Richard's blog

Reshuffle has "u-turn" written all over it

Like the steady roar of planes coming in to land over West London, the aviation industry keeps droning on about expanding London’s airports. Last week’s reshuffle shows Cameron and Osborne are listening to them too.

Justine Greening and Theresa Villiers, two Ministers with whose opposition to the third runway was well known, have found themselves shunted out of the Transport Department. A Number 10 official sniggered that Greening would "have plenty of time to think about runways as her flight to the next developing country circles the airport yet again." (Which doesn’t even make sense, because why would a plane flying to a developing country be circling at Heathrow? Unless Cameron thinks the UK is a developing country? Anyway, I digress.)

Cameron and Osborne have established an inquiry to look into “the scale and timing of any requirement for additional capacity to maintain the UK’s position as Europe’s most important aviation hub”. Lest this loaded question prove anything other than a licence to lay tarmac, they asked the former head of the Confederation of British Industry, Howard Davies, to oversee it. Davies was once a special adviser to the climate change denier Lord Lawson. He had to leave the LSE after he was busted for nodding through some chunky donations from Gaddafi’s son. Davies won’t decide to build a third runway until 2015, which means all three parties get to run on a “no third runway unless the commission tells us to build it” platform at the next election.

Residents needn’t worry though, because Boris Johnson is on the case. He’s set up a rival inquiry, proving that the invisible hand of the free market will ensure competition. The Mayor’s inquiry will report in 2013 and, like the government’s commission, will conclude that we need lots of more runway space, because that’s what it is being asked to do. Given that no one is going to build a runway in the Thames Estuary – his preferred solution – Boris gets to oppose the third runway while making it ever more likely that Sipson and Harmondsworth will be buried under tarmac.

None of this means that the third runway will be built, of course. The strongest argument against it isn’t climate change, it’s that the damned thing has no purpose. There is bags of spare capacity at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports, which is why Virgin Atlantic was able to offer new routes between London and Manchester days after losing its West Coast train franchise. Using all that spare capacity would be stupid, of course, because flying causes climate change, makes loads of noise and pollutes the air we breathe. But let’s not forget it’s there.

Plane Stupid takes a visit to the ZAD


Isn't the countryside noisy? The life which reverberates all around you in Notre Dame des Landes is astounding, a reminder of the world we have to save. The crickets never stop singing, every time you sit still some weird and wonderful new bug crawls across your leg, and the sides of the roads are packed with wild roses, bluebells, and forget-me-nots. But it's all under threat.

The government of France is locked into an unholy alliance that is depressingly familiar. Here, as in Sipson, Hasty Lane, Essex and Edinburgh, the aviation industry has coaxed our "representatives" with its oily tendrils into a belief that the destruction of lives, habitats and the planet for profit is in the best interests of all.
The plan? Concrete over 2000 hectares of some of the most pristine biodiversity in France, taking away homes and communities, condemning local residents to a future of poor health and sleepless nights.
The aim? Two runways and two motorways, making Notre Dames des Landes into Europe's most westerly hub, taking over some of Heathrow's stopover capacity. All this, even as smaller airports around France and the UK are being forced to close due to a lack of demand. The hell-bent determination of the industry fixated on growth is not only morally criminal, its economically nonsensical.

But the resistance is growing. Since Plane Stupid last visited the ZAD (Zone a Defendre - the proposed site of the airport), the number of occupied spaces has rocketed from one to about 16. In fact, no one seems entirely sure how many people are now living here, preparing for battle: all that is certain is that it is growing constantly and people are prepared to put up a big fight. Together with those set to lose their homes and land, activists from across France and the world have been taking over sites bought up by the council to make way for the airport, and transforming them into living examples of the world they want to live in. There's a bakery, which turns out enough bread twice a week to feed the whole ZAD, a bicycle workshop, a skipped supermarket which seems never to run out, a kitchens collective, an internet cafe, loads of chickens, herb gardens, treehouses, and, of course, vegetables.

This weekend we came to help open a new site, where our friend from Reclaim the Fields are reclaiming the runway. At 9 a.m. we gathered at Les Planchettes, the HQ of the ZAD where the main meetings and info point are based in a beautiful old farmhouse. The spectacle was extraordinary: about 350 people carrying machetes, pitchforks, scythes and spades, riding in tractors and trucks or walking alongside, many with masks on to hide their identities from the skulking gendarme who accompanied us at a distance. The sound system and the samba band competed for airtime, as banners were hoisted up between trees across the roads we walked down proclaiming the resistance.

Finally we reached the soon-to-be site - a seemingly impenetrable wall of brambles - and while some of us grabbed a quick glass of 30cent vin rouge from the rapidly assembled bar, the tractors belonging to local farmers rolled onto the field, crushing the brambles top to make way for our machetes. Like an army of ants, the people fanned out across the area, some hacking back the undergrowth, some trimming the trees, others turning the soil and pulling up the roots, and others scraping everything together into huge mounds ready for burning. Then almost as quickly as they had descended. the swarm pulled back, leaving the 8 people who will live there with a large plot of cultivable land ready for planting. Resistance is fertile.

So many lives and hopes are embedded in this beautiful area. Our hosts, Paul and Elizabeth, have been fighting the coming of the airport for decades. They will not sell their home, with their chickens and horse and amazing rhubarb jam, to be flattened for profit. Paul sends his solidarity to Sipson, which he visited in 2009 and describes as "une belle quartier" of which he's got many fond memories - especially the pub. From the people living 15 metres up in their beautiful fortified tree camp, to those who stand to lose generations of history on the land, the communities here stand side by side in their struggle and in ours.

The governments and corporations complicit in this campaign of demolition and disappropriation must be stopped. We will continue to strengthen out grassroots links with the people here, and will not let the bulldozers roll. BTP (Battiments Travaux Publiques) and Vinci, the key players in this ransack, have operations across Europe - including numerous subsidiaries in the UK. Vinci reckons they are "convinced of the need to adopt a responsible attitude to climate change" - their plans for the ZAD are so far from "responsible" it's hard even to laugh. Both groups should be targeted wherever they try to establish themselves, and made to realise that their involvement in the attempts to destroy Notre Dame des Landes will make them an enemy of the global resistance.

Plane Stupid launches new blog series


In collaboration with website blog CtrlAltShift, Plane Stupid is launching today the first of many blogs on issues such as climate change, environmental justice and social justice to name a few. Every Monday you will be able to get your weekly dosage of key thinking on the important issues of today. Here's the first, written by activist Richard George and titled "We're In Charge - Or Nothing Is Going To Change".

To paraphrase author and activist Derek Jensen, every morning I wake up and ask myself whether I should go to work or shut down an airport. Going to work usually wins - I work for a green charity, and tell myself that I can make a difference sitting at my desk - but that doesn't make it a rational response to climate change. Instead, it's time to get disobedient.

It's not a want of impassioned campaigning that's stopping progress on climate change, but a lack of meaningful action. If campaign success was measured in petitions, marches and demonstrations, we'd be well on our way to solving the problem. Instead, scientists are warning that we're headed for a 4 degree rise in global temperatures, and we're only on track to meet our CO2 targets because of the recession.

Those of us who have been enjoying the balmy summer might secretly look forward to warmer temperatures, but stories about vineyards in Scotland bear no resemblance to reality. At 4 degrees, Kent turns into Marrakech - 45 degrees C in the shade. Even a 2 degree rise leaves Europe uncomfortably hot and condemns the global south to a very nasty future.

You might think that such a serious threat would galvanise people to action, but so far the response has been muted. Sure, we've marched a bit, and there have been calls for govenment to do something. We have even got a shiny new law: the Climate Change Act 2008. But the net result is resolutely business as usual, as lobbyists, businesses and politicians frantically backpedal, obfuscate and do everything they can to prevent lasting and meaningful change.

The problem, as I see it, is partly one of language. We turn our faces to the sky and cry, "The earth is dying! We must do more to stop it!" But the earth is not dying, it is being killed. Unhelpfully, the people killing it are incentivised to do so by the fortunes they make selling cars, trading in carbon or flying people to Manhattan to go shoe shopping. Helpfully, they have names and addresses, which means that we can pay them a visit and persuade them to stop.

We need to accept that government, businesses and the army of civil servants are not going to make the changes we need. They have too much invested in the present system. Instead, it is our responsibility, not just to be the change we want to see, but to reshape the world as we want it to be. This means changing our behaviour - buying less crap, turning down thermostats and all that jazz - but far more importantly, it means making sure that business as usual is simply not an option.

We still have a chance to make a difference, but we'll have to be quick. Unlike campaigns to end poverty, or stop the arms trade, this one has a deadline. Once we hit a certain temperature, large amounts of greenhouse gases, such as the methane stored in the frozen Siberiam permafrost, will start to leak out of their own accord. If we're going to stop runaway climate change, we have only a few years in which to do it.

So what can - and should - you be doing? Think global, act local. Find your nearest "carbon criminal" - a coal fired power station, an airport, an open-cast coal mine - get some friends, and pay them a visit. Don't be a "green consumer", or an "ethical shopper" or whatever buzzword some arsehole in marketing dreamt up. Instead, get active in your community, your school, your workplace.

Make sure that government realises that the changes which need to happen - and which would make the world a better, fairer place, even if climate change wasn't happening - are going to happen, even if we have to go through them to do it. Because until they realise that we're in charge, nothing is going to change.

But whatever you do, don't lose hope. We can win this if we work togethor and remember what we're fighting for. It's ok to go to work most days (unless you work for an oil company, in which case, call in sick). Just remember: if you want to make a difference, you have to get off the sofa and start taking action against those who would condemn us to a future not worth living.

See you on the streets.

Crude Awakening: holding space 101

As the direct action juggernaught that is the Crude Awakening gathers steam, the lastest in what appears to be a string of teaser films has been released. Last week's film talked about oil, and how we need to kick the habit. This week's steps it up a gear, with a look at what we'll be doing on the day.

We don't know where we're going (somewhere in London, one of 10 possible targets) but we now know what we'll be doing: holding a space. (At least, that's what they want us to think... there's a lovely air of mystery around this action!)

So sit back, have a cup of herbal tea* and prepare for a look back at the past two decades of awe-inspiring action, in the UK and abroad. Warning: video includes some truly awful hippy dancing.

16 October. Somewhere in London. Crude Awakening: come get some!

* Because proper tea is theft, innit?

Time to give oil a Crude Awakening

If there's one thing Plane Stupid likes, it's direct action. If pushed to a second thing, we'd confess a penchant for bad puns. So when we heard about the Crude Awakening, we got rather excited.

So check out the video and make your way to London for October 16th. Whoop whoop!

Grow Heathrow wins first step in fight to rejuvenate third runway site

Heathrow residents and activists are celebrating today following the adjournment of the court case that was seeking to evict the squatted community garden project 'Grow Heathrow', set up on the site of the defeated third runway.

The case has been adjourned to the Central London County Court after the Deputy District Judge ruled that higher authority was needed to rule on the case.

Transition Heathrow member Jo Rake, 21, said: "We are celebrating todays ruling as a step towards rebuilding the Heathrow communities that were blighted for so long by the threat of airport expansion. The number of people who turned up at court today, from local residents to airport workers and activists, showed the importance of this project for the Heathrow communities, and also the wider campaign for food security. David Cameron talks about building a 'big society', we're already doing it."

Over the past six months, the former Berkeley Nurseries site has been transformed from a derelict space to a thriving community garden and social space, playing host to a range of events, from a banquet and film screenings, to acting as a base for solidarity actions for striking airport workers.

Local MP John McDonnell said: "This inspirational project has not only dramatically improved this derelict site but it has lifted the morale of the whole local community in the campaign against the third runway and in planning a sustainable future for our area. We cannot lose this inititiave and I will do all I can to enable it to continue."

Many of the activists involved in Transition Heathrow have a background of taking direct action with Plane Stupid and don't intend to go without a fight.

New film takes us Beyond the Tipping Point

"We have 30,000 days!" "100 months!" "5 years left!" "Copenhagen (now Mexico) is our last chance!" In the face of consensus on the reality of climate change scientists, policy makers and campaigners are increasingly in the habit of issuing deadlines, ultimatums and points of no return.

But what impact does this language have on the decisions taken by activists, campaigners, and policymakers?

A provocative new film, Beyond the Tipping Point?, produced and directed by Dr. Stefan Skrimshire from The University of Manchester launched on a fortnight ago at the Manchester Museum.

Now it's publishers have made it freely available as an educational tool for campaign and community groups, schools and universities, to encourage people to discuss and reflect on the actions and decisions they take in relation to climate change.

The film features interviews with a Met Office international climate expert, a Bangladeshi social justice campaigner; members from direct action group Plane Stupid, Buddhist leaders and leading academics, alongside footage from the UN climate talks in Copenhagen.

A rich diversity of perspectives emerge from these interviews. Whilst some of the contributors argue that ‘shock and awe’ will force the public to take action, others say activists must be more careful in the way they communicate. One interviewee argues that we should focus our attention on adapting our neighbourhoods to combat the unavoidable effects of rising temperatures.

Our own Leo Murray, the creator of Wake up, Freak out, said, "This film offers insight into the implications of an imminent point of no return in the climate system, and should be seen by everyone involved in the struggle to prevent us from reaching that point. This type of critical reflection will be invaluable to our understanding of our own actions and what we seek to achieve by them."

Ambulance worker tells court that Plane Stupid protestors did not delay ambulance flight

The Climate 9 and supporters outside Aberdeen Court

The trial of the Climate 9 protesters in Aberdeen heard yesterday from an air ambulance witness that the protesters were not responsible for delaying an air ambulance, as had previously been suggested during yesterday's evidence for the prosecution.

The written statement from Stephen Wright of GAMA Aviation – the firm in charge of air ambulances out of Aberdeen Airport – given to police on Tuesday 3rd March 2009 shortly after the protest ended stated:

"I became aware that there was some form of protest on Aberdeen Airport this morning, I picked up this through the media prior to attending our site. I have contacted my Operations manager, who works out of Farnborough Airport, regarding this matter and he informed me that he in turn had contacted the Aberdeen Airport Duty Manager and he in turn informed us (GAMA Aviation) that due to our flight type, was not going to be interfered with and our flight slot was guaranteed.

"Our flight was scheduled to take off at 8.00am this morning, but in fact took off about 8.35am, but this was due to our operational delay by the medics and not the protestors.

"This incident has had no financial or life threatening or operational impact on our operation.I have no complaint regarding this matter. I was seen later by the police and gave this statement."

During cross-examination Wright confirmed that this was the case, countering prior claims, both during and immediately after the action and yesterday in court, that the defendants were not at fault for endangering lives during the air side action.

Juliana Napier, from the Climate 9 defence committee said:

"This evidence is incredibly important in establishing what happened during the action. The Climate 9 freely assembled inside Aberdeen airport to stop the harmful emissions causing runaway climate change and raise awareness of the issue. They did this to ensure that our own and future generations can enjoy good health in a healthy environment not to endanger the lives or health of anyone."

The prosecution will present witnesses for the next few days and the trial is set to continue until the end of next week.