10th September 2019
History will be kind to the protesters who plan to stop flights at Heathrow airport. They are climate heroes.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 4th September 2019
Obedience 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.
Next week, a few dozen unaffiliated activists intend to start something they call Heathrow Pause
Their aim 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
Those who 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
Even in rich nations, flying is overwhelmingly concentrated among the wealthiest citizens. In the UK, 15% of the population accounts for 70% of flights
As flying 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
Carbon 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
Yet flying on a whim is being normalised, even hypernormalised. According to Tatler magazine
The travel editor of the Independent seeks to justify
The socially just solution is the frequent flyer levy
Nothing 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.