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.
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.
By Paula Bayer, supporter I've got to admit I was dreading today, with more Plane Stupid activists up for sentencing by the same district judge who promised prison to the runway blockaders. It's a relief that the 'tunnel trio' were charged with a fine-only offence and got off today with just an order to pay £305 each. Then we went to the pub and relaxed. It was definitely a better result than seeing activists sentenced to an "almost inevitable" trip to Wormwood Scrubs and Holloway!
The 3 Plane Stupid activists had blockaded the main road entrance to Heathrow on Thursday 26 November 2015 for - the Court heard - 4 hours and 29 minutes. The maximum sentence for infringing a Heathrow airport byelaw that prohibits blocking the road is a fine of £2500. They were each fined £200 (a third reduction on £300 for a guilty plea), plus £85 prosecution costs and a £20 victim surcharge. The judge remarked that the Prosecution's low application for costs was more "generous" to the defendants than it could have been. The judge explained that she gave below the maximum fine as she had to take into account their income and ability to pay. Only one of the three activists had a previous conviction.
In a short court session lasting under an hour, in one of her few remarks the judge told the tunnel blockaders that their action was not effective because the runway occupation had already done the job successfully. Two months ago, she had asked at least three of the runway blockaders why they had chosen an ineffective runway occupation when more emissions are caused by other modes of transport and she felt it would have been more effective to block a road - specifically, she told them, the M25. It seems she just can't decide which Plane Stupid blockade she loves best - blockading a tunnel or a runway! Well, have both until the government lives up to its climate promises and duty of care.
The day began with a laid back and fun gathering outside Uxbridge Magistrates Court. The cops weren't there, but did later turn up to be given some buttercups by a local supporter. They put them in the office. The trio read a brilliant statement outside court. After a loud cheer, they went in.
There were 28 seats in the public gallery but we had been told that only 13 of us were allowed in. Along with one member of the public who wasn't a supporter watching, there were 14 empty seats despite there being about 20 supporters still outside. One of us mentioned this to the court staff, asking for more of us to be let in, but we were told, "The court sets the number of seats. It's been arranged beforehand. It's not our decision." One then added, "We've got to keep this under control." I wonder if they're worried there'll be a repeat of the last trial's terrible cheering of the activists, but in reality it wasn't really a problem as most of the other supporters were happy being outside in the sun.
We showed our switched off phones to police as we entered the gallery, this being on the orders of the judge. Bizarrely, the judge's first comment as she entered the court at 10.55 was that she had received "intelligence that some of you were intending to record the proceedings. I'm sure you've all turned your phones off and are aware that any electronic recording would be an offence."
Well the judge may (or may not) find court sessions fun to relive again and again, but I can promise you that we're sticking to Breaking Bad or David Attenborough if we want to watch an old recording. Even Channel 5 would be more fun to watch than a recording of court.
The defendants gave guilty pleas. The defence barrister then read a statement from the defendants:
"On the day that Parliament was debating new runways at Heathrow and a week ahead of the UN Paris climate summit, we wanted to take action which could not be as easily ignored as many campaigns have been in the past.
We believe that those working in defence of local communities, climate refugees and the environment must speak up for those who do not have a platform for their voices.
For most of us, all we will gain from new runways is dirtier air, more noise and more floods due to climate chaos. There are more than enough runways for people who take one holiday a year; demand for airport expansion only comes from a minority of frequent leisure flyers. This 15% of British people take 70% of our flights, often to second homes abroad and they have a high income.
While the huge business entity that is Heathrow spends tens of millions advertising its plans for expansion, where are the voices of the locals whose lives will be entirely uprooted or the climate refugees who are forced to migrate as global warming increases drought? This is an issue of class: a familiar story of a rich and powerful elite trampling over the livelihoods of those lacking power.
Plans for new runways at Heathrow have been found "untenable in law and common sense" in a 2010 High Court judicial review because they contradict the Climate Change Act 2008.
Our sole intention was to draw media attention to the issue."
The judge retired to examine the means forms and returned at 11.15.
On passing sentence, she remarked:
"I acknowledge that each of you was protesting about an issue that you care about passionately, on the day Parliament was debating that issue."
Noting the defendant's submission that the purpose of their action was media attention, she continued with that remark - easily the most absurd today - praising the effectiveness of the runway blockaders she had planned to imprison:
"However, there had been another protest earlier that year that had already drawn significant media attention to the issue. It was difficult to see what your action achieved over and above that already achieved."
She settled on a pronounced sarcastic tone for the last word of her remark: "your character witnesses speak of your compassion and kindness."
"Your action showed a spectacular lack of consideration. Those flying may not have just been a rich caucus of people who travel frequently."
And it was all over by 10.20.
Media coverage of today's trial has given very little space to the issue of climate change, so I will here. It is why we are forced to take disruptive action. It is science.
Most of us will have seen the harrowing images of Syrian refugees such as the toddler Alan Kurdi, whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey last year. There have been many of these tragedies. Over 4 million Syrians have become refugees.
We know that climate change means that more families become refugees. Although climate change is only one factor among many, these could be the individual stories of some of an estimated 75 million people forced to leave their homes by 2035 due to climate change, which brings increased floods, drought and extreme weather.
There is no planet B. We must welcome refugees because no matter where borders lie, no human is illegal. Those of us who are able to act to prevent runaway climate chaos should know that we are responsible. We are complicit in the actions of our governments if we sit by.
For many of us, it is difficult to erase the photograph of Alan Kurdi from our minds. Let it remind us of the human cost of doing nothing when we could have done something.
As we prepare ourselves for the likelihood of an unusually harsh sentence on February 24th - the Judge told us to prepare for prison, and implied it could be the maximum of 3 months - we sit reeling from the institutional failure of the legal system to address the biggest and deadliest problem of our time.
A guilty verdict may have been a forgone conclusion in the eyes of the law, but today has been an extraordinary day for climate change activists the world over.
The issue of climate change, its connection to the aviation industry, and its resultant massive loss of life have not once been disputed in the proceedings of the trial. In her closing remarks, Judge Wright said: “There can be no doubt that the defendants are very committed to tackling the problems of climate change and that they acted as they did on the 13th July in what they genuinely believed was in the best interests of the public and society as a whole”. She called us “principled” and “passionate” people.She accepted that climate change was a problem and that we were doing what we could to stop carbon emissions.
This acceptance, however, appears to have had no bearing whatsoever on the verdict we have received, and the sentencing we now face. After warning us to prepare for prison, the judge said 'I cannot think of a more serious case of aggravated trespass', implying that she may give the maximum, which is 3 months inside for our charge (aggravated trespass). If we had been taken to court for more serious charges (eg, public nuisance, which we arrested for), we could have had a trial by jury. Unlike judges, juries have previously found people not guilty for similar actions.
With his opening statement this morning, the prosecution lawyer attempted to paint us as crusaders against democracy, taking the law into our own hands and seeking a defence based on “criminal self-help” rather than necessity.His summation ran into the following confusing circularity: “sober and reasonable people don’t break the law”, and “it is my job to decide whether a sober and reasonable person would have broken the law in these circumstances.”Well, no surprises then when he decided that they wouldn’t have. But that was a forgone conclusion. A system that defines reasonableness as following the law can’t acknowledge the possibility of a reasonable breach.
Defence lawyer, Mr Greenhall, put it well when he said (I paraphrase):
Suppose our small group had just learned that Chernobyl was about explode, Madam, and had tried to do something to prevent the inevitable and catastrophic impact on human life.Suppose our group felt compelled to act, and that they decided to chain themselves to the reactor in an attempt to physically prevent further leakage and future explosion.This group would have had both the support of the public, in whose interest they were acting, and also the support of the law. Even if the deaths from Chernobyl were somewhat removed in both space and time; even if they could not name the people who would be affected; even if the group had waved banners warning about the dangers of future expansion of the plant, the necessity defence would have been open to them, and they would have won. Their actions would be reasonable to prevent loss of life. The #Heathrow13 find themselves in a very similar situation. And this is the defence that should prevail today.
Unfortunately, it has not prevailed.
When Lawyer Mr Chada ended his statement with some words from Robert Kennedy, the Judge was still to announce her decision.
“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and, daring those ripples, build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
These words feel all the more powerful now the verdict has been made.
Climate change has already claimed many lives, and it is the continued negligence of governance that forces citizens to act in their stead. We are not hooligans. We are not heroes. We are ordinary people who acted against the letter of the law in the face of complete failure of the authorities to act in the service of what we, and many, many others, know to be the major issue we face today.
On Monday the 18th, 13 Plane Stupid activists stand trial in Wilsden Magistrates Court for occupying the Northern Runway at Heathrow in July 2015. All 13 have pleaded not guilty to the charges of aggravated trespass and being in a restricted zone. Their defence is based on necessity, that their actions were reasonable and justified in the face of climate chaos, which causes death and serious injury. Full details of the trial can be found here. Ultimately, climate defence is not an offence!
Responding to our call out, groups from around the UK and the world have been sending solidarity messages and pictures to show their support. Here is a selection of what we've received so far:
Official support from the Green party via Twitter
International support from the Northern Forest Defence in Turkey, who are fighting a 3rd Airport in Istanbul, which would devastate remaining forests.
More international solidarity from France, where the fantastic ZAD (Zones to Defend) movement have been fighting various forms of destructive industry for years. Most notably, the ZAD in Notre Dame des Landes is the largest land occupation in Europe, a giant cousin to the UK's Grow Heathrow. Together we say 'No airport expansion anywhere!'
The main road entrance to Heathrow airport has been blocked by climate change activists since 7.40 this morning. Three members of anti-airport expansion campaign group Plane Stupid parked a vehicle across both lanes of the entrance tunnel and locked their bodies to it, unfurling a banner quoting David Cameron's election promise: “No Ifs, No Buts: No Third Runway”. David Cameron has promised a decision by the end of the year on whether to build another runway at Heathrow.
Local resident Neil Keveren, a builder whose village, Harmondsworth, would be bulldozed for the third runway, arrived later at the tunnel. He was fined after blocking the same tunnel with his van on 2nd July. He said, “No one wants to do this. They feel they have to. People feel they have no choice. After we campaigned for years, David Cameron was elected promising 'no ifs, no buts: no third runway'. In 2010 the High Court ruled third runwayplans “untenable in law and common sense” because they breached the Climate Change Act. Now Cameron might just build it anyway. We have tried every other option. We have been forced to be disobedient just to be heard. To save our homes and our planet.”
Plane Stupid spokesperson Cameron Kaye said, “Airport expansion would wreck the legally binding Climate Change Act, risking wiping out 55% of species this century and displacing 75 million more people from their homes by 2035. if aviation growth isn't reduced, by 2037 aviation alone could emit all of the carbon it's safe for the UK to emit. The government needs to choose: build new runways or stop climate chaos: it's that simple.
“There is already airport capacity for families taking their yearly holiday. New runways only benefit the 15% of flyers who take 70% of our flights, cooking our planet. These are rich frequent leisure flyers. The most reliable predictors of frequent flyer status are a household income over £115,000 and owning a second home abroad, but it's the poorest people who suffer most from climate change.”
On 13th July Plane Stupid blocked Heathrow's North runway, reportedly causing 22 flights to be cancelled and hundreds delayed.
Plane Stupid would like to thank all of the signatories to the letter below, sent to the Crown Prosecution Service on Friday 9th of October, 2015.
We are deeply grateful and appreciative of all the support we have received - from the signatories, from Heathrow’s local residents and from other groups campaigning for David Cameron to keep his promise. No ifs, no buts, no new runways, anywhere.
Open Letter to the Crown Prosecution Service
In July a group of climate activists with anti airport expansion group Plane Stupid took peaceful direct action at Heathrow Airport. They have been charged with aggravated trespass and being in a restricted area of the airport without permission.
The Plane Stupid action, which came just weeks after the recommendation by the Airports Commission to build a new runway at Heathrow, highlighted the importance of considering climate change in the context of any discussion about the future of the aviation industry.
The science tells us that deep cuts are required from existing levels of greenhouse gas emissions to tackle climate change, but successive governments, including the present one, have failed to act appropriately. A new runway, and the many thousands of extra flights it would allow, would make the necessary cuts far more difficult to achieve.
Against this background, with the failure of the democratic process, the actions of the Plane Stupid activists were reasonable, justifiable and honorable. We, the undersigned, call upon the CPS to drop the charges against the activists in the public interest – we should be congratulating them for the defending the planet, not prosecuting them.
John McDonnell MP (Shadow Chancellor)
Natalie Bennett (Leader of the Greens)
Caroline Lucas MP
Michael Mansfield QC (Human rights lawyer)
Rajiv Menon QC (Human rights lawyer)
Nnimmo Bassey (Leading African environmentalist, Winner of Right Livelihood Award)
Yesterday, we - the 13 Plane Stupid activists who occupied the northern runway of Heathrow Airport for over six hours on 13th July - had our hearing at Uxbridge Magistrates Court. All 13 of us pleaded not guilty to both charges brought against each of us, and are now set to have a full two week trial, commencing on Monday 18th January 2016.
We arrived at court in the morning to be greeted by a whole array of media journalists, as well as a sea of supporters, including local residents and campaigners from grassroots groups and NGO’s, elected representatives of political parties, and even a handful of polar bears! We would all like to sincerely thank all those who were able to come to the court to support us, as well as those who have shown their support from afar. It’s touching to feel so supported by so many people, for taking the action that we have. Thank you all; your invaluable support means so much.
Needless to say, starting the day with polar bears, friends and supporters fuelled us with hope and joy for the day to come. We were always aware that this hearing was going to be relatively simple; mainly an opportunity for us defendants to receive the prosecution’s case against us (although this didn’t actually materialize in the end) and for each of us to enter our pleas. And our amazing lawyers from Bindman’s and Hodge, Jones & Allen walked us though the process and made sure we were supported thought the day.
Last time this runway was defeated, climate change was at the core of the argument. Local campaigns such as HACAN, Stop Heathrow Expansion and NOTAG have been fighting aviation expansion for years and, whilst winning some concessions, Heathrow continues to lie to the public, and the Government continues to ignore climate change. But climate change won’t wait for an unwilling political system to act.
Any kind of airport expansion in the UK will make it impossible for the UK to meet its legally binding target of reducing CO2 emissions by 80% (from 1990 levels) by 2050. It’s really that simple. In fact, the aviation industry is the only carbon intensive industry in the UK that is effectively being given a license to pollute. Furthermore, the ‘need’ for airport expansion is being driven by the wealthy minority (10-15%) of UK citizens who are responsible for booking the vast majority (70%) of flights in the UK, mainly to short-haul destinations that could easily be reached by train. Heathrow continues to lie about the economic benefits, and underplays the real cost to the public and climate that airpot expansion will have.
It’s reassuring to know that the amount of time the court has given us will allow us to adequately put forward our case, and that the overwhelming support from both inside the court room, outside the court and in the general media, shows that people agree with us and feel it’s important for the issues to be heard.
Social and regular media this week has been awash with our message that climate change must be at the forefront of the debate around airport expansion and if it takes its rightful place as the key issue, it rules out expansion. #Heathrow13 shows just a pocket of this support from all over the country; this is not just a local issue even though some of the activists involved are local residents.
I am filled with a lot of hope for the future; the support we have been shown is truly heart warming, from letters from parents to local residents and fellow activists. The only way for this campaign is up, but we can’t fight climate change alone. The Government needs to be shown our true power, so please continue to support Plane Stupid, HACAN, Stop Heathrow Expansion, Grow Heathrow, Gatwick Obviously Not!, Reclaim The Power, and all the other groups and organisations fighting airport expansion. Together we can stop this! We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again. No If’s, No Buts, No Third Runway… and we mean it!
Today at Uxbridge Magistrates Court, the 13 climate change activists who blocked a runway at Heathrow airport pleaded not guilty. They are charged with aggravated trespass and entering a security restricted area of an aerodrome, forcing flights to be delayed and cancelled. The defendants will argue in court that the runway occupation was necessary and justifiable. If aviation growth continues unchecked, by 2037 the industry will be responsible for all of the carbon that the UK can safely emit. Failure to prevent climate change will see at least one billion people suffer water shortages, 40% of species made extinct and sea level rises threatening London by the end of the century.
Defendant Ella Gilbert, 22, said:
"We didn't want to do this, but we had to. If the government won't prevent catastrophic climate change, ordinary citizens have to step up; you can't reduce carbon emissions and build more runways, it's plane stupid. There is already more than enough aviation capacity for ordinary people who take their one holiday abroad a year. Airport expansion is for the 15% of wealthy frequent flyers who take 70% of our flights. A broad movement is again uniting to make airport expansion impossible, and we're in it for the long haul!"
The proposed start date for the trial is 18 January and it is estimated to last 2 weeks.
Plane Stupid Press Statement:
In the early hours of Monday 13th July, 13 of us took peaceful direct action at Heathrow Airport. Two weeks before our action took place, the Airports Commission issued a recommendation to build a new runway at Heathrow Airport. Some of us are local residents, and the existing air traffic from Heathrow is already having a hugely negative impact on the local community by way of noise & air pollution and blight on the area.
Last year more than half the UK population didn't fly. Airport expansion in the UK is being driven by a minority of wealthy frequent flyers who are booking the vast majority of flights in the UK. But the long term negative impacts of airport expansion will mean everybody pays the price.
Scientific evidence is telling us that if we are serious about tackling climate change, and keeping within the safe 2 degree global temperature rise, we need to be drastically reducing our carbon emissions. But our government is clearly failing to act responsibly.
Building any new runway in the UK is simply not compatible with reducing carbon emissions at this critical time, and will make it impossible to meet our legally binding commitments, as set out in the Climate Change Act 2008.
It is critically important that climate change is prominent in the context of any discussion about the future of the aviation industry. Against this background, and the failure of democratic processes, we believe our actions were reasonable, justifiable and necessary.
Last month activists staged a peaceful direct action at Heathrow Airport – less than a fortnight after the Airports Commission recommended a third runway at Heathrow. The action itself involved occupying the northern runway and erecting a tripod and fencing which the activists locked onto. A polar bear climbed onto the tripod. The action stopped some flights and saved greenhouse gas emissions.
The science tells us that deep cuts are required from existing levels ofemissions to tackle climate change, but successivegovernments have failed to respond. Direct action, therefore, is our only hope of securing a decent future for children everywhere. Anew runway, and the hundreds of thousands of extra flights it would allow, wouldmake the necessary cuts far more difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. In addition, Heathrow hugely contributes to illegal levels of air, and noise pollution, which have massive impacts on health for people living near the airport and for Londoners generally.
For defending the planet and human health, the activists have been charged with aggravated trespass and being in a restricted area of the airport without permission. If you want to show them your solidarity, please support them at their first court hearing on Wednesday 19 August 2015, at Uxbridge Magistrates Court (nearest tube: Uxbridge, on the Metropolitan and Piccadilly lines). A gathering is taking place outside the court from 8.30am.
For more updates, see https://www.facebook.com/events/480531532112107/
The full address for the court is:
The Court House Hare field Road Uxbridge Middlesex UB8 1PQ
The court hearing will probably last until at least lunchtime.