Why we protested at Heathrow

Aviation expansion must be stopped.

Uzma Malik
7 October 2016

Reclaim the Power leaflet

Hundreds of activists took part in a day of mass action on October 1st at Heathrow and its surrounds to protest against aviation expansion and to tax frequent flyers to encourage other means of transport that is more environmentally friendly.

The mass day of action against airport expansion was organised by Reclaim the Power [RTP] – a grassroots direct action group for social and environmental justice. The background to the action takes place within the context in which the proposal for airport expansion at Heathrow now has support of a majority of MPs in the House of Commons. Moreover the International Civil Aviation Organisation [ICAO] were meeting in Canada to discuss a plan to provide carbon offsetting for international flights as proposed by the UN climate agreement. This means that the carbon released into the atmosphere by the long-haul flights will be ‘offset’ by money going into ecological projects that, they say, would restore the balance in the atmosphere.

There are grave problems with the plan and NGO’s have expressed their concern over the loopholes in the proposed deal. For instance the plan indicates that the carbon offset could happen by planting as many trees as it would take to restore the balance in the atmosphere caused by airline emissions in a given amount of time. The trees however would take many years to grow and restore the balance in the atmosphere making this an impractical solution as the non-reversible environmental damage has already taken place.

The proposals by the Aviation Environmental Federation [AEF] to modify the plans only ask that the voluntary commitment to the plan is non-negotiable once committed and that the environmental situation must not be made worse. The plan also emphasises that reduction in emissions is on par with sustainable development to counteract the release of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. This is wrong. The idea of sustainable development is a long term process and an unattainable ideal. What is needed is sustainable development as well as a reduction in carbon emissions to safeguard the environment. Moreover the offsetting plan does not come close to the aims of the Paris agreement formulated earlier this year. It could be said that the plans for green washing are an excuse for aviation expansion.

RTP’s mass day of action consisted in a flash mob where 100+ protesters were involved in a “die in”. Wearing gas masks they symbolised the deaths caused by air pollution from the aviation industry. Simultaneously there was a bike block where over a hundred protesters on bikes in red boiler suits circled the airport. The flash mob started with testimonies read out from the Pacific islands and the horn of Africa from communities that had been affected by climate change. Then wealthy frequent flyers responsible for most flights walked over the “die in” to pass a red tape symbolising the red line crossed by the aviation industry in their effort for airport expansion to the check-in desk where the flyers were handed flutes of champagne and revelled in their prosperity and privilege. The action came to a close with some facts about pollution being read out and a choir spoofing popular songs highlighting the plight caused by climate change.

The bike block circled the airport and visited Harmondworth detention centre to emphasise the close connection between climate change and damaging phenomena such as drought causing mass migration problems. The bike block also visited a local village that would be affected by the expansion as another runaway would mean more traffic causing noise and air pollution. Finally all participants congregated at Grow Heathrow with reports from the day of action as well as affiliate groups such as The London-Mexican Solidarity Network and the ZAD.

Climate change is happening everywhere. The Earth’s temperature is rapidly increasing because of human activity. The government’s plans for intervention are simply inadequate, putting the ecosystem and humanity under threat. It is up to us to take action to make the government see that drastic measures need to be taken now! Flying is becoming the fastest human driver of climate change. The growth is incompatible with UK targets as set by the Climate Change Act 2008.

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