Wealthy frequent flyers are the real problem when it comes to aviation growth – and it's time we did something about it

Uprooted communities, spiralling greenhouse gas emissions and a revolving door between industry and government. Radical protest in recent years has been a vital means of highlighting these darker sides of aviation, so rarely mentioned in public debate, argues Richard Collett-White. [A French version of this article was published on Reporterre:

Catching a flight – is there anything that so powerfully represents the seemingly effortless mobility offered to us by super-charged economic development, or the apparent limitlessness of human ingenuity? Anything more scientifically staggering than the giant metal birds which soar above the clouds?

Unfortunately, this airbrushed image of flying, featured in glossy industry magazines, is exactly that – a facade which conceals some very uncomfortable realities that airport owners would prefer you not to think about.

In addition to the localised noise and air pollution impacts, well known to anyone living near an airport, flying takes a heavy toll on the climate. It is now the fastest-growing cause of climate change, and here
in the UK, where we fly more per capita than anywhere else, the industry accounts for 6% of emissions (with a warming impact of double that if you include non-CO2 effects at altitude).

According to the UK's own Department for Transport, if passenger numbers are allowed to increase at current rates, they will almost double by 2050. Globally, we're set to hit that mark by 2035. With growth of this kind, making emissions reduction targets impossible to meet, you might assume moves were being made to do something about it.

Yet while every other sector of the economy is rightly being expected to become greener (albeit not fast enough), and reduce emissions in absolute terms, the aviation industry seems to slip through the net
every time. Not only are there no targets for aviation in the UK's Climate Change Act, aviation (along with shipping) was conspicuously absent from the final version of the global Paris Climate Accord. And last October, all the UN body entrusted with regulating the industry could agree on was the dubious concept of 'carbon neutral growth by 2020': something that is only possible with the use of discredited offsetting schemes which deflect responsibility to other sectors of the economy. This 'light-touch' approach may be frustrating for climate campaigners but is hardly surprising when the industry and government are so close to one another, with staff often switching between the two during the course of their careers.

Does all of the above mean, then, that we are all equally responsible for getting us into this situation, and that families taking their one getaway break a year should be made to feel guilty about their actions? No. Flying trends, just as much as anything else, are shaped by the economic inequalities that define our societies. So in the UK, while more than half of the population doesn't even fly in a given year, and 33% take one or two flights, the remaining 15% are taking 70% of all the flights, most of which are leisure, not business. With average annual earnings of more than £115,000, it is these frequent flyers who mainly bear responsibility for the supposedly unstoppable demand. Contrast the wealth of these binge flyers with the poverty of those overwhelmingly suffering the effects of climate change – which studies suggest is already causing 150,000-400,000 deaths per year, particularly in sub-saharan Africa – and the global injustice of it becomes painfully clear.

At this point, it might be tempting to look optimistically to technology for a quick-fix solution. Certainly, the industry itself assures us that energy efficiency and biofuels will be enough to bring down emissions. But the evidence points the other way: passenger growth is outrunning efficiency improvements and there are no signs that biofuels could replace energy-dense kerosene (which powers jet planes – and happens to be exempt from taxation as a result of a 70-year old international treaty) to any significant degree. Add to that the fact that biofuels use up valuable land needed for agriculture and it should be obvious that techno-fixes alone are not going to cut it.

So it was in this context – of a high-polluting industry thirsty for growth finding itself in conflict with the unalterable facts of climate science, and the political world turning a blind eye to it – that Plane Stupid was set up 12 years ago. The group has taken direct action ever since, occupying runways, invading conferences and even (somehow) managing to drop a banner from the top of Parliament. It was part of the
opposition that helped to see off the many airport expansion plans pushed by Tony Blair's New Labour, and in the last two years has focused on Heathrow's plan for a new runway (revived yet again after numerous promises not to) which would increase flights by 50% and wipe out two whole villages. The scope of anti-aviation activism has also broadened, drawing links between different but connected issues, with groups occupying City Airport to highlight the racial inequalities inherent in climate change, and Stansted in order to stop a mass deportation flight heading to Nigeria and Ghana, carrying people who feared for their lives, often as a result of their sexuality, if they returned.

Plane Stupid has never called, though, for the aviation industry to simply be shut down, and supports moves in the right direction, like the frequent flyers tax popularised by A Free Ride, which would curb flying in a progressive way, leaving the lowest-earners (who are most likely to take only one or two flights per year) better off than at present.

Indeed, it is the bringing together of these different sides of the spectrum that makes the gathering in Toulouse this August so exciting: direct action activists, NGOs, academics and scientists, sharing knowledge and experience and discussing strategies for how to tackle this issue. Struggles from Mexico City, Austria, the UK and your own NDDL came together in solidarity last October in an international week of action and this meeting will be a valuable continuation of that process. The  struggle against aviation growth should be as global as the industry itself!

Plane Stupid wants police spies out of our lives!

Crowdjustice appeal launched by social justice campaigner/ Plane Stupid member Tilly Gifford



The Home Office has failed to extend the Undercover Policing Inquiry into Scotland and the Scottish Government has failed to order its own public inquiry into #spycops. I am taking them to Court to make sure an Inquiry is held into Undercover Political Policing in Scotland. 

On 16th July 2015 Theresa May, then Home Secretary, announced a public inquiry into undercover policing. This announcement followed revelations that police officers involved in spying on political campaigners had used the names of dead children to create their new identities. They had long term, intimate relationships with women, fathered children, and in some cases acted as agent provocateurs.

We know that these activities were also carried out in Scotland.

For example,  during the G8 Summit at Gleneagles in 2005 the Metropolitan Police sent undercover police officers across the border.  
In addition, English undercover officers also had intimate relations with a number of women they targeted in Scotland, a repeated human rights violation made by the Metropolitan Police Service that they have publicly apologised for.
Extending the Pitchford Inquiry to Scotland

Despite dozens of activists having been verified as being spied upon in Scotland,[2] the public inquiry into these violations has been limited only to England and to Wales.[3] 

The Home Office failed to extend the Undercover Policing Inquiry into Scotland. The Scottish Government also failed to order its own public inquiry into these issues. As a result, I am taking them to Court to make sure an Inquiry is held.

Through the Pitchford inquiry, communities in Wales and England who have suffered extreme abuses of their Right to Private Life, have the chance to have light shed on such violations carried out by the State. As it stands now, people in Scotland have no such recourse to truth or accountability.

This court case is not just to highlight one person who was spied on, but to highlight the case of hundreds of people who deserve a public inquiry into this abuse of police power in Scotland also. We seek truth and justice.

Targeted as an Informant

In 2009 I was targeted to be an informant. I had been campaigning and working with communities for many years on environmental issues.

There was an attempt by police officers to recruit me through threats and coercion - they detained me, intimidated me and kept the keys to my home. I was asked to spy on behalf of the police. In an on-going “business arrangement”, I was asked to betray my friends, my beliefs and the communities in Scotland we were supporting. In the course of three meetings, police officers indicated that they would give me cash payments in exchange for information. I was lucky in that I was able to record these exchanges and expose the Police and their tactics in the media.  They can be heard on The Guardian website.[4] Mixed with these promises was a threat that if I did not co-operate I might later find myself in jail.

To date we don't know who these people were - they claimed to be from Strathclyde police - although that has since been denied. How long had they been following me? Which official decided that I should be targeted? And on what basis? I, and as yet unknown number of people like me, deserve answers. We deserve the same opportunities for truth, justice and resultant safeguards that is not allowed to happen again.

Through the undercover police stories emerging over the last few years, we've seen just the tip of the state policing which has been put in motion to undermine social movements across the UK. The scope and scale is not fully understood, but we do know that over 1000 campaign groups were spied on. Undercover political policing is targeting trade unionists, socialist parties, justice campaigners, anti-racist activists, and environmentalists.

At a later date I came into contact with Mark Kennedy who was working under the control of the National Police Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU). Police officers from the Metropolitan Police operated in Scotland possibly without the -permission of the Scottish authorities. It is known that Mark Kennedy, who has played a central role in the undercover policing scandal related to Scotland, also violated human rights here. [5]

I got off lightly, I wasn't targeted for a sexual relationship, nor deep friendship, nor trusted relationship. However many people in England, Wales and Scotland were, and we demand to know the truth.

Legal Action – Scotland

On 24th October 2016 the Public Interest Law Unit[6] through solicitors in Scotland launched Judicial Review proceedings against the Home Office and the Scottish government. The proceedings filed in Edinburgh seek to challenge the following:

  1. the decision of the UK Government to refuse to extend the terms of reference of the Undercover Policing Inquiry into undercover policing to cover Scotland; and separately
  2. the decision of the Scottish Ministers to refuse to set up a Scottish Inquiry under and in terms of the Inquiries Act 2005 with terms of reference equivalent to those of the Inquiry but covering Scotland.

Why no Legal Aid?

Despite this being a strong case, with good facts, supported by clear domestic and human rights law, the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) have refused my legal aid application in March 2017.

I hope to initially raise £5,000 in order to take this case forward and to get the Court to grant permission for it to proceed to a full Judicial Review. Please support this case, it is important to me, but is just as important to hundreds of others.

[1] http://news.met.police.uk/news/claimants-in-civil-cases-receive-mps-apology-138574

[2] http://campaignopposingpolicesurveillance.com/tag/scotland/

[3] https://www.ucpi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Terms-of-Reference.pdf

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/uk/audio/2009/apr/24/police-surveillance-intelligence-1 ; https://www.theguardian.com/uk/audio/2009/apr/24/police-surveillance-intelligence-2 ; and https://www.theguardian.com/uk/audio/2009/apr/24/police-surveillance-intelligence-3.


[6] The Public Interest Law Unit is a project that specialises in challenges to decision made by public bodies. It specialises in judicial review, human rights and public inquiries. It is currently representing core participants in the Undercover Policing Inquiry (www.ucpi.org.uk) which has a remit to look at undercover policing in England & Wales.

[7] https://www.holyrood.com/articles/news/michael-matheson-orders-review-undercover-policing-scotland

[8] http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/inquiry-into-undercover-police-actions-in-northern-ireland-moves-step-closer-35430921.html)

Why did Plane Stupid chain themselves to the runway at Stansted Airport?

Reposted from New Internationalist, 29/3/17 (Text by Plane Stupid)
29-02-2017-stansted-action-590.jpg [Related Image]
Activists take action at Stansted airport to stop a mass deportation flight

Last night’s action stopped a mass deportation charter flight from flying to Nigeria and Ghana. Members of Plane Stupid explain why they took part.

Just over a year ago we were convicted for our part in the Heathrow 13 action. We occupied the Northern runway at Heathrow, cancelling 25 flights, saving hundreds of tonnes of carbon dioxide from being emitted and protesting against the construction of the proposed third runway. For this we nearly went to prison.

So, why this move? Why is a well known environmental group now taking action against mass deportations?

Well, as Audre Lourde says, ‘there’s no such thing as a single issue campaign, because we do not live single issue lives.’ We do not see ourselves as ‘environmentalists’, nor do we see the fight against airport expansion or the fight against climate change as isolated from any other issue. Airport expansion is a form of violence and a form of oppression, one that a minority of people will benefit from the profits, whilst countless people will suffer from loss of community and health, both locally and globally.

Video: https://www.facebook.com/lgsmigrants/videos/1888896598046832/

As Black Lives Matter clearly stated back in September, the climate crisis is a racist crisis as it is Black, Brown and Indigenous bodies feel the worst effects of this violence. Oppressions are connected and the different forms it takes often share common roots. These roots include capitalism, racism, hetero-patriarchy and colonialism.

Migration and borders cannot be seen as separate to any of this. As Harsha Walia so eloquently outlines in Undoing Border Imperialism, borders are not mere things, they are part of a process of exploitation and displacement. This is very clear when we consider how different the rules are for corporations. Businesses are free to cross the globe at will, extracting resources, using cheap, or even slave labour, leaving behind environmental disaster, making profit and dodging tax and responsibility along the way. People who happen to have the wrong documents, the wrong nationality or skin tone are violently attacked for trying to cross these borders.

Mass deportations closely link to the ongoing process of colonialism. But so does airport expansion. Just as Heathrow is given a green light to build a new runway and drive climate chaos, corporations like Shell have been free to exploit the oil fields of the Niger Delta for decades. Through this they have caused as much oil spills each year as the Deepwater Horizon disaster, caused a health crisis from water contamination, murdered activists such as Ken Saro Wiwa and also been a major driver of climate chaos.

Yet, when people from this region seek a better life here in the UK, a country that benefits from the cheap oil that Shell provides, they are distrusted about their eligibility if seeking asylum and violently deported on mass. Profit for corporations, environmental destruction, and racist migration and asylum processes are all tied together in a insidious web. As Wretched of the Earth succinctly put it ‘Your Climate Profits Kill’ and they do so in a myriad of ways.

With such intertwined roots, we cannot stop the climate crisis without stopping the processes of colonialism that corporations are engaged in or without stopping the racist deportations that the UK government carries out to facilitate this process. To attempt to do otherwise is blind optimism at best or whitewashed environmentalism at worst.

Of course, there are even more direct links between these issues. There are companies like Tascor and Capita that are directly involved in this violence and direct profit from it. These companies are getting rich, charging vast amounts of money to facilitate this violence. This is a violence that sees people getting their arm broken on transit, a violence that kills people like Jimmy Mubenga. These companies get away with this because they do their work in the shadows. We aimed to shine a light on this process, making them face up to their actions and take responsibility for it.

Above all, however, the main reason we did this was because we were asked to. We have direct contact with people affected by this particular charter flight, who feared for their lives if they were sent to Nigeria and Ghana last night. Acting in solidarity and as allies to these people, we took their lead, as they are the ones most directly affected by this violence. We hope that our action prevented these cases from happening, but also that it acts as a catalyst in the campaign to end charter flights once and for all.

Whilst the world may be turning it’s attention to the racist misogynist in the White House, let’s not forget that our own house is far from in order, that the legacy of colonialism and racism is long lasting and that we need to take action here and now. You can start by signing this petition asking UK Prime Minister Theresa May to stop charter flights and end deportations.


This Decision Is Plane Stupid

Today, against the wishes of people locally, people around the world and against all recommendations based in scientific evidence, the UK government has decided to build a new runway at Heathrow. This is a disastrous decision for the climate and one that we will not allow to become a reality.

A new runway means climate chaos

We've said this so many times before, the UK government has set it's own legally binding climate change targets in the Climate Change Act 2008. At current rates of growth, the aviation sector threatens to take up most of the safe carbon budget by 2030, that's without any new runways. A new runway at Heathrow will emit the same amount of carbon dioxide as the entire country of Kenya, making it impossible for us to meet our climate targets. In Paris last year, the UK government signed up to the COP21 agreement to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees, in the hope of avioiding catastrophe. However, because this agreement was non-binding we knew that this was all just hot air. Now, with new runways being given the go ahead, as well as fracking, what we knew all along has become clear as day. This government will not do what is necessary to prevent climate chaos, therefore it is up to grassroots groups such as us to take direct action and ensure these dangerous projects don't happen.

Climate Change is happening now

The effects of climate change are becoming more and more difficult to ignore. According to the UN 300,000 people are dying each year due to the effects of climate change. This number will only increase if we don't reduce our emissions drastically now. The effects of climate change, however, are being felt disproportionately by those who had least to do with causing the problems. As Black Lives Matter UK highlighted in their City Airport #ShutDown last month, it is Black, Brown and indigenous people who pay the price first and hardest for this climate crisis. Extreme weather events such as Hurricane Matthew which has devastated Haiti are becoming more and more common, and it's countries who, as a result of unfair trade policies that amount to neocolonialism, don't have the resources to mitigate against such events.

Climate change is also one of the drivers of conflicts, such as the civil war in Syria, with millions fleeing as refugees. By 2035 it's predicted there will be 75,000,000 climate refugees. Yet, countries like the UK take little or no responsibility for this, and many who come here looking for sanctuary are locked up in detention centres like Harmondsworth or Colnbrook. The UK is causing the problems by expanding aviation, and then when people affected ask for help they are treated like criminals. As citizens of the UK, it is necessary that we take on the responsibilityour government has refused, and prevent this runway from being built.

Expect Resistance

Local people aren't going to accept this decision. They're sick of the noise and air pollution which is cutting their lives short already and they're not going to take and more. They've told us that they will have to be dragged out of their houses before they give up their homes and their communities, and we'll support them in resisting this runway. As they never tire of reminding us, Heathrow is one of the most famous airports in the world. It's about to get a lot more famous. This will be the biggest battleground in Europe in the fight against climate change. Any business linked to Heathrow, in any way, is a legitimate target. We pledge, out of solidarity with locals and people affected around the world, that we will not let this happen. This runway is undeliverable.

Press Release: Protesters blockade mock runway outside Parliament to oppose airport expansion

Protesters blockade mock runway outside Parliament to oppose airport expansion

For more information, to organise interviews, photos: press@reclaimthepower.org.uk, @reclaimthepower, 07780 014541 & 07873 719446. Photos and footage available here.

Activists have blockaded a mock runway outside Parliament to oppose airport expansion and highlight  the inequality of catastrophic climate impacts on the day a government announcement is expected.

This morning, 40 Activists locked together using ‘arm tubes’ on a mock runway outside Parliament to signal their intent to continue fighting airport expansion. Air traffic controllers with “STOP” paddles lined the runway highlighting the need to stop climate change as well as noise and air pollution. Other campaigners and local residents held a banner reading “Climate Change Kills, No New Runways.”

Shona Kealey spokesperson for Plane Stupid, said,

“Two weeks ago, enough countries agreed to ratify the Paris Agreement for it to come into force. Last week, the government’s climate advisers issued a report saying reducing aviation emissions should be a priority if we’re going to honour the Climate Change Act. And now, with today’s announcement, our government proclaims to the world that we’re a dishonest and unreliable nation who can’t be trusted to keep to our international agreements or even follow our own laws, just as we’re about to renegotiate trade agreements with the whole world.

“Obedience to this government is suicide. If they think we’re going to quietly follow them over the cliff, they’re dreaming.

Speaking for Reclaim the Power, Stephanie Nicholls said,

“We can honour our commitments to tackle climate change, or we can build new runways - we can’t do both. Aviation expansion anywhere is irresponsible, and globally will impact the most on the people who’ve done least to cause the problem. Climate change is already hitting poorer communities in the global south, who are the least likely to ever set foot on a plane.

“When the government won’t follow its own rules, it’s time for normal people to step up and take action. Following today's announcement climate activists, council leaders and local residents will be standing together to make any new runways undeliverable. If the government thinks they can override local opinion, climate science and their own commitments they’ve got another thing coming.”

Throughout the day, local residents and environmental campaigners will be in the Five Bells Pub in Harmondsworth (Harmondsworth High Street, UB7 0AQ) to demonstrate continuing opposition to airport expansion and will be available for interview. Contact: Rob Barnstone, 07806 947050.

Local residents from Gatwick CAGNE (Communities Against Gatwick Noise Emissions) will be meeting at the Plough Inn, Ifield from midday to watch the decision. Contact: Sally Pavey, cagnegatwick@gmail.com, 07831 632537.

We are expecting new direct action network Rising Up to announce escalating direct action against airport expansion following the government announcement. Contact: Simon Bramwell, 07760 556177, lawgoch2008@hotmail.co.uk.

Aviation facts:

  • Flying is the most emissions-intensive form of transport and the fastest growing cause of climate change.

  • Globally, aviation emissions are forecast to balloon by 300% by 2050.

  • A new runway at Heathrow is predicted to increase local noise and air pollution as well as produce an extra 9 Megatonnes of CO2 per year, exceeding the safe limits recommended by the Committee on Climate Change and accelerating devastating climate change.

  • This growth is incompatible with UK climate targets as set out in the Climate Change Act 2008.

  • The International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO), assembled right now in Montreal, has not proposed any plans so far to limit the CO2 emissions from aviation.

  • Globally, flying benefits a privileged few - only 3-7% of people have flown - and even in the UK a 15% minority of the population take 70% of flights. In contrast, the damaging impacts of aviation are experienced by everyone - climate change will affect the entire world population but is hitting some of the poorest, most vulnerable areas (where people do not fly) first and worst.

  • The aviation industry enjoys a number of tax breaks: most substantially there is no duty on aircraft fuel or VAT on tickets, a ‘major anomaly’ according to the World Bank and IMF. This money could be invested in sustainable transport, in improving rail connections around the UK and internationally.

  • A large proportion of Heathrow flights are short haul, these routes could be better, and more sustainably, serviced by improved rail infrastructure. Past experience shows this: since the Eurostar has been running the number of flights from London to Paris and Brussels has fallen dramatically (by nearly half and a third, respectively).

  • If Heathrow expands, it would be responsible for more emissions than any other single site in the UK, including Drax the UK’s largest power station.


  • In July 2015 the Davies Report recommended building a third runway at Heathrow airport.

  • In July 2016 London City airport was given the go-ahead for expansion to accommodate larger aircraft and more traffic.

  • A Cabinet vote on a new runway at a London airport is expected on 25th October; Theresa May announced 29/09 that there was cabinet support for Heathrow.

  • There will then be 12-18 months for consultation before a final decision about expansion.

  • The UN body for the aviation industry met between 26th Sept - 7th Oct this year for the World Aviation Forum, and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Assembly. They agreed on using Carbon Offsets as a voluntary market mechanism to make aviation 'sustainable'; though the agreement ultimately fell short of the ICAO’s own target of a system which ‘offsets’ all future growth in aviation emissions - the agreement is expected to cover 80%.

  • Around the world, international anti-aviation expansion movements took action around the same time: https://reclaimthepower.org.uk/aviation-flashmob-critical-mass/global-actions/

Notes to editor:

The protest was jointly organised by Reclaim the Power, a grassroots direct action network taking action for social and environmental justice, and Plane Stupid, a network of grassroots groups that take non-violent direct action against aviation expansion.

A full statement from Plane Stupid responding to the decision will be available here.

Reclaim the Power’s most recent action was the #StayGrounded “die in” and bike ride at Heathrow earlier this month. Other previous actions include the high profile anti-fracking camp in Balcombe in 2013 and mass occupation of the UK’s largest open-cast coal mine, Ffos-y-fran, earlier in 2016.

Plane Stupid has been taking action against aviation expansion since 2005. They occupied Stansted, East Midlands, Aberdeen and Heathrow airports, shut down easyJet and BAA’s headquarters, stopped private jets at Biggin Hill, London City and Edinburgh airports; sat atop the House of Commons and the Scottish Parliament, supported the Camp for Climate Action at Heathrow, worked with local residents to defend their homes from the bulldozers; exposed a corporate spy and ‘slimed’ Peter Mandelson.


The group made headlines in July 2015 with a blockade of the Northern runway at Heathrow, and the high profile trial of the ‘Heathrow 13’, who narrowly escaped a prison sentence and becoming the first ‘climate prisoners’ in the UK.

Reclaim the Power announce #StayGrounded action will take place at Heathrow

Reclaim the Power have recently announced that the #Staygrounded international day of action against airport expansion will be going to Heathrow Airport on the 1st of October!

There will be two blocs: a flashmob (a family friendly creative action) and a critical mass-style bike ride, both meeting separately around midday.

Exact meeting details will be revealed to those who have pledged to take part in the action on https://compassionate-revolution.net/pledge/lets-stand-together-future-n... - so if you haven't already, make sure you add your email address and join nearly 600 others who have pledged so far.

NOW is the time to tell the aviation industry #StayGrounded in climate science and #StopAirportExpansion !

More info is here: https://reclaimthepower.org.uk/aviation-flashmob-critical-mass/

... please share the Facebook event page too: 

... and together we can make this a truly epic day of global resistance against the social injustice of airport expansion and climate change!