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Kara Moses

Civil disobedience is the only way left to fight climate change

By Kara Moses - Red Pepper, January 10, 2018

Right now, thousands of people are taking direct action as part of a global wave of protests against the biggest fossil fuel infrastructure projects across the world. We kicked off earlier this month by shutting down the UK’s largest opencast coal mine in south Wales.

Last Sunday, around 1,000 people closed the world’s largest coal-exporting port in Newcastle, Australia and other bold actions are happening at power stations, oil refineries, pipelines and mines everywhere from the Philippines, Brazil and the US, to Nigeria, Germany and India.

This is just the start of the promised escalation after the Paris agreement, and the largest ever act of civil disobedience in the history of the environmental movement. World governments may have agreed to keep warming to 1.5C, but it’s up to us to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

With so many governments still dependent on a fossil fuel economy, they can’t be relied upon to make the radical change required in the time we need to make it. In the 21 years it took them to agree a (non-binding, inadequate) climate agreement, emissions soared. It’s now up to us to now hold them to account, turn words into action and challenge the power and legitimacy of the fossil fuel industry with mass disobedience.

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it

By Ali Tamlit - Red Pepper, October 26, 2017

Today is the 30th birthday of the opening of London City Airport – but there isn’t much to celebrate. Since the airport’s opening in 1987, carbon dioxide levels have increased from 351 parts per million (ppm), around a ‘safe’ level in terms of climate change, to a dangerously high 409 ppm this year.

Politically, discussions around sustainability and climate change were just getting started then, and there was hope that world leaders might find a solution for us. This was 5 years before the landmark 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Now, two years on from the 2015 Paris climate agreement – an agreement that on the surface sets an ambitious target of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees – there is little sign of action from any government. Top NASA scientist James Hansen described it as ‘worthless words’ with ‘no action’.

While officials prevaricate, we are increasingly seeing the devastating effects of climate change in more frequent extreme weather events: think of Hurricane Irma which hit the Caribbean last month, or the extreme flooding in Bangladesh, which left a third of the country under water.

But a lot of other things have changed since 1987. Firstly, we’ve learned as people and as a movement that although these numbers matter – parts per million and degrees centigrade – that’s not what climate change is actually about. Very recently, thanks largely to the action at London City Airport by BLMUK, the narrative that the ‘climate crisis is a racist crisis’ has been thrust into the mainstream.

Although extreme weather events are increasing, it’s important to examine who is being affected and who is causing it. London City Airport was a perfect target to highlight this argument. The UK has emitted the most CO2 cumulatively per capita since the industrial revolution, has built its wealth on colonialism and now is one of the centres of global capitalism that continues to extract resources and wealth from countries in the global South. All of this while globally 7 out of 10 of the countries most affected by climate change are in sub-Saharan Africa.

Reflections on Sentencing

By The Heathrow 13 - Plane Stupid, February 29, 2016

On the 24th of February, we - the Heathrow 13 - were sentenced to 6 weeks in prison, suspended for 12 months, with an additional 120 to 180 hours community service on top. Whilst we are happy to not be in prison right now, this is far from a complete victory.

As our barrister  QC Kirsty Brimelow, so eloquently argued, there is a long tradition of direct action in the UK, and a convention for sentencing within the legal system. In fact Lord Hoffman, in an influential ruling, went as far as to say that it is the mark of a civilised society to accommodate this, and that the legal convention is for sentences such as a conditional discharge or community service. In this light, our barristers argued that our action clearly did not cross the custodial threshold – i.e. our sentence should not be imprisonment, immediate or suspended. The fact that Judge Wright chose to give us a suspended sentence marks a shift in the way protesters are treated, going against the normal convention. 

Experts have suggested that if magistrates impose custody for minor offences, that produces an incentive for activists to commit more serious offences. This is because more serious crimes are dealt with by a jury, who are more likely to be understanding of the issues. Whilst more radical actions are welcome, and in fact are necessary to tackle the scale of climate change, repression from the judicial system is not.

As we went into court on the 24th, all of us were prepared for the possibility for prison. We all experienced a rollercoaster of emotions, from fear and stress to defiance and pride. The support and love we were shown by family, friends and the wider movement made us feel all the more ready to deal with a potential prison sentence. Had we gone to prison, we would have depended on this support network around us. We all feel so grateful for this.

Yet, we should reflect on this as a form of privilege. There are over 85,000 people in prison in the UK, not including immigration detention centres, secure children's homes or those detained under the Mental Health Act. Those imprisoned are disproportionately from poor, minority backgrounds and are likely to have suffered various forms of abuse in their lives. Vulnerable people are the ones being targeted by the judicial system. These people are highly unlikely to be able to gain the same kind of support a high profile privileged group such as ours could.

Why I've no regrets about going to prison for shutting down Heathrow airport

By Ella Gilbert MSc - Mashable, February 23, 2016

Editors Note: Ella Gilbert MSc (as well as several other members of the #Heathrow13) are dues paying members of the IWW. for more details about the struggle, please visit Plane Stupid.

Update from the Guardian:

Six women and seven men have avoided jail for trespassing at Heathrow, following a protest against the possible expansion of the airport.

The activists, dubbed the Heathrow 13, were given sentences of six weeks suspended for 12 months, meaning they would not have to go to prison immediately.

They had been found guilty in January of aggravated trespass and entering a security-restricted area of an aerodrome. They had been warned by district judge Deborah Wright to expect a custodial sentence.

Read more...

For more on the sentencing of the Heathrow 13, see also:

LONDON — Today I’ve been packing my bag for prison.

That sentence never gets less weird. It’s a task that most people will never have to do, or even think about doing, so it’s been a learning curve. Take this for example: you can’t take black clothes into prison. This is a serious problem for someone whose entire wardrobe is black.

If you’re wondering why I’m having to do this, here’s why: on Wednesday, myself and 12 others from direct action network Plane Stupid will be sentenced to “almost inevitable” (in the words of the judge) custodial sentences for our part in a direct action that happened last year.

In July, the #Heathrow13 occupied one of Heathrow’s runways for six hours: the longest airport occupation in the UK to date, and the most high profile. We managed to stop 25 planes and in so doing prevented the emission of hundreds, if not thousands, of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Aircraft are hugely polluting machines. They spew out air pollutants like particulate matter and nitrogen oxides that cause serious health effects for wildlife and for people living in the local area, as well as climate-damaging greenhouse gases. I’m sure I don’t need to explain that greenhouse gases cause climate change by trapping heat in the atmosphere, causing temperatures to rise and altering the way the climate functions. Carbon dioxide is the most obvious of these warming gases, but many others are also emitted by plane exhausts, such as oxides of nitrogen, which trigger the formation of ozone when emitted at altitude, and water vapour. All of these have a significant warming effect, especially when emitted at aircraft cruising altitude, several kilometres above the ground.

One of the major problems with aviation is that it cannot really be decarbonised. It takes a lot of energy to fly a heavy metal object full of people at hundreds of miles an hour across the world. Unfortunately, the technology is not yet there to allow planes to fly using hydrogen or electric fuel cells, which means that for now at least, jet fuel is very much fossil fuel based. Although efficiency improvements can reduce some of its impact, demand for aviation is enormous and any efficiency improvements are vastly outstripped by the rapid growth in passenger volumes. Many airlines, incl. United, are experimenting with biofuel blends as a possible transition fuel of sorts. But most biofuels are no better for the climate than oil. It’s not a serious solution.

What this means is that aviation is still a heavily polluting industry and will probably continue to be so for many years to come. However, action needs to be taken to combat climate change – something recognised in law by the UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act. This stipulates that UK emissions must be reduced by 80% from 2005 levels before 2050. That’s a big cut, but it might be possible if every sector in the UK economy makes aggressive and sustained reductions in their emissions.

However, aviation is being given something of a free ride – a proposed third runway at Heathrow, which would emit another 9 million tonnes or so of CO2 per year (emissions on a par with the whole of Kenya). We cannot build new runways if we are to prevent climate change –- and doing so undermines all of our other efforts to reduce emissions across the board.