Recently, I was featured in The Independent’s ‘Green Issue’. I was nominated in the ‘Campaigner’ section as a result of the work I’ve been doing with Transition Heathrow, opposing the proposed third runway development. (She won - Ed.)
I was honoured to be put forward, of course, but it did bring home to me one of the massive problems the environmental movement is currently contending with. The perpetual search for a “saviour” to prevent us hurtling head on towards catastrophic climate change is not only doomed to failure but is, I believe, downright dangerous.
Focusing on one person can make everyone else feel like their contribution doesn't count. That they might as well not bother, because someone else has it covered. Away from the limelight, countless others work and strive just as hard, but are overlooked in favour of the obsessive celebritising of an individual and their efforts. This damages our movement twice over. First, it disempowers all those other people and devalues the extraordinary efforts they make. And second, it wholeheartedly fails to recognise the collective actions required from all to overcome the systemic problems we’re facing.
This focus on individuals is nothing new. Whether by their own attention seeking or through the focus of the media-friendly human interest stories, history’s narratives have always favoured names. But the real stories of social change are stories of mass movements. Emelline Pankhurst did not achieve universal suffrage single-handedly, just as Nelson Mandela didn’t cause the breakdown of apartheid on his efforts alone. Likewise, for the five Plane Stupid activists atop the Houses of Parliament or the fifty on Stansted’s runway, there were many others who, though less visible, were essential to facilitating their actions.
Maybe it is the focus of the mainstream media on individuals that neglects the true story? Or perhaps it’s individuals, furthering themselves as a result of an earnest desire to promote the agenda of our cause? For a movement that espouses the ideas of direct democracy and uses consensus-decision making to ensure that everyone has an equal voice, however, this perpetual focus on individual “celebrities” is counter to the very ethos we hold so dear.
To have any hope of a better future for ourselves and coming generations, we need to be ploughing our energy into building a movement that includes everyone, and addresses all the urgent issues confronting us. Rather than relying on big name leaders, we all have a part to play: not just activists or environmentalists, but each and every one of us.
As the activist and author Rebecca Solnit argues in her book Hope in the Dark ‘Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope… Anything could happen, and whether we act or not has everything to do with it’. We need to be confronting economic inequality and challenging social injustice worldwide, and we need to be doing this collectively.
This need not seem like an insurmountable task. It starts on a local scale. On land the government wants to see under tarmac as a third runway for Heathrow airport, a small group of us have been living in a former market garden which had been left abandoned since cheap imports made local food production uneconomic. Rather than the site of one of the world’s most polluting industries expansion, we along with many local people want Sipson, Harlington and Hamondsworth to be a model of what a low impact and socially responsible future might look like.
In whatever ways we can, we should be coming together to raise consciousness and take action. Bringing together different disciplines and developing strategies that work in our communities is central to our empowering of each other on common ground between environmental justice, race, class and gender.
By striving toward a future that embraces the 'we' rather than the 'me', that celebrates community not celebrity, that really empowers people, we would be building a movement that is actually sustainable, that actually has a hope of confronting some of these issues, and that actually has a chance of winning.
Would you like to give this man the shirt off your back?
BA's Willie Walsh and the other airline bosses want us to bail them out. Possibly to the tune of £20 million for every day of disruption. That's £100 million so far. For an industry that has never paid tax.
They're applying to the EU and national governments, who have apparently already approved a working group on the issue, thought they've generously said that the "European Solidarity Fund" would be the most likely source of support.
At least the banks only screwed over our economy: the airlines are busy screwing over our future and yet when God acts, who do they expect to fork out? Maybe all those teachers who are about to be made redundant, and those patients in wards that are about to close, should try and engineer an earthquake to secure their jobs?
Propping up a sector which is condemning us to runaway climate change would be obscene even if we had the resources to do it. But we don't have the resources to do it, and any government even contemplating giving money to BA & Co. is declaring war on the electorate and public services.
The idea is so mind-bogglingly-laughably-off-the-scale-insane that we can barely believe it's not already been dismissed. Lets be clear about this - We Are Not Happy. We suspect that a lot of other people that have never even thought about aviation before will be quite annoyed too.
Life's full of blissful little ironies. We've plotted and plotted and plotted to ground the aviation industry, only to be pipped to the post by nature. Which is funny when our understanding was that aviation was supposed to wreck the environment, not the environment wreck aviation.
One of the most striking impacts of the last few days without air travel is that not only is the UK much more peaceful with so many stag parties stuck in Prague, but day to day life seems to be carrying on. In fact, huge swathes of people across the country are being treated to a taster of a much better quality of life (although Tesco's is almost out of pre-packed pineapple chunks - oh, the humanity!).
It turns out the UK is actually rather a pleasant place to be when there's not a constant drone of aircraft overhead. Thousands of residents living under the flightpath have suddenly been blessed with a taste of life without being woken up at 4.30am on a daily basis by aeroplanes thundering overhead. Perhaps if we weren't tormented by high levels of noise and air pollution on a daily basis, fewer people would feel the desire to board a plane to leave the country for a break.
We're constantly preached at by the aviation industry about the essential nature of air travel. Like the 'essential' cargo flights from Nottingham East Midlands Airport to transport goods which are now being transported... wait for it... OVERLAND. According to a UPS delivery spokesperson, European roads are actually "very drivable".
So, Eyjafjallajokull, you may have an unpronounceable name and an odd smell, but nonetheless we thank you for giving us a brief glimpse of life without planes. And for demonstrating that, despite what the aviation industry would like to have us believe, a world without air travel could well be a very happy place indeed.
It's official. Newham council is crap. Last year, Newham gave the go-ahead to a massive increase in the number of flights at London City Airport, a decision which was given the green light by London Mayor, Boris Johnson. This decision recently earned Johnson the 2010 award for worst planning decision and Newham Council is in the proverbial dodo.
Not only have local campaigners Fight the Flights launched a High Court challenge against the council’s expansion decision but now the Greater London Authority’s environmental committee is holding a public debate and review of the impact that expansion would have.
This is where you come in. The committee want all of us to tell them why Newham's decision to allow City to expand sucks. So, while City Airport flights spew out greenhouse gasses and deafen East London residents in order to fly fat bankers around, here's a summary of why you might want to tell the GLA that expansion at City flies in the face of common sense.
Climate change. Yes, we'll keep saying it until we're blue in the face. No matter what industry would like to have us believe, there's no way we can keep expanding air travel all over the UK and reduce our carbon emissions: high carbon industry is incompatible with a low carbon society. Period.
It’s probably unlawful. Just last week, Lord Justice Carnwath ruled that the decision to expand Heathrow Airport must be reviewed (and hopefully scrapped) in the light of the 2008 Climate Change Act. Following the same logic, this ruling for Heathrow should also stand for City Airport.
Local noise and air pollution. Newham already has above average levels of child mortality, asthma, cancer and respiratory illness. More jets will mean more local air pollution for Newham and East London residents. The airport has also persistently failed to monitor noise pollution levels: since 1999 their noise readings have been based on estimates. How convenient.
Newham council is well dodgy. The relationship between the head of London City and Newham Council is a bit too close for comfort. Conflicts of interest are rife. Newham council didn't bother to consult on the expansion with... well, anyone.
The consultation was a con. Newham claimed to have sent out 10,000 letters to local residents (apparently the opinions of the other people in the borough didn't count), but many residents received up to 6 letters at a time, with many others receiving nothing.
No consultation in neighbouring boroughs. None of the other East London boroughs were consulted, despite the fact that changes in flightpaths from the airport are already blighting the lives of thousands of East London residents.
Unfortunately, as with so many political decision-making processes, we have to spell out the obvious and make sure Newham council are held to account. Normally we encourage people to take direct action to achieve this. On this occasion, the GLA enquiry is important enough to support. So get in touch with them now and tell them why you think City airport shouldn't be allowed to increase its flights.
4 men and 1 woman were arrested and charged on Wednesday 31st March for speaking in public about the climate effects of aviation at the reopening of Glasgow Airport Terminal 2. The group from Stop Expansion at Scottish Airports (SESA), including a legal observer and two photographers, were leaving the airport after holding a banner for a photograph outside Terminal 1 when a police van and police car pulled up and arrested 4 of the group.
Late into the night, riot police later went to the homes of the arrested without warrants. On Thursday the 5 were charged with obstructing normal airport business. All of the accused deny the charges. The group believes that those arrested were targetted because SESA is calling for a public non-violent peaceful protest at the airport on October 10.
Amelia Birrell, had riot police at her door after midnight saying that they wanted to question her son, Robbie. She said: "I think that this justice system is a joke when it locks up peaceful individuals until 6pm the next day when they are talking about such serious measures as climate change. We were made to feel like criminals when riot police searched around the whole of our house in the middle of the night. I know that the airport is a sensitive place but they are all passionate individuals worried about the future of our country and they were doing nothing to cause any disturbance. I am proud of my son, we are supposed to have freedom of speech in this country and such heavy handed policing is disproportionate and hypocritical."
This is not the first time that Scottish anti-airport expansion campaigners have been subject to heavy-handed policing tactics. In January 2009 Geoff Lamb, a pensioner from Aberdeen was been held in a cell overnight for innocently writing 'you fly, we die' in the snow in food dye. Later in 2009, Plane Stupid exposed a massive police operation to bribe and infiltrate peaceful protest groups.
The disproportionate tactics we have seen by Strathclyde police mirror those infamously used by the Metropolitan police. Arrested for voicing concerns about the aviation industry’s massive and growing contribution to climate change? Who are the real criminals here?