How is it that after 17 years of negotiations the UN climate change conferences have utterly failed to adequately address the issues at hand and have instead overseen decades of rising carbon emissions and worsening climate injustice?
Most people are now well aware of the vested financial interests that have engineered and perpetuated a global system that’s predicated on widening social injustice, impoverishment and indebtedness of the masses. The same financial, corporate and government bodies responsible for the global financial crisis have also seized control of the environment, commodifying the atmosphere, land and waterways to trade and profit from. It’s no surprise that emissions continue to rise when you know that carbon is a commodity with a tradable value, with dedicated carbon markets and accompanying corrupt schemes such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). Without climate change continuing to worsen the markets created around it wouldn’t exist, hence nothing proactive is done by the architects and gatekeepers of the system who have taken power. Realising this, people all over the world are claiming back the legitimate and urgent concerns around climate change from the corporate clowns and Occupy COP17 was part of that reclamation of power.
Although small in number, we were strong in spirit. Every day during the conference we sat and talked under the trees, the way millions of people meet and work out problems all over the world. We had no air conditioned conference halls or PA systems, instead we had the hum of traffic going round our small island of grass (directly outside the fortified UN compound) and the human microphone to amplify our voices. Our rallying cry was Climate Justice, Not Carbon Markets. We had poetry from Nigerian activist Nnimmo Bassey. Live art from South African performer Ewok (who also provided us with a soundtrack). Guerrilla gardening from AmBush. Actions to get the World Bank out of climate finance and Canada out of the tar sands. Five hundred women from throughout Africa forming the Rural Women’s Assembly joined with us and hundreds of civil society delegates from the Democratic Left for a spirited march which was full of song and dance, power and passion, things that were curiously curtailed in the officially designed march the next day.
There were many who came out of the conference to join and speak with us, including Bolivian activist Pablo Salon, South African Commissioner for Gender Equality Yvette Abrahams and the UN Ambassadors from the small island states of Seychelles, Grenada and Nauru. Our aim was to create a safe space where everyone could come and speak, using non-hierarchical organising and consensus decision-making. Most of those who came were not invited to attend COP17, yet they were the people who needed to be heard most, those who are at the front line of climate change and crying out for Climate Justice.
We connected with a group of people who had faced repeated evictions from their dwellings in nearby KwaMashu, deemed unsightly reminders of the government’s failure to meet the needs of ordinary people. They had been evicted ahead of the World Cup a few years previously, and now had been evicted ahead of COP17. This time not only were their shacks demolished but, to make sure they stayed away, all their belongings, including food and clothes, were taken from them. Still they fought back, taking over a community hall and becoming Occupy KwaMashu. Their plight exemplified the enormous gulf between what many of the insulated negotiators on the inside were discussing and the real problems that were being laid bare by those outside.
So what are the solutions? As with many problems of this nature they are not easy to summarise or solve. But we do have a roadmap to work with and a popular mandate from the people, and that is the People’s Agreement of Cochabamba. It lays out a just and fair plan to avert catastrophic climate change and create a more equitable and harmonious world. It’s our job to make sure this is the route followed, rather than the suicidal path that is currently being pursued by those calling themselves leaders.
Hubris is a funny thing, but it is also a predictable thing. Without fail, it is has an uncanny ability to make those in power sail full speed into headlong disasters whilst convinced of their own infallibility.
The COP 17 charade is the latest display of hubris and its ultimate epitome. Just as the captain of the Titanic ignored the warning of icebergs and kept going at full speed convinced in his unsinkable ship, so the leaders of the world’s biggest economies ignore the dire science of climate change and keep growing their economies at full speed equally convinced their economies are unsinkable.
So the question now is - when the Titanic has hit the iceberg, which it has, which it is - what do we do as we wait for the inevitable? How do we respond accordingly? If you were on the ship and you had just come up from its bowels with an ashen white face because you have seen the water pouring in, how would you focus everyone's attention in the boat for the most viable and painless outcome?
Would you switch on the ballroom jazz music whilst you await the back up life-boats so everyone can dance their final hours away in bliss? Would you scream at everyone and make them wait in the waiting room until their knuckles are white and they are projectile vomiting with fear into the air? Would you let everyone raid the cabin mini-bars so they drown their sorrows? Or ply everyone with caffeine to work into the night for a solution? Whilst the international flares rocket high and the message for more boats is sent out - would you try and cram everyone onto an already-heaving lifeboat? Or would you set up raft making workshops, using the scrap wood from the boats emergency store? Would you give up on saving lives, put on your cleaning gloves and scrub the floor spotless for whoever finds the wreck? Would you arm everyone with weapons, lie to all with stories of each other's blame, nick the last lifeboat and tear off lonely into the night? Would you share your favourite jokes, sing your favourite songs, let the cabin boy/girl know of your (previously) secret lust for them and share your deepest love for your dearest around you? Would you steel yourself for a night in the icy water and prepare to swim for any lifebuoy on the horizon in the remote hope that you may get there and some others might survive the long swim with you?
Alternatively, you might want to ask yourself what were you doing in the bowels of the ship. Should you not have been up on the deck to make sure that the captain and his crew were not doing something as daft as playing with your life by racing through an ice field in middle of night. You will curse yourself for not being there and not taking over the bridge to bring sanity to the situation before it was too late.
The truth is, there are now limited ways to stop destructive climate change. But there are countless ways out there to generate the attention and support mechanisms we so desperately need. Many of us can instinctively join the dots, We can see the connections between war - conflict - climate change and the other big issues - but how to arm everyone to fight the battle, with their heads held high with hope in the long term - is something else altogether.
It was the tour the authorities tried to stop. Dan Glass, the Plane Stupid activist who had superglued himself to Gordon Brown in protest against a third runway at Heathrow, never got a visa to visit America. His fellow speaker, John Stewart, who had chaired the coalition against the third runway, was sent packing back to London when he landed at JFK Airport.
Dan and John had been asked by American campaigners to come to the US to talk about the successful third runway campaign. The Aviation Justice Express tour had been months in the planning. Dan and John were to spend a month visiting climate activists and local airport campaign groups across the US.
The American authorities, possibly prompted by the UK aviation industry, were determined it was never going to happen. But it did – thanks to the new media. John, from his modest office in South London and Dan, from Canada, were skyped into all the events. And new events were added when the campaigners realized that the barrier of physical travel had been removed – courtesy of the American authorities. As John put it: “We left the students of Harvard in Boston at midnight and five minutes later we were talking with activists in Pittsburgh.”
And that wasn’t the only favour the American authorities did. The banning of Dan and John generated more media on both sides of the Atlantic than the tour on its own would ever have got. From reports in the London Evening Standard to in-depth interviews on the Canadian-based Radio Eco-Shock. And it enabled Dan to do a parallel tour of Canada meeting with climate activists and airport communities.
The outcome of the skype tour was just the one the American authorities didn’t want. A new network has been set up bringing together climate activists and local airport campaigners committed to stopping new runways, cutting short-distance flights and promoting rail using conventional and direct action tactics. Bringing the American aviation industry down to earth!
We don't need any more airports! In truth, more airport expansion would be a disaster. We cannot expand our airports and reach our climate change reduction targets at the same time – this is a fact that we have been shouting off roofs, on runways etc for years. But Boris Johnson just doesn't seem to get it.
On Monday 22nd November, Boris issued a report which said building a new airport in the Thames Estuary, 'dubbed Boris Island', would allow Britain to tap into billions of pounds of foreign investment and would provide more airport capacity. However campaigners are challenging these statistics. AirportWatch, the umbrella organisation representing aviation campaigning groups, has produced figures which show that London already has a greater number of flights to the world’s main business destinations than any of its European rivals. In total, London’s airports have over 1000 departure flights each week to the key business destinations compared with Paris’s 499, Frankfurt’s 443, and Amsterdam’s 282. The full figures are published HERE.
What is even more concerning is that Boris has refused to even acknowledge the threat of climate change. The Heathrow 3rd runway plans were partly grounded because of climate change arguments so when Boris doesn't even mention climate change you have to start worrying. The reality remains that if the aviation industry were to keep to their promises to get its emissions down to 2000 levels, they will not need any extra runways at all as they would have to cut flying by 35%.
In terms of location there is also the small issue of the Liquefied Natural Gas facility which lies in the way. The Isle of Grain, where Boris wants to build his silly airport, is home to one of the world’s largest liquefied natural gas terminals, which sees a fifth of the UK’s gas supply offloaded by container ships and stored there. Lethal liquid gas for the area comes via the container port at the Isle of Grain which surely rules out these bizarre airport plans in the first place.
Boris Island is now right up there on our radar and Plane Stupid will be keeping an eye out for any new developments to the story. Kent County Council and Medway Council, along with the RSPB, will all fight the scheme. You can add Plane Stupid to that list too.
They say they want to “explore how aviation growth can occur, while ensuring that it is genuinely sustainable.” It does not matter how much consultants and civil servants were paid to produce their strategy, statements like this are rubbish and will always be rubbish. An average five year old would see through it. It is the Emperor with no clothes all over again. Worst of all, it dangerously gives the impression something is happening when the intent of the process is to ensure that nothing happens.
A strategy that states “we are undertaking an assessment of the relative cost effectiveness and abatement potential of different measures for reducing aviation CO2 emissions out to 2050,” gives no cause to think that they understand what is happening. With the business-as-usual scenario which is the basis of government's strategy, the planet could not be habitable by 2050. And what should we conclude with the comment of assessing the cost effectiveness of reducing CO2? When they conclude the aviation industry will massively lose profits, they will again stick their fingers in their ears and pretend climate change is not happening.
Their strategy is based on technological innovation, biofuels and carbon trading within the European Trading Scheme. Each one of these is a failure. We prove this in our submission.
This consultation process has set “Big Aviation” swinging into battle with their billion-pound marketing budget. Adverts and press releases about how many billions the aviation industry will make are spreading like rashes. Right in the middle of the consultation process BA have launched the sickliest advert since the Wright Brothers first flew with the sole purpose of lobbying politicians.
With our marketing budget of precisely zero, we offer a more realistic alternative above. Our response to the consultation can be downloaded from HERE.
There are many reasons to love the French. Where would we be now without our stripy tops, crème brulées or berets? And now, from the nation which has shown us that it is possible to project sex appeal without the need for soap, comes another unlikely combination. Enter the Tracto-Bike!
Before you jump to conclusions, I can assure you this is not an obscure new bicycle powered tractor invention from our froggy cousins across the Channel. No indeed. This is a case of the French are doing what they're best at – protesting. French stylee.
So, a few days ago, a coalition of tractors and bicycles are took off (slowly!) on their 400km six day journey from Nantes to Paris to protest against plans for a new Nantes airport. The residents of Nantes have good reason to be up in arms. They are fighting off plans for an enormous new airport which, if built, would see the destruction of an area which is highly biodiverse, as well as being a prime dairy producing region, covering around 2,000 hectares.
The most ludicrous thing of all is that Nantes already has an airport which is not even at full capacity. Yet despite this fact, and despite the obvious implications that building a whole new airport complete with fossil fuel spewing aircraft has for an increasingly warming climate, the French authorities seem to think that a massive new airport is justified. Unsurprisingly, the French public are unimpressed.
So if you happen to be free on November 12th then why not grab your bike, or your tractor, and head over to Paris to join the farmers, activists, politicians and local residents as they arrive in style in their protest against a new Nantes airport? The campaign against Nantes airport is already the biggest in Europe and looks set to get bigger. May the politicians ignore the farmers at their peril!