A success: the tour America banned

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!

Boris's nonsense island airport

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.

Testing the democratic processes

Plane Stupid has laid down the gauntlet to the government that claims to be the greenest of them all.

In the spirit of democracy, we submitted our response to the government’s sustainable aviation strategy. The beating heart of their strategy is the crazy idea aviation can grow and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with demands from climate science.

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.

Nantes and the Tracto-Bike

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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!

Plane Stupid on the runway at Southend

From the Press Release: 16 protesters arrested at Southend Airport.

16 protestors, who occupied the runway at Southend Airport, have been arrested by Essex Police.  It is believed they are being held at Southend Police Station. Campaigners from Plane Stupid and Climate Rush entered the airport shortly after 9am this morning.  The protest is against the planned expansion of Southend Airport.

Plane Stupid installed solar panels on the runway.  Campaigners from Climate Rush, dressed as pilots and cabin crew, were on a nearby footpath performing a dance routine.

A spokeswoman for the protestors said:

“Southend Council say the expansion will bring jobs.  But investment in renewable energy would create many more jobs without damaging the climate.  What we need is solar power not plane power.  The bigger runway is bad for climate change, bad for local residents under the flight path and is not needed to help the local economy.” 

Southend Airport has been bought by Stobarts, the logistics firm.  Easyjet has announced that it plans to start operating commercial flights from the airport in spring 2012.

There has been a major local campaign.  It has focused on the impact the airport would have on the thousands of people who will live under the flight paths.

John Stewart is a terrorist

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It was like a scene out of a New York cop movie.  Only it was happening for real.  And to me.  I had just arrived at New York’s JFK Airport to talk to American activists about the success of the campaign to stop the third runway at Heathrow.  They had invited myself and Plane Stupid activist Dan Glass to tour the country – by train - for a month talking about the campaign - http://aviationjustice.org/.  But I never left JFK. 

When my flight touched down, it was boarded by six New York cops who escorted me off the plane.  I had apparently made threats against President Obama.  I was questioned by the Immigration Service, the FBI and the American Secret Service.  After 7½ hours I was sent back to the UK.  I had never before taken a transatlantic flight.  Now I had taken two within 24 hours!

But it was the nature of the questioning, particularly by the FBI, which was so revealing.  Next-to-nothing about threats to Obama.  What they wanted to know about was Plane Stupid, direct action and Dan (who had super-glued himself to Gordon Brown in protest against the 3rd runway).  They saw Dan as a man who – shock! horror! – “actively advocated” civil disobedience.  They even used the word “terrorist”.  When Dan had tried to apply for a visa, they said they were afraid he might super-glue himself to Sarah Palin!  When questioning me they said they feared my talks might result in armed protesters occupying JFK Airport!  Now that would be material for a movie.  Pure fiction!

What is so disturbing is that Plane Stupid – a network whose actions are rooted in the tradition of non-violent civil disobedience – can be branded terrorist.  As it happens, I personally have no convictions but somebody didn’t want me, in association with Dan, talking with American audiences.  I learnt once I returned to London that a phone-call had been made once by flight had taken off alleging that I had made threats against Obama.  We’ll never know who made it but it provided the perfect opportunity for me to be questioned at length at JFK.

A new book by Will Potter suggests that in America, green has become the new red.  The US authorities are now seeing a green under every bed planting seeds of revolution and sowing sedition.  If that’s the case, a tour telling the story of a successful and radical environmental campaign, which overcame the power of the aviation industry, would have worried the American authorities.  If the process were to be repeated across Europe and the US, it would harm the corporate interests of the aviation industry.  Potter argues in Green is the New Red that it is precisely to protect the profits of corporate interests that environmentalists are being targeted.  He has written, “much like the Red Scare and the communist witch hunts of the 40s and 50s, the Green Scare is using one word—this time, it’s “terrorist”—to push a political agenda, instill fear, and chill dissent”.

I must learn to stop associating with green “terrorists” and super-glue addicts.