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The #Heathrow13 will ‘almost inevitably’ be sent to prison on 24 February for occupying the northern runway of Heathrow airport. They took this action, which led to 25 flights being cancelled, to protest against the building of a third runway at Heathrow airport, as recommended by the Davis Commission less than a fortnight previously. The fact is, we can’t build any new runways in the face of climate change. It’s that simple.
In going to jail, the #Heathrow13 will be the first climate activists in the UK to be given a custodial sentence. Given the seriousness that a prison sentence implies, it would be easy to let this scare us from taking the necessary action that our movements need. That would be a mistake, for now is the time for exactly the opposite. Now is the time to escalate things and given the amount of outrage towards this sentencing, as well as the love and support that is being shown to Plane Stupid, it seems like there is a real possibility of such an escalation.
Escalation, as it happens, is already the theme of the year. Since last year, groups around the world have been calling for 2016 to be the year we take down the fossil fuel industry. Mobilisations in Paris against the COP21 were designed and framed as a movement-building stepping stone towards escalation in 2016. Days, weeks and a whole year of action have already been called for and it’s likely that tens of thousands of people will take part, following the successes of Ende Gelände in Germany last year and the mobilisations in Paris.
If we are really serious about taking down the fossil fuel industry, we surely have to expect people to go to prison – a lot of people. There are nearly 1,500 oil and gas companies globally and the industry is valued at around $5 trillion. That equates to a whole lot of power, for instance in lobbying, which has resulted in the ineffective deals on climate for 21 years. Beyond this, fossil fuels are the lifeblood of the global economy. Fossil-fuel based products are in every aspect of our lives: from energy and transport to agriculture and medicine.
Without a drastic shift in the way the world works, when fossil-fuels stop, almost everything stops. This is why governments around the world are so willing to go to war at the cost of countless lives, why the Canadian government is willing to destroy an area the size of England to extract poor quality oil from the tar sands. Well-meaning campaigns for divestment in the fossil fuel industry aren’t going to be able to stop this (though what they do offer is eroding the ‘social licence’ of such activities).
Fossil fuels, though, aren’t the only thing we’re up against. We’re facing a complete change in worldview, a total cultural reversal. Beyond fossil fuels, we must talk about the fetish of growth. Perpetual economic growth is impossible on a finite planet, as it requires more and more inputs and produces more and more waste. Yet, the assumption that this is possible underpins our entire economic system. Growth is an unquestioned good in itself, that even the mainstream ‘left’ has yet to question. On top of this, the worldview we must challenge is one based on hierarchy: one that places rich white men at the top and paves the way for the exploitation of women, people of colour and nature.
Given that the scale of the issue is so complex and so interconnected it could seem like an impossible task. As Naomi Klein so clearly states, if we are to avoid climate chaos, we need to ‘change everything’. Conversely, as the root causes of the crisis we face are so interconnected, to change everything we can start anywhere.
It is vital, in fact, that we don’t compartmentalise our struggles and that we see that seemingly different issues are actually intrinsically connected. To change everything, it doesn’t mean we should just focus on aviation or fossil fuels, but join the dots between issues such as housing, gender, race, inequality, indigenous rights, animal rights and more, and how they all tie into the culture that rewards ecological destruction. Environmentalists should therefore show real solidarity to the important work being done in these areas, from Black Lives Matter and Idle No More to the fight against gentrification and social cleansing of so many cities.
We can look to inspiring struggles around the world from the Kurdish struggle in Rojava to the 22 years of the Zapatistas’ revolution. Both these examples show that resistance has two aspects: fighting to stop what we are against, while simultaneously building a new world.
With the scale of the challenge we face being so huge, it’s vital that we find common ways to work together and support one another. Thankfully, the beginnings of such structures are forming.
In the coming year there will be many opportunities to get involved. On the ecological side of things there will a global week of action in May under the banner of ‘Break Free’, which will include a second Ende Gelände coal mine action in Germany. Following the success of last year, the UK Earth First Gathering is likely to be even bigger this summer. The Climate Games were a success in Paris with over 124 teams and 214 actions happening in just 48 hours, and they too have promised to be part of the escalation in April this year. Reclaim the Power is calling for a year of decentralised action under the name of ‘Groundswell’, which aims to offer trainings and facilitate the formation of affinity groups. These initiatives offer opportunities for us to come together, build networks of solidarity, build relationships of love and trust.
The #Heathrow13 have given us an example of what a high-profile, effective action can look like, as well as showing us the inevitable repression that the state will impose on those who dare to fight for a better world. Many people have been outraged by this and are looking for ways to support these activists. One way that people can support them is to get active. Alone, their action and actions like it will fail – but together, we’re unstoppable. Here’s to 2016, the year we turn back the tide!
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