Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Airport expansion is a racist policy

Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram

November 21, 2016
6 min read

ab9a8412-01On 19 November, activists blockaded one of the key access roads to Heathrow airport with a banner saying ‘Climate Change is A Racist Crisis’. More groups had interventions planned but the police foiled their attempts. 15 arrests took place throughout the day. 100s also took part in a nearby demonstration despite heavy police presence. This action was coordinated by Rising Up! and comes a few weeks after Theresa May gave the green light to the building of a third runway at Heathrow.

For the climate and everyone who doesn’t belong to the global political elite, May’s decision doesn’t make sense. Thousands will see their home demolished to make way for the new runway. Only 15% are responsible for 70% of UK’s international flights – so airport expansion doesn’t really benefit the average person who goes on holiday once or twice a year. Plus, a large proportion of Heathrow flights are short haul, whose routes could be better serviced by improved rail infrastructure. More crucially, flying is the most emissions-intensive form of transport and the fastest growing cause of climate change. It is not possible for the UK government to expand airports and meet existing commitments on climate action.

The subtext of this decision is loud and clear: the government’s doesn’t care either about the local community, who are fiercely opposed to the expansion, or about the vast majority of the world’s population, for whom climate change is truly an existential threat.

Since the ‘Heathrow 13’s’ July 2015 occupation there has been a re-emergence of anti-aviation actions in the UK with the analysis of the causes and impacts of climate change evolving in important ways. A spokesperson from Rising Up! stated:

“We are living amidst a climate genocide, and must now come to terms with what we must do – in our families, our communities – as human beings. This is climate colonialism, and is allowed to happen because it is black and brown people succumbing to drought in Sub-Saharan Africa. Airport expansion in the UK is another way in which multinational companies, enabled by our government, are knowingly engaging in this genocide by not taking the necessary steps to avert the crisis.”

This recent action builds on the Black Lives Matter UK’s anti-aviation blockades in August and September 2016, which successfully forced the issue of racism into the media discourse on climate change. City Airport, which got the go ahead for expansion in July 2016, was an apt target because it is mainly the elite that fly from this airport (average annual salary of a passenger is £114,000) but it is the predominately black and brown working class local community (whose average salary is less than £20,000) that bears the brunt of impacts through high levels of noise and local air pollution.

The racism of airport expansion in the UK, however, is not confined to local environmental problems. Global South countries, where majority of the world’s non white population lives, are most vulnerable to extreme weather events and long term climatic changes. 7 of the top 10 countries affected by the climate crisis are in Sub-Saharan Africa. Worse, the already devastating impacts of environmental changes are further exacerbated by the legacies of colonialism and the continued exploitative workings of colonialism’s grandchild – neoliberalism.

Crackdown on the big polluters, not migrants

European colonialism controlled every part of political, economic, social and cultural life while it extracted human and natural resources in the Global South for the economic benefit of Global North elite classes. The racism that was at the heart of colonialism continues to be reproduced under the neoliberal global economic system through unfair trade deals and unjust global financial institutions. These structures have enabled wealthy countries and multinational corporations to take without impunity and leave behind a trail of destruction, dispossession, and displacement. It is estimated that about 15 million people in Bangladesh alone, a country with extreme vulnerability to rising sea levels and a long legacy of colonial exploitation, could be on the move by 2050 because of climate change. This will be the worst migration in human history.

Reclaim the Power led #StayGrounded anti-aviation actions in October 2016, which included a critical mass bike ride to Harmondsworth Detention Centre, and sought to articulate the very important connection between the struggle for climate justice and the struggle for no borders. War is raging along Europe’s borders, many of which are directly or indirectly linked to ensuring our access to fossil fuels. Instead of demonising and scapegoating migrants and refugees or militarising our borders, a more humane response by the UK government would be a crackdown on the big polluters, like airports, whose actions are worsening the impacts of climate change and forcing people to flee in the first place.

Our movements need to make more central the voices of women, black, brown, working class folk, and indigenous and frontline communities

Stopping airport expansion alone won’t solve climate change or bring about justice. But recognising how our various struggles are interconnected is really important if we want to build an effective mass civil disobedience movement that resists not just airport expansion, and the worst impacts of climate change, but also the myriad ways in which the political elite oppress and exploit us.

Much more needs to be done, of course. We need our organising, both on a day-to-day interpersonal level and on an action-by-action level, to deeply reflect this growing interconnected consciousness. Our movements need to make more central the voices of women, black, brown, working class folk, and indigenous and frontline communities – what this looks like will differ from action to action because privilege impacts the extent to which different folk can participate in civil disobedience. Ultimately, mass action, anti-aviation or otherwise, will only be transformative if it is built on a politics of liberation and reparative justice. In the era of Trump, Brexit and growing fascism, such a politics feels even more urgent and necessary. So it is heartening and a thing to be celebrated that the anti-aviation campaigns are evolving in this direction.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced

India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya

North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero

The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava

France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati

This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help

PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank

Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media

I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to

We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS

Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank

Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland

Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones

The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya

The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.

An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now

The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee

Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell

Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths

Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe


167