Discussion on the Stansted airport invasion


The Plane Stupid airport invasion on Monday was the first direct action the group
has taken that inconvenienced passengers. There has been much debate about whether
this was the right thing to do. Some of the discussion is recorded. A big – and
unexpected – message which came across was that it was only when passengers’ lives
were disrupted in this way that many were forced to think for the first time about
the impact of their flying.

Below is part of the discussion within AirportWatch of the Plane Stupid action
at Stansted on Monday:

(the identities of those commenting have been removed)

The Stansted airport invasion was venturing into new territory by inconveniencing
the passengers – and much thought had been given to it.   Plane Stupid got a number
of angry people and would-be passengers phoning up.   Inevitably people will be
angry when their flights have been delayed or cancelled and inevitably some of
the public (and the cruder sections of the media) will back them up.  

However the big – and unexpected – message which came across was that it was
only when their lives were disrupted in this way that many people were forced
to think for the first time about the impact of their flying.   When most people
seem to be so far away from giving a thought to the consequences of their flying,
it seems to need divisive action to bring them up short.

Sadly then, divisiveness is probably needed to shake people out of their complacency.  
If that is true, there may need to be a lot of the divisive Plane Stupid-type
actions.   And, in promoting the  cause of flying less to people, those campaigning
against climate change have powerful arguments to make.   There are also, for many
airport community groups, the strong noise arguments.   Most people flying don’t
give a second thought to the impact on the people under the flight path – be they
at Stansted, Heathrow, City Airport, Exeter, Glasgow or wherever – as they fly
off for a day’s shopping trip in Hamburg (a true-life case from Monday).

Without these strong moral arguments on our side, campaigners – and Plane Stupid
in particular –   could not even contemplate being divisive.   Plane Stupid’s direct
actions can challenge some people and inspire others – which is the cutting edge
role Plane Stupid was born to fulfil.   By doing that they open up new space for
other parts of the movement against aviation expansion to move into.


The film “Wake up Get a Grip Freak Out” has been shown   to various quite normal
middle class groups and it really helps – (and watch out for the new feature film
Age of Stupid out early next year to further engage the great British chattering

One of the best bits of publicity that was widely reported from PS @ Stanstead
was the ‘young’ nature of the activists, and the statements that their parents
(ie   people like me) have failed them.

Spot on.   If you can engage and energise the shopping generation then the world
really can be changed.

Many more actions like Stanstead are needed – its the dimwits who know that flying
really is a climate crime but think that it is all right for their own personal
little inconsequential ‘need’ to travel ‘this one time’ who absolutely need to
be targeted, inconvenienced and generally shaken out of their beliefs.

Enough talking, more action pushing the boundaries. Congratulations and thanks
to all involved


The action appears to have helped, not hindered, the Stansted cause.   Comments
by people saying ‘it won’t have helped’ indicate that they fail to appreciate
the action wasn’t designed to win public support but send a clear signal to the
government and others that things need to change.  


Aviation analysts are apparently concerned at the ‘troubling’ incursion trend
too (see
http://news.carrentals.co.uk/aviation-analysts-concerned-over-airport-incursion-trend-3424329.html) which is useful in undermining the funding platform and increasing costs of
borrowing for those who wish to expand airports, and the cost of securing them.


As it happens, I don’t think ‘we’ will have lost sympathy with the Stansted action
– just a few disgruntled passengers – but who cares if we do.

The issues are much bigger that this, and much more long term.   And we will need
to maintain ‘solidarity’ with our direct action colleagues.   Let’s also remember
the bridges that airport campaigns, especially at Heathrow, have deliberately
been building over the last 2 years.

Yesterday there was a regional transport meeting where Leeds Bradford airport
were presenting about their development proposals, and positively boasting about
their planned intention to increase passenger numbers – and therefore emissions,
since there is a direct association – by 60% in the next 7 years.   They were expecting
a round of applause for their contribution to the regional economy, and a member
of the audience denounced them in public as ‘deeply irresponsible and completely

They, and the passengers they fly, are completely incorrigible – they don’t learn
and they don’t change – so they will need to receive a rude awakening.   Although
the other decision makers at the meeting expressed sympathy afterwards for the
argument put, they won’t articulate it themselves or change their position.

But in addition to the direct action we will need more communications activity
to explain to these decision makers the situation post the Climate Change Act
and the Committee on Climate Change on aviation emissions, and on climate change
in general in Dec 2008


I just wanted to draw your attention to this:


Presumably many of you will have seen the film in the same vein – www.wakeupfreakout.org

Up until now Plane Stupid have been very careful to avoid upsetting the hard-working
British families. You are quite right that people generally support protest that
targets government and big business. They’re less keen to be the target of protest
themselves, unsuprisingly. The nature of the aviation problem is that everyone
who flies is complicit; and the nature of the climate change problem is that it’s
impossible to tackle unless everyone takes responsibility for their own actions.

This is looking increasingly unlikely. I hope people will take an hour or two
to read the Climate Safety report. It is a very sobering read.

I think we’d be kidding ourselves if we try to pretend that continuing to make
progress on emissions at the pace we have so far managed is going to get the results
the science dictates we need.   But if we fail, it is quite literally the end of
civilization as we know it, along with hundreds of millions of deaths from conflict,
drought and starvation and a mass extinction event on the scale of the end of
the dinosaurs. Our children’s generation will be the principal victims of this
avoidable tragedy, followed by all subsequent generations from now until the end
of time, or the extinction of the human race – whichever is sooner.

In fifty years time, when we have passed the point of no return and humanity
can only watch the climate catastrophe unfold helplessly, our society will be
looking back at this period of our history and wondering in disbelief (and probably
anger) at the insanity of it all.   We’re taking part in a mass collective suicide
which is being visited on the entire human race by a tiny proportion of greedy,
profligate people in the developed world.

Those of us who properly understand the situation as it is described by the science
have a duty to everyone else to do whatever is in our power to prevent runaway
climate change from happening. Failure is not an option. I for one am hoping and
planning to have children; but the information and analysis contained in things
like the climate safety report literally keeps me awake at night in a cold sweat,
terrified of what will become of them.

To return to my central point; what Plane Stupid have been doing so far is not
moving things along as fast as necessary. Targeting the flying public was definitely
a gamble. It was a measure born out of desperation. What we hoped to achieve was
to broaden the spectrum of opinion on this issue by driving one end of it forwards.
Those of you who have remained in position will find your location is now much
nearer to the middle of the spectrum of opinion – you can probably shuffle over
a bit now.

Up until this week, Plane Stupid was uncomfortably occupying the same spot as
the Conservative party. I don’t think we could argue that we were moving the debate
forwards from such a position. But PS was formed to say the unsayable, and do
the unthinkable, in order to create the political space for others to move over.
We had slid a little into NGO territory, where we’d become a little timid, and
a little too attached to our popularity. This isn’t a popularity contest; this
is an important part of the most serious task ever to face humankind in all of
our history. It’s instructive to take a future-historical view. I think when the
fabric of society is crumbling around us, and there’s not enough food to go around,
even here in Britain (a highly plausible scenario if we remain on the present
business-as-usual course) I will not be able to look my children in the eye and
say I did everything I could if all I did was to drop some banners and throw some
paper aeroplanes.

No doubt we will have shed a lot of popular support for our own campaign this
week. But what is public support for, when you are a grassroots direct action
organisation?   We’ve been given tens of thousands of pounds in donations since
the Stansted invasion: by people who actually understand the terrifying scale
of the situation we now face. Monbiot publicly backs us, as does Caroline Lucas.
When we did our cost-benefit analysis for this action, we concluded that although
this action will damage Plane Stupid’s own reputation with the general public,
it will benefit the wider campaign against airport expansion and catastrophic
climate change. We’re back where we’re supposed to be – at the sharp, radical
end of the movement, where most people think we’re nutters. We’re much more comfortable

It may be that what we did will indeed turn out to be counter-productive in the
short term – but then again, maybe it won’t. I guess we’ll see. In the long term,
what we did will be seen as eminently reasonable, even necessary. But what is
clear is that continuing to pursue drip-drip-drip, incremental emissions reductions
is a demonstrably inadequate strategy that is bound to fail, and doom us all to
an unliveable future. We had to try something, and this was it.

Fingers crossed.


As to Plane Stupid at Stansted I don’t have an opinion either way as to the rights
and wrongs of the Airport Trespass.     On the one hand it achieved International
anti climate change publicity, but I rather suspect that the Government will try
to make an example somehow of this infringement to be a warning to others to not
do it.

If you think about the circumstances, what else would they do?   They can’t prevent
wire cutters and boundary infringements but I guarantee the aviation industry
is or already has, being lobbying the DfT and the Justice system for tougher sentences
to this incident.

Even asking for tougher Airport Laws to be in place to prevent this sort of incident
happening again. The previous Plane stupid activities have got away fairly lightly
considering the range of sentences that they could turn to but didn’t because
of public involvement and vindication.

I am not suggesting that they were treated with kid gloves because they were
not.     I am sure the government would like to give the organisers a custodial
sentence that will give ‘them’ a humbling feeling. My own view is that if you
are going to break into an airport do it with numbers that they could not possibly
deal with in the courts     i.e. 1000s, then the state can’t easily have its wicked
way with the perpetrators or personalise the outcomes of retribution for the airport
chaos that ensues.

1000s of trespassers would be difficult, but the public perception of 50 is that
it is a small group of radicals and does not relate to them,   whereas 1000s might
make them think,     I would have liked to be part of that group. It’s a case of
mainstreaming the campaign without the radical element perception by the public
or masses that is the key, how that is achieved is a bigger question that I don’t
have the easy answer.



The Evening Standard poll results are not at all surprising.   There have been
so many polls and surveys (some of them respectable) which show that the “hard-working
British family” is NOT particularly interested in avoiding the climate change
consequences of their propensity to fly that all of us in the “we don’t like airports”
fraternity need to take a very serious look at the directions of our campaigning.


If what we wish to achieve is any sort of conversion of hearts and minds then,
sadly,   grossly inconveniencing the “hard-working British family” on their journey
by air (even if it’s their tenth this year, and/or in connection with something
as vital to the UK economy as a trip to the German Christmas markets) is not the
way to go about it.   Draping “BA HQ” over Westminster or Horseferry Road was excellent:
the Stansted stunt, I feel, did our cause no good at all.