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.
The aviation industry thought it couldn't get any worse. In the middle of October Justine Greening, the inverterate opponent of Heathrow expansion, was made Secretary of State for Transport. Two weeks later the Labour party has announced it is dropping its previous support for a third runway at Heathrow.
The industry has spent the autumn frenetically lobbying for further airport expansion in the South East. It comes to something when weeks of frantic activiy has resulted in Justine Greening as Transport Secretary and the Labour party abandoning the third runway. Is it losing its touch?
To rub salt into its wounds, Maria Eagle, Labour's transport spokeswoman, chose to make the announcement while addressing the conference of the Airport Operators' Association at the prestigious Metrople Hilton Hotel on Edgware Road. She told the conference:
"The answer for the south-east is not going to be to fall back on the third runway at Heathrow... it is off the agenda.The political reality is that the (Heathrow) runway decision has been made and it is done".
The campaigners' chant has come true. There really will be No Third Runway!
It was the aviation industry's worst nightmare. Justine Greening made Secretary of State for Transport. Its now a reality - David Cameron appointed her on the 14th October.
Justine Greening has got form. Form that frightens the industry…..and the civil servants in her new department. She was a staunch opponent of the third runway at Heathrow. Rallies, meetings, marches, demonstrations, she was there.
More than that, she was a hugely pro-active opponent of Heathrow expansion. It was her tenacity which revealed the collusion that was going on between the civil servants in the Department for Transport and BAA, the owners of Heathrow.
The Sunday Times broke the story on 29th November 2009:
“The Government colluded with the airports operator BAA to skew evidence in favour of expanding Heathrow and play down facts that could help opponents, secret documents indicate. The government was so concerned about the content of internal emails and memos about Heathrow expansion that it spent 18 months trying to prevent them being revealed. They were obtained only after Justine Greening, Tory MP for Putney, complained to the freedom of information watchdog”.
It’s not surprising that within hours of Justine Greening’s appointment as Transport Secretary the aviation industry’s PR machine swung into action. British Airways’ boss Willie Walsh was quoted in the Daily Telegraph saying that she was “compromised” over Heathrow expansion. Her appointment prompted a major article in the Times by its economic editor David Wighton, ‘Can growth take off without a third runway.’ In the article Wighton writes:
“Ms Greening impressed many in the transport world as a junior Treasury minister….from the aviation industry’s point of view there is just one small snag. Ms Greening is the MP for Putney, which sits under the flight path to Heathrow, and has been one of the most prominent opponents of expansion at the airport.”
The industry is making a lot of Justine Greening’s perceived conflict of interest of representing a constituency under the flight path. But it is a cover for the fact that it has a Transport Secretary who doesn’t share their view on a key aspect of aviation policy. As Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative MP for the neighbouring West London constituency of Richmond, put it on twitter: ‘BA boss says Transport Sec is 'compromised' re: Heathrow. That's what not agreeing with BA is called?’ Philip Hammond, Greening’s predecessor, also represented a constituency heavily overflown by Heathrow aircraft. No mention from the aviation industry he might have a conflict of interest.
The irony is that Justine Greening is not against airport expansion. But she will want to base her decisions on proven facts. Perhaps thats what worries the aviation industry. It can no longer operate in a fact-free zone.
Let's be clear, we at Plane Stupid don't like getting our kit off, not in this sort of weather, but we're prepared to go to some lengths to get word out about the bare faced cheek of biofuels.
The launch of the countries first commercial biofuel flight from Birmingham is a terrible departure for aviation. While the industry claim that biofuels offer a greener future for flights, respected environmental and social justice organisations from Friends of the Earth to The World Development Movement and Christian Aid believe that they will make a bad situation worse. Why?
Because waste veg oil as a solution just doesn't add up. Demand from road transport vehicles for recycled oil currently far outstrips supply. Optimistic estimates suggest that at best the UK produces enough waste veg oil to replace 0.6% of UK vehicle diesel. With road transport being much more efficient than flight, anyone with basic maths can see that used veg oils will never be a viable solution. A recent article in the aviation trade press highlighted that many insiders don't think the groundless hype will stand up to scrutiny either.
The first commercial biofuels flight launch followed a delay of some months, after Thomson found they couldn’t source enough used cooking oil even for one short haul flight a week from one airport. They ended up importing it from the States. Not only that, but they have recently announced, without explanation, that they won't be running the once a week commercial biofuel fights to Lanzeroti they proudly promised to the media and customers. They're now promising to run daily flights from the new year.
So what was the stunt all about? The industry is legally obliged to meet carbon reduction targets, and currently, biofuels are registered as being a way to collect carbon brownie points. This is despite widespread recognition that the only commercially used options are based on nasties like palm oil and jatropha, which have already been responsible for the trashing of vast tracts of rainforest. They are a massively inefficient way of making fuel that destroys the very ecosystems we need to control runaway climate change. While encouraging massive land grabs that rob the worlds poorest people of their homes and food. Thomson think that by softening up the public with recycled oil, they can get a nice green sheen on the term 'biofuels' before turning the system over to the neocolonialist disaster of mass plant oil imports.
Those of us who took part in the action had spoken directly to colleagues in Columbia the previous month who described the devastating impact palm oil production was already having on the forest they lived in. 7 hours in the cells and a charge of 'causing an annoyance' pass quickly when you can still hear their voices in your head.
I have just returned from Nantes in South West France where 4,500 people demonstrated against plans for a new airport on Sunday (12th July). 14,000 over 2 days. This could become the 'French Heathrow'. The site of a victory as iconic as the struggle against the third runway.
The campaign has brought together a vibrant coalition of local residents, environmentalists, sympathetic politicians and direct action activists who have set up the ZAD camp in the area. It is a community-driven campaign protecting the homes and livelihood and land of small-holders whose families have farmed on the agricultural land for generations.
Over the past decade the campaign has grown in strength and radicalism. Already the local community has staged direct action protests. They are now supported by a camp of activists from all over Europe. On Sunday they all came together for what, each year, has become one of Europe's biggest annual protests. 4,500 people formed the human aeroplane, pictured above, with the defiant message that "we will win". Amongst those joining them for the weekend protest was both the radical activist Jose Bove and the Green Party candidate in next year's presidential election.
The campaigners have succeeded in making their fight a national issue. Hardly surprising as it has become the biggest airport campaign in Europe. If the Greens get enough votes in the Presidential Election they will insist that the dropping of the new airport will be a key condition in any deal they may do with the socialists.
Nantes already has an airport. The campaigners argue that, just a few hours by the fast TGV from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, the proposed airport - Nantes International - is little more than an exercise in ego-building by the regional politicians in the ruling socialist party. The campaigners have commissioned a report from the respected Dutch economic consultancy, CE Delft, to prove that the airport is unnecessary.
It is an inspiring fight. What the campaigners need is support from activists across Europe. Go down to the camp. And, in a few months, they may be organizing an event, possibly in Paris, where supporters will be asked to come from all over Europe. Our chance to deal another devastating blow to airport building in Europe.
For more information and directions to the camp you can get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org
On Friday 15th July, after 2 years of editing, crowd funding, tweaking and general hype - Just Do It the film will be coming to cinemas near you.
Following the more shady side of climate activism which has never been shown on camera before - the film follows climate activists on their mission to make sure the issue of climate change gets the full attention it deserves. The film is all about action rather than words. Where politicians speak and nothing happens - Just Do It showcases those individuals who put there bodies on the line and face arrest to ensure action happens.
Plane Stupid features amongst the likes of Climate Camp and Climate Rush in a film which tells the story of the build up to COP15 in December 2009 and where this left us afterwards. Direct action is all about taking matters into your own hands and this ethic comes through in the production of the film too. Where film companies rely on big budgets - Just Do It has been made on a shoe string and has only been made possible by generous hours given volunteering and generous donations from different supporters.