"More scared of climate change than jail": Plane Stupid shuts down Stansted

Posted by jossc - 8 December 2008 at 1:13pm - Comments

Plane Stupid activists occupy Stansted's only runway and effectively shut the airport down

'Please DO something' - Plane Stupid send a message to the government

My favourite climate protesters Plane Stupid struck again this morning when they shut down Stansted, London's third airport.

Taking advantage of a temporary maintenance closure in the small hours of the morning, they set up a camp on the runway. Wearing high visibility vests with the message, "Please DO something", and raising a banner which read 'Climate Emergency', they barricaded themselves with fortified security fencing. The blockade led to 56 Ryanair short-haul flights being cancelled, and the eventual arrest of over fifty young climate activists. Oh, and prevented the release of thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere in the process - the average flight out of Stansted has a climate impact equivalent to 41.58 tonnes of CO2.

Listening to the news coverage of this story really brought home to me how schizophrenic our national attitude to climate change is. Yes, apparently as a nation we pretty much all agree that something MUST be done - but when anyone actually does anything people are up in arms about the infringement of their rights. In this case, among the passengers inconvenienced were a woman on her way to her second home in France (who helpfully told a Press Association interviewer that it was only cheap flights which made her second home viable) and another on a day's shopping trip to Bremen "for a girly day out".

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But they are simply taking their cues about what it is acceptable to do (such as flying out to a second home or a Christmas market) from society. Which is why the signals the government sends out are so important. Currently aviation is the fastest growing contributor to climate change, and flights from Gatwick, Stansted and Heathrow criss-cross London's skies continually. Much of this is unnecessary short-haul traffic. Yet not only is the government are doing nothing about it, they're actually pushing for a massive increase in air travel. And aviation is very lightly taxed - no VAT is paid on flights, or fuel. In fact, overall the aviation industry is subsidised by taxpayers to the tune of £9 billion.

Why is it a special case? Why don't we pay the true costs of flying? The government implies that aviation expansion is essential to keep our economy growing, but projected figures for the Stansted expansion indicate that it will actually take more money out of the economy than it will bring in - and there is already a £15 billion annual deficit in aviation tourism – that's the difference between the amount of money spent abroad by Britons flying out of the UK (£26 billion) and the amount visitors to the UK spend here (£11 billion).

When the best available climate science predicts that we have less than a hundred months to get a grip on climate change before it spins out of control, government dithering and inaction is not an option. We need leadership on this, the most important issue of our generation, and we need it now. And if they are not up to it, somebody else has to. Read this comment from Plane Stupid activist Tilly, aged 21:

"We all grew up listening to Blair and Brown talking about the urgent need to slash emissions, but nothing ever happened. Even now politicians from our parents' generation are in Poland holding talks about talks, but still nobody's actually doing anything. The scientists tell us we've got about seven years to make emissions peak then drop, and if we fail it will be the people on this runway, and our children, who'll live with the consequences. That's why I'm doing this."

And Lily, another 21 year old involved in the Stansted protest, said

"We're here because our parents' generation has failed us and its now down to young people to stop climate change by whatever peaceful means we have left. We're afraid of what the police might do to us, we're afraid of going to jail but nothing scares us as much as the threat of runaway climate change. We've thought through the consequences of what we're doing here but we're determined to stop as many tonnes of CO2 as we can."

Hats off to you both - it's a brave and noble thing you're doing. Climate change secretary Ed Miliband recently called for a Suffragette-style movement to pressure governments to act. It looks like he got his wish. And let's not forget that while the Suffragettes were disruptive and lambasted by the establishment of the day, they have been utterly vindicated by history. No doubt it will be the same with Plane Stupid.

I can't help but get a more than a little angered at all the disruption that this protest has caused. While I appreciate the fact that climate change is a global emergency, I think that disrupting people's travel plans and generally causing chaos is NOT the way to go about getting people to act.

I am aware that it is not Greenpeace who have caused all the bother at Stansted, but I certainly take a strong dislike to this kind of demonstration. After all, some other environmental groups (i.e. Transition Towns) have managed to make a real (albeit local-scale) difference, without resorting to hacking off hundreds of people.

P.S. You might want to let Plane Stupid in on this proverb:

"You can never change things by fighting the existing reality. To make a difference you need to make a new model that makes the existing one obsolete."

I thoroughly disagree with TransitionEggman's comments. I am involved with my local transition town but also consult environmentally for everything from the commercial sector to local councils and county council's so my change and push for alleviating climate change is coming from all angles.

All I see is that despite any change I make at local or regional level it is immediately crushed by national or international policy being too weak and giving out the wrong message as this article explains (expansion of airports or allowance of a new coal burning power station in Kent that is not even going to be using the highest levels of clean burn technology!).

I will continue my work but regularly feel it is in vain. There is a dire need for these more active protests causing disruption as my approach and position within the movement is simply not making any impact on people like the lady who is flying out on a shopping trip or to visit a second home many times a year.

Keep up the good work Plane Stupid and may your ranks swell and expose the government of its weakness to actually govern.

Surely changing national policy through making eco-policies electable is a better approach than lobbying? I recognize that there is an urgent need to raise awareness, but as I have said before, all I feel that this kind of campaigning is doing is turning people away from environmental groups which is the last thing we need at this point in history.

I disagree with your view on local-scale actions being futile. Local-scale Transition Town groups, while seeming insignificant on their own, are part of a global movement which is more than capable of "pulling the rug" from under governments and global corporations alike. For the record, there are Transition Towns in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Austrailia, Canada, the USA, Germany, Chile, Italy, The Netherlands, Japan and New Zealand.

While it may be possible to use disruptive campaigning
to motivate people into action, it is far easier to use optimism and multi-level campaigning (That is answerable to the community it serves.) to make a difference.

Keep going at your work with Transition Towns, it may well be worth it in the end.

I can't help but get a more than a little angered at all the disruption that this protest has caused. While I appreciate the fact that climate change is a global emergency, I think that disrupting people's travel plans and generally causing chaos is NOT the way to go about getting people to act. I am aware that it is not Greenpeace who have caused all the bother at Stansted, but I certainly take a strong dislike to this kind of demonstration. After all, some other environmental groups (i.e. Transition Towns) have managed to make a real (albeit local-scale) difference, without resorting to hacking off hundreds of people. P.S. You might want to let Plane Stupid in on this proverb: "You can never change things by fighting the existing reality. To make a difference you need to make a new model that makes the existing one obsolete."

I thoroughly disagree with TransitionEggman's comments. I am involved with my local transition town but also consult environmentally for everything from the commercial sector to local councils and county council's so my change and push for alleviating climate change is coming from all angles. All I see is that despite any change I make at local or regional level it is immediately crushed by national or international policy being too weak and giving out the wrong message as this article explains (expansion of airports or allowance of a new coal burning power station in Kent that is not even going to be using the highest levels of clean burn technology!). I will continue my work but regularly feel it is in vain. There is a dire need for these more active protests causing disruption as my approach and position within the movement is simply not making any impact on people like the lady who is flying out on a shopping trip or to visit a second home many times a year. Keep up the good work Plane Stupid and may your ranks swell and expose the government of its weakness to actually govern.

Surely changing national policy through making eco-policies electable is a better approach than lobbying? I recognize that there is an urgent need to raise awareness, but as I have said before, all I feel that this kind of campaigning is doing is turning people away from environmental groups which is the last thing we need at this point in history. I disagree with your view on local-scale actions being futile. Local-scale Transition Town groups, while seeming insignificant on their own, are part of a global movement which is more than capable of "pulling the rug" from under governments and global corporations alike. For the record, there are Transition Towns in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Austrailia, Canada, the USA, Germany, Chile, Italy, The Netherlands, Japan and New Zealand. While it may be possible to use disruptive campaigning to motivate people into action, it is far easier to use optimism and multi-level campaigning (That is answerable to the community it serves.) to make a difference. Keep going at your work with Transition Towns, it may well be worth it in the end.

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