Environmental campaigners are planning to fly drones around Heathrow airport in an attempt to ground flights. These activists, from ‘Heathrow Pause’ – a splinter group of Extinction Rebellion – say that they plan to operate small toy drones from 3am on Friday 13th September onwards, expecting the action to last several days. They stress however, that no drones will be flown in flight paths and hence no one will be at risk of harm. The group say they are motivated by their consciences; aware of the legal implications they explain they are acting in ‘defence of life,’ unable to sit by and allow business as usual to continue – and even expand, in reference to the planned Heathrow expansion – in times of climate emergency.
The group, in a statement, specifically said that the action was to “highlight the incompatibility of Heathrow airport’s expansion with the government’s own legally binding commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.” They spoke further, detailing their motivations: “We know that we will be arrested. We know that we face significant prison sentences for our actions. We have lives, we have families, we do not wish to go to prison. But we are steadfast in our resolve. We do this in defence of life. We do it because our consciences leave us no other choice but to act.”
Heathrow Airport have reacted to the planned protests, also releasing a statement: “We agree with the need to act on climate change. This is a global issue that requires constructive engagement and action. Committing criminal offences and disrupting passengers is counterproductive. Flying of any form of drone near Heathrow is illegal and any persons found doing so will be subject to the full force of the law.”
The Met police have warned that flying drones around airports risks long prison sentences, and so the choice these activists make when taking part in such actions should not be taken lightly. However, recognising the climate emergency we have found ourselves in – with many arguing we have as little as 18 months to make the political changes that will allow us to reduce carbon emissions enough to stay under 1.5 degrees of warming – the actions of these people becomes easier to understand.
The statement from Heathrow Airport highlights how they completely fail to understand the situation we are in, perhaps further justifying the actions of climate activists. Whilst ‘recognising’ the ‘issue’ of climate change, they are continuing to pursue an expansion of a 3rd runway demonstrating their complete failure to grasp the gravity of the environmental situation humanity finds itself in. This expansion, if carried through, will equate to the yearly carbon emissions of Portugal. We need to rapidly decarbonize if we are to effectively tackle climate change, and avoid dangerous levels of global warming that would lead to vast levels of human suffering – possibly even extinction.
And so, perhaps it takes this disruptive, serious and defiant action to force both governments and companies alike to recognize our urgent need to decarbonize. However, is this the best form of said action? Many people are expressing concerns over the potential exploitation of the action by terror groups, or the effects the disruption could have on public perception of climate activists, and of course concern for the wellbeing of climate activists themselves.
But, whilst understanding all of these concerns, we must remember what these people are fighting against and why they feel the need to take actions like this. Potential societal and ecological collapse would cause far more disruption than that which the activists propose to make, but of course we still must constantly question the ways in which disruptions and actions can be most effective.
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