will be kind to the protesters who plan to stop flights at Heathrow airport.
They are climate heroes.
Monbiot, published in the Guardian 4th September 2019
is dangerous. It has facilitated every form of institutional oppression and
violence. Every advance in justice, peace and democracy has been made possible
by disobedience. Ethical progress is unlikely when we do only what we are told.
We owe our
right to vote, our freedom from servitude and subjection, our prosperity and
security to people reviled in their time as lawbreakers and reprobates.
Breaking the law on behalf of others is a long and honourable tradition.
a few dozen unaffiliated activists intend to start something they call Heathrow
will each fly a toy drone within the restricted zone (a circle 5 nautical miles (9km) wide) around Heathrow airport. The drones will fly
nowhere near the flight paths, and never above head height, ensuring they
present no risk. But any drone activity forces the airport to suspend all
flights. The activists know they face arrest and, possibly, long prison
is to launch their drones consecutively, stopping flights for as long as
possible: perhaps for several days. In doing so they seek to denormalise one of
the most destructive activities on earth. Once unthinkable, then a bizarre
novelty, then an extraordinary luxury, then a hope, then an expectation, flying
– and flying frequently – is now treated as a right. Worldwide, the number of
flights is expected to double in 20 years. In the UK, if aviation growth is unchecked, it will soon account for most of carbon we
can afford to burn, if the government is to meet its obligations under the
Paris Agreement. Even current levels of flying make a nonsense of international
commitments. Yet everywhere, governments are seeking to expand airport
defend the sector point out that it currently produces “only” 2.4% of the
world’s emissions. But this is because just 20% of the world’s people have ever flown. In terms of individual impact, taking a
flight, because of the quantify of fuel it uses, inflicts more harm on the
living planet and its people than anything else you are likely to do.
rich nations, flying is overwhelmingly concentrated among the wealthiest
citizens. In the UK, 15% of the population accounts
for 70% of flights. Those
most likely to fly frequently, according to House of Commons research, have a second home abroad and a household
income of over £115,000. We are told that flying is about freedom. It is: the
freedom of the rich to destroy the lives of the poor.
expands, it will become one of the principal causes of global heating. The
impact is already greater than the 2.4% of emissions suggests, as planes create
cirrus clouds that roughly double the overall heating effect. There are
technological alternatives for most of our damaging activities. But not flying.
Biofuels will cause more problems than they solve. Large electric planes, for all the hype surrounding them, are many years away, and may never
offsets are now redundant: the only way of preventing more than 1.5°C of
heating is drastically to reduce emissions, while simultaneously using the
protection and restoration of nature to draw down carbon from the atmosphere. One is not a substitute
for the other: we need to maximise both. The only realistic option is to travel
on a whim is being normalised, even hypernormalised. According to Tatler magazine, whose target readers are extremely wealthy,
Long-Haul Long Weekend is now a thing.” It gushes about escaping from “grey
England” to the Seychelles for four days, or to Kenya, Antigua or Cape Town, a
mere 11 hours away. “Slip off to one of
these destinations on a Thursday night and you can be back by Tuesday with an
adventure worth shouting about.”
editor of the Independent seeks to justify the 67 flights she took last year, on the
grounds that her job demands it: “I don’t feel guilty
about it yet.” Perhaps
she should question the value of her job. The most depressing thing I have seen
in the past year is Jane Goodall’s appearance in an advertisement for British Airways. When a prominent environmentalist endorses
an airline company, you know we are in deep moral trouble.
socially just solution is the frequent flyer levy proposed by the Free Ride coalition. There
would be no aviation tax for the first flight in any year that a person takes,
but escalating taxes on subsequent flights. Set at the right level, the levy
would avert the need for airport expansion, and steadily scale down the
industry. But don’t expect the government to listen. The new transport
secretary, Grant Shapps, was previously chair of the British Infrastructure
Group, which lobbied “to ensure that every opportunity for growth is seized”.
will change until the impacts of flying become salient. One of the Heathrow
Pause campaigners, Valerie Brown, told me “I’m petrified of course …
It’s not easy to face the idea of prison, but it’s even more frightening to me
to think about what my grandchildren and all the children of the world will
face in 20 or 30 years’ time.” Another, James Brown (no relation), explained
that he decided to act when he found his adult daughter was incapacitated with
grief about ecological destruction. “I’m
prepared to face the consequences. I don’t know what prison will be like for
me. But against the alternatives it’s a small price to pay.”
They risk their liberty in the hope of freeing us from the momentous consequences of climate breakdown. History will judge them kindly.