Stop the short haul

IssueDecember 2006 - January 2007
Feature by Leo Murray

I first met Plane Stupid in November 2005, at a protest outside a conference gala dinner for aviation executives on London's TowerBridge.

I was struck by the juxtaposition of coach-loads of radicalised grannies from local airport residents' opposition groups standing side by side with the young climate change activists who had broken up the conference earlier that day with an inspired combination of balls [ovaries?] and brains. This looked interesting...

We can win

At the Camp for Climate Action at Drax in August, some friends and I attended two workshops organised by Plane Stupid, which were about aviation's role in causing climate change; the threat to established communities in West London due to Heathrow expansion, and elsewhere; and what they believed could be done to stop it.

The problem of climate change is so vast and so deep that it can often appear as an un-scaleable edifice. The enormity of the task of tackling it can be overwhelming. But as I sat and listened to the speakers explain in detail both the reasons why aviation growth cannot possibly be sustainable, and about the potential for real action to prevent this growth, I remember thinking, “We can win on this.”

Taxing demands

Aviation is the already the fastest growing source of greenhouse gases and things are getting worse. In terms of one's personal carbon footprint, flying in an aeroplane is the single most irresponsible action an individual can take. This uniquely damaging form of transport is enjoyed almost exclusively by the rich, with 75% of flights taken by the best-off from social groups, A, B and C whilst it is the poor who will be worst affected by climate change. If the British government does not act now to restrain demand for flights, they will ensure that Britain has no chance of meeting its already inadequate climate change targets. Instead the government plans to enable and encourage rampant, unrestrained growth in flights through a huge programme of airport expansion.

Yet this amazing rate of growth only exists because of the massive tax exemptions enjoyed by the aviation industry, which has allowed a monstrous distortion in the economics of travel, encouraging people to fly from London to Manchester and back again, and to reject the train and coach alternatives.

Obligation to act

It's the craziness of these policies that led me to don a “Climate Camp” jacket and join the heroic band who grounded planes by occupying the taxi way of Nottingham East Midlands Short Haul airport in September. Kneeling there on the tarmac, in chains and surrounded by the security services, I felt emboldened and elated -- a feeling that persisted all through the following forty hours of imprisonment, and which persists even now, in the face of our upcoming jury trial.

We have been charged with causing a Public Nuisance, but what they call criminal I contend was necessary. In these last days, when we can still make a choice about the future, we have an obligation to act.

The duplicity and sheer stupidity of the government's position on aviation must make air travel the front line in the battle against climate change. The outcome of this struggle will demonstrate whether or not we are able, as a society, to respond in time to meet the challenge.

The arguments against airport expansion and in favour of aviation taxes are compelling and obvious. If the government continues to push ahead with its mad plans, it will continue to fall to us to stop them.