Joe's blog

From the court of the public into the court of the law


CtrlAltShift Blog #4 - Recent campaigns at Heathrow and Aberdeen have seen climate activists learn a new set of skills and take their concerns about aviation emissions to the law courts. Plane Stupid activist Howard Balmer explains why ...

To engage with the court of law does not necessarily represent a strategic departure from engaging "the court of the public", but it can simply add another opportunity to the modern campaigners repertoire. Many actions taken by climate activists over recent years have primarily been seen as attempts to court public opinion through positive media coverage. That's what some people seem to believe anyway...

However, we know from experience that this fickle medium is just as likely to damn you as it is to celebrate your cause. Many activists want nothing to do with this aspect of the public arena and are motivated by a desire to actually reduce emissions through their actions. Shutting down an airport can actually stop the kerosene burning.

The longer an airport stays shut the more significant become the reductions in both carbon and profit for the aviation industry. When faced with the crucial need for immediate climate mitigation this has a very real benefit and is a prime motivator.

If positive media coverage leads to discussion and support then so be it, but this remains additional. Many of us do see to engage with the public arena, but at a grass-roots level; which means sharing skills, resources and experience with communities who share our concerns.

Such direct engagement has proved highly effective in helping to galvanise community campaigns across the UK and with particular significance at Heathrow where the No Third Runway campaign has been part of a broad movement involving Transition Heathrow and HACAN amongst others.

The Grow Heathrow initative has diversified to look at local food production, working with residents to rejuvenate a former-market garden shifting 30 tonnes of rubbish, growing seasonal food and hosting permaculture workshops.

The law courts present a different challenge, but one that we are quite capable of rising to. In March, Lord Justice Carnwath's ruling left the Government's aviation policy in tatters when he pointed out that the decision to build a flagship third runway at Heathrow was outdated and did not take account of the latest developments in climate change policy.

In June, the Climate 9 kept up the momentum in the Scottish courts when defending their decision to shut down Aberdeen airport. These follow the acquittal of the Kingsnorth 6 in 2008 on the grounds that they had a lawful excuse for their actions; namely that they were acting to protect property threatened by climate impacts caused by the burning of coal.

I cannot see that court appearances will ever be an activists main aim; after all, legal proceedings require that you don a suit or posh frock and may have to pay a hefty fine or serve time. However we are prepared to engage with whoever we must in order to create sustainable alternatives to greed of the fossil fuel culture.

Air Tattoo drops charitable status logo from website

Following the recent protest and complaints to the charities commission calling for an end to the Fairford Air Tattoo's Charitable status, the Air Tattoo has now dropped the "working to support RAF Charitable Trust" logo from it's website.

In a recent blog we highlighted the major issues and controversy surrounding the Fairford Air Tattoo event and a week on, it has been revealed that the logo on the Air Tattoo website has now been dropped.

This is an admission on their side that they should never have been operating as a charity. Up to now, they have always played the charity hand in all their advertising, with the implication that if you buy a ticket you are contributing to a worthy cause. It is therefore clear that they have been fraudulently trading.

The Fairford Air Tattoo accounts show only 0.3% of their sales go to helping injured service personnel, and for an event that is so environmentally unsustainable, for it to be branded a charity, it is outright wrong.

Manchester airport protestors appear in Magistrates court

Six Manchester residents from the group Manchester Plane Stupid pleaded not guilty to their charge of aggravated trespass. They claim that in the light of Manchester airports contribution to runaway climate change, it was the necessary action to take. The trial will take place on Feburary 21st 2011 and will be the first climate change trial of its kind in Manchester, where expert scientists from around the world will defend the six against the polluting activities of Manchester airport.

On 24th May 2010, the six heroes created a human circle around a stationary plane in order to keep it grounded - using arm tube lock-ons. The six were challenging the World Freight Terminal expansion plans which will involve the demolition of historic homes on Hasty Lane.

Manchester airport faces increased scrutiny for wanting to increase airport capacity, whilst aviation expansion continues to be incompatible with climate change targets across the UK. Following the groundbreaking decisions to stop expansion at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports, the aviation industry is now looking to regional airports such as Manchester to increase profits. The environmental and social impact of Manchester airport will further be in the spotlight during the trial as all the local councillors around the airport had their unanimous objection to expansion overturned by the Manchester Council Planning Committee in November 2009.

Penny Woodson from local campaign group Manchester Climate Action said:

"Despite the threat of climate change, Manchester Airport wants to demolish local people's homes to expand flight numbers and increase emissions. The public are facing VAT rises this January yet the aviation industry pays no VAT at all. With all these injustices stacking up, direct action is necessary."

Another group who simultaneously used tripods to blockade the World Freight Terminal, preventing airfreighted goods from being taken in and out, have been charged with obstruction of the highway. Those defendants have already pleaded guilty and will stand trial on December 6th 2010.

A call to end the Fairford Air Tattoo's charitable status

A big campaign against the Fairford Air Tattoo's RAF charitable status has just formed. The Fairford Air Tattoo is one of the largest air shows in the world and each year tonnes and tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions are created by the event, polluting the atmosphere in a major way. And for what - a bit of entertainment?

A new campaign group called The Royal Internation Air Tattoo - No Thanks (RIAT-NT) has formed to campaign against one of the most unsustainable events of the year in Britain. The Fairford Air Tattoo is one of the largest air shows there is with over 155,000 tickets sold last year. A lot of those tickets went to people who then flew over to watch the flying show. The event is extremely controversial in the Gloucesterchire region and is deeply resented by many local people. It also makes a complete mockery of personal sacrifices being made at a local level due to individuals concerns about climate change.

As well as the climate impacts there is also the question over the validity of encouraging youngsters into aviation. The charitable trust's website states that "at the heart of the trust is it's commitment to young people, to initiate and develop within them an enthusiasm for aviation and all it's guises." Young people face a bleak future as a consequence of runaway climate change and will have to learn how to live in a low carbon future. Being sucked into becoming the new generation to push the aviation agenda is definetly not the right step.

Financially the aviation industry is highly subsidized compared to other industries. It receives £9 billion annually in fuel tax exemptions and there is also no VAT on ticket sales. Charitable support is definetly not needed.

To find out more check out:

To sign the petition go to:

Welfare cuts for the majority, more flights for the minority

Birmingham and Solihull councils have a month to decide whether to give the go ahead to Birminham Airports runway extension plans. To extend the runway, the plans are going to have to include the £32 million realignment of the A45, money in which the airport is relying on from the council. Both councils have until the 28th October to make a decision about whether to put this money in or not.

This is why they should NOT put the money in:

  • With a looming climate catastrophe ahead of us, and while most other industries and individuals are trying to make cuts in emissions, it is not just for the aviation industy to continue down the road of expansion.
  • Social welfare is being sacrificed on the god of corporate welfare - if the council decide to put the £32 million in towards the airport expanding, the money will come at an expense to services like local public transport, schools and social services.
  • The aviation industry continues to state they are simply responding to demand - this is clearly not true as we see adverts for cheap flights everywhere we go these days. Also, if people stopped flying on unnecessary flights domestically, ie from London to Manchester and London to Birmingham then we would straight away see a reduction in air passengers.
  • The increased noise impacts - there are many estates close to the airport which already suffer from the noise. An increase in air traffic is only going to make this worse.
  • Pollution levels - pollution levels are already really bad in areas around the airport, an increase in flights will add more kerosene and diesel into the air in the surrounding areas, making it an even more unpleasant place to live.