Over the past few days, as word of our Heathrow Pause Action has spread through the community, we’ve heard some very moving stories from people worried our Action may prevent them from visiting sick and elderly loved ones overseas, perhaps even for the very last time. Sadly we’ve also heard from cynics and mischief-makers, but we’ll ignore them for now. That’s just the world we live in these days.
To those of you who reached out to us out of genuine concern, please believe our hearts are with you. We’re not blind fanatics or unfeeling machines. We’re people too, who love and care and hope and dream and make mistakes. Like everybody else, we can only try our best not to make too many. We thought long and hard about this Action, and discussed it deep into the wee small hours, night after night after night. We understand your fears. We’re afraid too, as one of the brave and selfless grannies who volunteered to fly a Drone can tell you:
“I have a brother in San Francisco. He has cancer and total kidney failure. He has no family or friends in America. He’s 76. I might never see him again, especially if I go to prison, because I’ll have no chance of entry to the US then, even if I go by boat and train. It’s another sacrifice I’m making. If I go to prison I might not be able to spend any real time with my 92-year-old mother again, or visit my daughter and watch my grandchildren grow. I’m lucky that I have their blessing and support – at my mum’s church they even talk about it every Sunday – but it’s a risk I take, and a sacrifice I make, because I’m frightened that if I don’t do this, if I don’t somehow try to persuade my government to do the right thing, millions will die.”
Yes, there’s a difference, we know. Not everybody volunteered for this.
But let’s try to look at it pragmatically. We’re not the ones who will be cancelling flights or grounding aircraft. Our Action is designed to be completely safe. If any planes are grounded, it will be Heathrow Airport’s decision, probably thanks to pressure from their insurers. Money talks. We can only hope the powers that be will reschedule any flights they cut, and get at least the most needy to their destinations. Some of us pray and some of us don’t, but we’re all equally sincere when we say we hope you’re somehow able to share those special moments, and find some peace.
We should put this in context, though. We gave the Heathrow Authorities six weeks’ notice of our intentions, with full details on our plans, the safety of the Action, our desire for an open dialogue with the Police, and all the precautions we’ve put in place. The response was, to say the least, disappointing. To our knowledge Heathrow has done nothing to warn passengers or airlines yet, or put in place any contingency plans, even though we strongly recommend it. Furthermore, we deliberately chose a date after the summer holidays, to minimise the disruption to families and holidaymakers. It’s also worth noting that, according to the Department for Transport, 15% of British adults take 71% of all flights.
You can be sure we don’t do this lightly, or for profit or glory or personal gain, or even for better pay and working conditions. We do it because we have to. We do it because if we don’t, the consequences of inaction will be worse. We do it because the only thing that’s needed for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing. Knowing what we know, and awake to the signs of looming disaster, we can’t just stand there and… well… do nothing! We can’t just stand there and watch the glaciers melt, and the Amazon catch fire.
Heathrow emits 18 million tons of CO2 a year. Around the world there are 118 countries whose total emissions are less than Heathrow Airport’s. A third runway will produce a further 7.3 million tons, harming us and our children, devastating wildlife, shattering communities, damaging the natural environment probably beyond repair – certainly in our lifetime – and accelerating the already lethal pace of global heating.
You can take the climate emergency seriously or you can expand Heathrow, but you can’t do both. One of the many tragedies here is that a third runway isn’t necessary. This folly ignores the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence and expert advice against it, breaks every United Nations directive to reduce carbon emissions or face indescribable horror, and is in direct contravention of Parliament’s May 1st declaration of a Climate And Environmental Emergency. Its sole purpose is to enrich the investors. When even British Airways says that Heathrow can’t be trusted, and that airport bosses are “on a gravy train”, you know we have a problem.
Of course our own Prime Minister could stop all this at once. Boris Johnson is on record as saying he was so opposed to the third runway he would “lie down in front of the bulldozers” himself. If he was telling the truth, why wait for the bulldozers? He can stop this expansion right now. Let the Prime Minister put his money where his mouth is. Let Boris Johnson announce today that no third runway will ever be built. Put it into law. It would be the boldest environmental stand by any world leader, solve a million problems at a stroke, and send a vital message right around the world. And all without ever getting any mud on his suit.
Man-made climate change isn’t about a hot July or a bit of rain in Yorkshire, or even a bigger, badder hurricane in the Caribbean. The world’s weather is an interconnected, finely tuned, delicately balanced mechanism, a repeating pattern of rainfall and sunlight that for millions of years has determined how the vegetation grows. Everything on Earth depends on the vegetation. We rely on these weather patterns and that predictable rainfall for our drinking water, and to grow our food.
As the climate changes, so do the weather patterns and the rainfall. If the rains fail, so do the crops. No crops means no food. No rain and no food means drought and famine on an unimaginable scale, and severe competition for what little is left.
This doesn’t mean a little commercial tussle between Sainsbury’s and Tesco about whose parsnips are cheaper. “Competition” means war. War means more death, and the breakdown of society and international friendship as we know it. In such a war we can guess who the “winners” may be, but what good is the prize if you still can’t grow any food on it, and all your loved ones are gone?
We won’t get there overnight, it’s true. The nightmare will build up gradually, with localised events, those bits of “freak weather” the news keeps telling us about: storms and heatwaves and Beasts From the East. As it is, crop yields in Europe are falling, and it’s only a matter of time before the rains fail for real. Localised or not, if the rains fail in the Okavango Delta, huge numbers of our most precious and most endangered animals will simply disappear. If the rains fail in the Ukraine, how will Europe bake its bread? If the rains fail in Asia, who will grow the rice? Can polar bears tread water?