Police have arrested 18 people believed to be involved in a protest at Heathrow Airport urging action against climate change. Protesters threatened to fly drones in the Heathrow exclusion zone, which would force airport authorities to ground flights. Those arrested have been held on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance. Extinction Rebellion founder, Rodger Hallam, was one of those arrested and has since been released. However, it has been confirmed he still plans to fly a drone near Heathrow this Saturday.
Sylvia Dell, one of the protestors, explained her motivations for taking part in such a high-risk protest to the BBC. She said that although she finds that “the prospect of potentially going to prison terrifying, the issue is too important.” She argued that the protests would be done safely, only planning to fly drones at around head height and in no flight paths. Sylvia hopes the protests will bring attention to the environmental damage caused by the construction of Heathrow’s third runway.
Jonathan Fishwick also plans to join the protests, detailing his motivations to the BBC as well: “Our planet is heating up so fast that we won’t be able to grow enough food – and history tells us when the food system collapses, society collapses…for me personally this is about my conscience. It’s so important for me to get the message out that we are in deep trouble.”
Heathrow responded to the protests saying, “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.”
Whilst obvious that Heathrow Airport won’t be supportive of such protests, the wider reaction to them has been met with controversy. The group responsible for the protest – Heathrow Pause – are not directly affiliated with Extinction Rebellion, but many of the group are key members or even coordinators. Wider members of Extinction Rebellion have expressed concern that the protests may “put people off” what the group is trying to achieve by annoying the general public by vastly disrupting holiday travel plans, however those part of the protests argue that they have picked a time where the majority of people disrupted will be frequent flyers or those travelling for business reasons.
Extinction Rebellion released a statement commenting on the Heathrow action: “it is clear that people in the movement have had different views around this proposed action and that tension has arisen from figuring out the most effective way to tell the truth about the climate and ecological emergency we face.”
Actions like these must continue if we are to raise public awareness on the climate emergency we currently face, by disrupting “business as usual.” We must also continue to question the morality of a legal system that sees those desperately trying to warn the world of ecological collapse face prison whilst our governments continually fail to protect us against these dangers. However, taking into account criticism concerning the Heathrow protest, we must also constantly question the ways in which disruptions and actions can be most effective.
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