same firm that profited from the new Terminal 2 at Heathrow. Wherever the elite try to profit at the expense of people, people will be ready to resist and say no. #NoNewRunways anywhere, no more pipeline, no fracking, no coal and no more roads.

In Paris we laid down a #RedLine. The limits which cannot be crossed for a safe climate and for just world. And we're the ones that are going to make sure they're not crossed. The fight against aviation must also be seen as a fight against other interconnected forms of oppression – otherwise a 'just future' is just wishful thinking.

Turning to our Zapatista sisters and brothers for inspiration:

'What we have learned as Zapatistas, and without anyone or anything except our own path as teacher, is that no one, absolutely no one is going to come and save us, help us, resolve our problems, relieve our pain, or bring us the justice that we need and deserve.

There is only what we do ourselves, everyone in their own calendar and geography, in their own collective name, in their own thinking and action, their own origin and destiny.

We have also learned, as Zapatistas, that this is only possible with organization... Then we have not just a momentary flash that illuminates the earth’s surface'

 

This blog was originally published on the New Internationalist blog.