Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Plane Stupid

robert searle wrote:
Dear All,

       A few weeks ago I was in the high street in Slough, and met a small band. It turned out to be a small political group protesting about the possible creation of a new runway at Heathrow, and the potential health, and environmental problems it could cause. Unfortunately, it did not attract much public support as far as I could see. But people did have sympathy for the cause including myself, and even posed with the band for a group photograph.

Later on along with two friends I met a number of the protest group at the Rew Cow public inn. I made the ("facile")point that the Climate Change was a natural phenomenon, and should not ideally be confused with GLOBAL WARMING which is a more serious matter altogether in which the earth could be burnt to cinders!!.

Anyway, one of the protesters was a certain young lady by the name of Tasmin Omond. She seemed pleasant enough, and I was suprised to see her picture on the front of the Guardian, and also inside in an article along with her fellow activists. I include that very article here on discussion group. It might be of interest.

Another person I met at the protest band, and again at the Red Cow was someone called Barry whom I apparently knew back in my teens when I lived in Stoke Poges.

--- On Sat, 31/5/08, Guardian Unlimited <> wrote

From: Guardian Unlimited <>
Subject: [From: Robert Searle] 'Life in prison? Bring it on'
Date: Saturday, 31 May, 2008, 11:49 AM
Robert Searle spotted this on the site and
thought you should see it.

Note from Robert Searle:


To see this story with its related links on the site, go to

'Life in prison? Bring it on'
Plane Stupid's 'Westminster Five' say their
Commons protest put Heathrow's third runway in doubt
Decca Aitkenhead
Saturday May 31 2008
The Guardian

We're in the most "ridiculous situation",
marvels Graham Thompson. "The public are saying
climate change can't be that bad, otherwise the
government would do something. And the government is like,
well, it is that bad, but we can't do something because
the public's not ready for it. And the government goes
to campaigners and says, you have to prepare the public so
they're ready so we can act. And we go to the public,
and they say well obviously it's not that serious
because the government aren't acting yet. 

"I mean, for God's sake," Thompson adds, head
in hands, half-laughing. "Will someone do

What Thompson, and four other members of the environmental
network Plane Stupid, decided to do in February was to
scale the roof of the Houses of Parliament to demonstrate
against the planned third runway at Heathrow airport. They
still do not know if they are going to be prosecuted, or
whether their protest will be remembered as a tipping point
in the fate of the third runway. What they did, however, was
place the anti-aviation debate firmly on the political map. 

"If you go back a year, the third runway was
inevitable," he says. "Lots of people were saying
it's disastrous in terms of climate change, but it's
inevitable. Now it's not inevitable. And we would claim
some of the credit for that."

Plane Stupid has no official leader or formal hierarchy, or
media figurehead. It is a loose association of autonomous
regional groups, which have staged illegal protests across
the UK. Today most of its members will be demonstrating at
Heathrow, alongside an anti-airport expansion coalition in
which Kensington and Chelsea borough council rub shoulders
with the World Wildlife Fund. This legal carnival has been
coordinated by Plane Stupid member Tamsin Omond, 23. But
the group's ambitions for mass civil disobedience are
deadly serious, it warns, and imminent. 

The "Commons Five" have been on bail since
February. But when we meet this week at a north London cafe
they laugh about the bail terms, which ban them from coming
within a mile of Westminster. "Was it a square mile or
a radius?" says Leo Murray, 31, who is studying
animation at the Royal College of Art. They have been
granted an exemption: travelling through on public
transport. "But what about on my bike?" Olivia
Chessel, 20, asks mockingly.

Plane Stupid was founded in 2005 by Thompson, 34, Joss
Garman, 33, and Richard George, 27. They had been involved
in anti-war protests or May Day and Reclaim the Streets
movements, before becoming convinced that climate change
posed the most urgent threat. But none of the existing
environment NGOs at the time were targeting aviations'
contribution to that change. 

Plane Stupid's first action was to disrupt a London
conference of industry heads, letting off helium balloons
tied to rape alarms. In 2006, it blockaded the runway at
East Midlands airport for 4 hours. In 2007, a high court
injunction barred Murray and anyone else who "aids,
abets or incites direct action against Heathrow in concert
with Plane Stupid" from the climate camp at the
airport. Last autumn, its activists handcuffed themselves
to the terminal at Manchester, gate-crashed a Commons
select committee meeting on airport expansion, and shut
travel agencies along the route of a climate change march.

More than audacity, what captured people's attention
was the smart articulacy of young activists who confounded
the eco-warrior stereotype. "That's far from
accidental," Murray says. "We just recognise that
it's extremely counter-productive to play into
people's stereotypes. I mean, I only own a suit for
when I'm on TV or in court. Some people in the activist
movement were certainly suspicious of ... how prepared we
are to play the game ...  At this stage, direct action is
mostly a tool of PR."

Notwithstanding this media-friendly pragmatism, the
network's philosophy appears to be guided by anarchist
principle. "We're much more of a disorganisation
than an organisation," George says, adding that a
condition of membership is a willingness "to get

Each group in the network meets every week or two to plan
actions, and every member's opinion is accorded equal
value. Despite the recent infiltration of the London group
by an Armani jeans-wearing mole, meetings remain open and
all decisions must be reached "by consensus".
Meetings, Omond concedes wryly, seldom tend to be brief.

But in operational terms, the organisation sounds
practically corporate. 

"You do a risk analysis on any idea before embarking
on anything," says Murray. "We look through the
laws, and the possible outcomes, and the cost benefit. We
do R&amp;D all the time, and some ideas turn out not to
be viable, or not likely to give enough bang for our buck.
For example, the parliament action, in terms of coverage,
would clearly have been worth a custodial [sentence]."

The one golden rule of every action is to target the
aviation industry, not its customers. "I fully
appreciate that at the moment, for an ordinary person
making choices on their personal circumstances, which is
exactly what you would expect people to do, flying from
London to Edinburgh makes sense, because of gross
distortions in the travel market," Murray says. Urging
anyone to alter his or her "consumption behaviour"
is a total waste of time, he continues. "We need to
change the conditions of choice - not individuals'
minds about things."

What Plane Stupid are campaigning for is the removal of
that choice - by the closure of all short-haul flight
routes. But what about long-haul flights? These would be
acceptable, only if they were "necessary". But
who would be the judge of that? "We're not policy
wonks," says Murray. "But we're calling for
some kind of demand constraint."

It seems clear that what they are calling for is
prohibitive long-haul airfares. But when pressed on the
"equitability" of this solution - the rich would
be able to continue flying, the poor wouldn't - they
keep retreating behind the same disclaimer: "We are
not a thinktank."

Given their critique of consumer power and alternative
theory of empowerment suggest serious and radical political
engagement, this seems a rather disingenuous fudge.
Thompson's justification: "For us, there is a
problem with making unnecessary enemies." In other
words, they pick their fights carefully.

"I can say you have to limit emissions by this amount,
otherwise your grandkids are going to be dead," he
says. "If you have a different way of limiting it to
the way I'd limit it, let's talk about it."

The striking feature of these activists is their
politically aware upbringing. Murray's first memory is
of the Greenham Common protests; Chessel remembers the CND
marches; Omond was raised a Christian and now works as a
church administrator. These are the sort of morally
principled, highly motivated young adults politicians today
dream of. Why have they committed themselves to a single

"In a situation where you need massive, urgent
systemic change, we don't really have the system to
achieve it," says Thompson. "Electorally,
everyone is fighting over the middle ground. So the mere
fact that you're not a moderate means you can't be
listened to. That means anybody who had the answer to
climate change would automatically be excluded from the
debate. This is why you can't just think, if I vote for
the greenest party at the election, I'll have done what
I needed to."

"From the individual's point of view," Murray
says, "direct action makes perfect sense. It's a
rational, proportionate, responsible thing to do." 

"And it's incredibly powerful," Thompson
adds. "If you look at the number of people who marched
against Iraq, if you'd had 1% of that number taking
direct action, they could have physically stopped the war.
With 10,000 people sitting in the road at strategic points,
you can bring the country to a halt."

Is that the long-term ambition for Plane Stupid? "I
don't want to have to get to that point ... [but] if
that's what we'll have to do then that's what
we'll do."

Plane Stupid is not the first cause to attract politically
conscious activists who distrust party politics. But the
urgency of climate change does seem to have overridden all
the usual fatal distractions and disappointments, thus far,
at least. The group's campaign, acknowledges Omond,
"doesn't yet have an iconic site but Heathrow is
begging to be it ... Like a black woman sitting on a white
person's bus. Civil disobedience is going to be the
next big political wave."

Before Copenhagen, where the next major global climate
conference will be held in late 2009, Ormond predicts there
will be a place, at least in England, "where people of
all different creeds are saying we're here, taking a
form of direct political action". Is there an action
they are not prepared to risk? "The reality of direct
action is being prepared to put yourself on the line, and
we need real casualties," Omond says. "If
it's life imprisonment for going airside, if that's
the penalty our society deems acceptable for someone
protesting against a contributor to climate crisis ... then
bring on life imprisonment."

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008

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From: robert searle <> To: Sent: Tuesday, 27 January 2009, 12:56 Subject: ...