13 Aug 2007

West London Green Party Letter on climate action

thanks to John Hunt for drafting this.

Last week, judge Caroline Swift rejected BAA's application for an unprecedented injunction against five million people, and substituted her own wording, to allow lawful protest, as safeguarded by the European Convention on Human Rights under Article 10 [the right to freedom of expression, including imparting information and ideas without interference by public authority] and Article 11 [the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others].

Opposition to expansion at Heathrow has grown since the Terminal Five public enquiry ten years ago where, of the 50 major parties giving evidence, over 95% opposed T5. At the end of the enquiry, inspector Roy Vandermeer found that a third runway would be "totally unacceptable". He imposed a cap of 480,000 flight movements a year: yet we already have 471,000, though T5 is not scheduled to open until March.

Last December, a cross-party alliance of twelve boroughs, concerned "that the Government consistently fails to either acknowledge or assess the airport's full environmental impact", launched the "2M Group". The group "believes that the Government and the industry consistently overstate the economic benefits of aviation and fail to measure the full environmental costs"; has called on the Government "to commission an independent cost-benefit analysis for all expansion proposals"; and cannot comprehend that the Government will "allow for a doubling of carbon emissions from domestic aviation by 2050 ­ while expecting all other sectors to reduce their emissions".

In February, a report by the Parliamentary Transport Committee condemned the Department for Transport for failing against its own targets, including for air quality and carbon dioxide emissions. Committee Chairman Gwyneth Dunwoody painted "a terrible picture of failure", exposing the DfT for lacking a clear strategy and a timetable of policies which are necessary to bring improvements. The Committee found that transport is the only sector of the economy in which greenhouse gas emissions have been rising consistently since 1990 and are projected to carry on rising, and cited a COMEAP estimate that respiratory disorders associated with particulates are responsible for 8,100 additional deaths and 10,500 additional hospital admissions in the UK each year.

Frustrated local residents, having lost faith in consultations after repeated Government lies about Heathrow expansion, mounted protests earlier this year: on 6th March at Chatham House, where the Secretary of State for Transport addressed aviation heads of industry; and on 20th June with street theatre at the Department for Transport, demonstrating how the DfT are cosily in bed with BAA.

Now Heathrow's "Camp against Climate Change" has come to Sipson: one of the villages between the A4 and the M4 which BAA and the Department for Transport are intent upon destroying, in order to build a Third Runway and Terminal Six. The Camp, from 14th - 21st August, is described as "a working ecological village using renewable energy, composting waste and sourcing food locally". Its programme for the week [available at www.climatecamp.org.uk/wshops.pdf] lists over 100 workshops and other events, with speakers from many environmental organisations, including --perhaps unexpectedly-- the "Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences" and Christian Aid.

Alarmingly, Saturday's "Guardian" reports that the government has encouraged police forces to make greater use of terrorism powers "especially the use of stop and search powers under s44 Terrorism Act 2000", and that last month a student cycling near the airport was arrested and held for 30 hours without charge. Then on Sunday, after the camp site --a sports ground owned by Imperial College-- was occupied, it was reported that police had closed a public road and were obstructing access to the site to local residents donating goods.

Recent coverage by national press has quoted some of the residents whose villages would be demolished by the proposed third runway, understandably "100% against the proposed third runway and further airport expansion". One resident whose daughter died from the air pollution supports the camp completely: though, amazingly, others are reportedly opposed to direct action. Do they think, after years of Government lies and sham consultations, that they have any other means of saving their homes?

The judge who last week rejected BAA's application accepted the Wikipedia definition of direct action: "a form of political activism which seeks immediate remedy for perceived ills, as opposed to indirect actions such as electing representatives who promise to provide remedy at some later date. ... [They] are often (but not always) a form of civil disobedience ... demonstrations are not illegal (in most constitutional democracies). ...", [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct_action].

As members of the Green Party, we "do not believe that there is only one way to change society, ... [and] generally support those who use reasonable and non-violent forms of direct action to further just aims", [GP "Manifesto for a Sustainable Society", PB501: see http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/mfss/]. We will attend the Camp this week, and expect to participate in the "Mass Action" event on Sunday, 19th. We are appalled at the report of police use of anti-terrorism powers to deter peaceful protest, and will document and pursue any instances of this that we encounter.

In the meantime, we welcome Climate Campers to Heathrow, in the hope and expectation that the week will be informative and beneficial to all who are involved.

John Hunt, Hounslow;
James Page, Twickenham;
Sian Berry & Derek Wall, Green Party Principal Speakers

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