There’s Still Every Reason to Fight: Plane Stupid’s Robbie Gillett Talks to London Progressive Journal

February 1, 2008 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

In 1999 a few small groups of activists joined forces to create what is proving to be one of the most influential environmentalist groups of the 21st Century. With no hierarchy Plane Stupid are succeeding in making us prick up our ears and realise that what they are shouting about really is something that everybody should be listening to. Their message is simple, ‘Bring the aviation industry back down to earth, cause they’re killing us all.’

The expansion of aviation in the UK has gone relatively unnoticed over the years, with advertising portraying the budget airlines as having opened up the world to the average person. In reality all that has happened is that the budget airlines have created a new, cheaper section of business class. Taking people who are in too much of a hurry to take the train to Manchester from London. These airlines fly even when the plane is empty, just to keep its slot in the schedule. So, with planes flying empty and only half of the British public flying each year, why are there plans to open a third runway at Heathrow?

In an interview with one of Plane Stupid’s campaigners, Robbie Gillett, I asked him why he thought the government was so keen to back a proposal that has little to no public backing or support from other parties who are warning them that their Air Transport White Paper is a suicide note. Also, does the constant price-cutting of already budgeted flights suggest that there is no public want or need for it?

“The aviation industry has an incredibly close relationship with this government, with advisors moving between government, BAA and BA in a sort of carousel. Blair’s spin doctor Tom Kelly is now shacked up with BAA; Digby Jones is an unselected Minister, straight from the industry. A former energy minister, Brian Wilson, now runs FlyingMatters, a pro-industry lobby group. The list goes on and on. Frankly we think it’s time the public got to vote on who runs FTSE 100 companies, as they have more say in government policy than the backbenchers most of us tick the boxes for. The government is also desperate to appeal to the middle classes, who are the ones really enjoying the cheap fight boom.”

The government’s attitude to climate control is obvious and sickening. As Robbie Gillett points out, governments are cowardly and short-termists, they live for their short time in power, making changes that are seen immediately as positive to the public. Why should they spend their four years slogging away to accomplish something that will annoy the companies that have an influence over them and only win them favour when they are long gone? Why should their children and grandchildren’s lives in the future be an immediate consideration?

Putting all the blame on the British government for their lack of direct action would be unjust. We need to remember that the government is there for us and because of us and until we demand action, we will never see it. Responsibility must also lie with the rest of the world. We can ground all the planes, switch off all the computers and try to remember how to ride a bike, but without the assistance of countries such as America (who refuse to do anymore than “consider” the Kyoto agreement) and China (who appear to have not even heard of global warming), what chance do we stand? As Mr Gillett states; the best that we can hope is by making the changes we can lead by example and live in the faith that a good idea travels.

It would be impossible and well a little naïve to disagree with Plane Stupid’s reasons for grounding planes, but my fear is, if they achieve their goal, a massive hole will appear in the travel market that will be capitalised upon by cruise liners and other ships, creating an environmental disaster that we would never have seen with air travel. Not only do cruise liners, (according to Climate Care) emit far more CO2 per passenger per mile, but on average the same amount of greenhouse gas as a country. The impact on the natural world would be devastating. Currently 70% of cruise destinations are biodiversity hotspots. We cannot afford to allow more ships to enter these areas, destroying everything in their path from coral reefs to endangered wildlife with their waste, sewage, oil and CO2 emissions. Alongside this expansion of water travel there would probably also be a call for progressive technology in the industry that would make them faster, with water travel in time becoming as cheap as budget airline travel is today. All of which would leave us with a cheap, fast way of travelling, but with far more environmental damage. In this eventuality, Plane Stupid have promised that they would continue campaigning to prevent any comparable growth in cruise liners.

Once the cruise liners have been permanently docked with the planes, one other culprit of massive CO2 emissions needs to be dealt with: Computers. The average home computer spits out a thousand pounds of CO2 per year. Stopping people from travelling easily to business meetings will produce an even greater need for the internet than we already have. Even the environmentally friendly Plane Stupid are not exempt from this. They are constantly encouraging people to sign on and hit their website. A website that attracts more people than organisations over a hundred times their size, for what appears to be very little reason. Robbie Gillett from Plane Stupid admitted that the thousands of people sitting at home staring at the computer screen is not their idea of a movement and an almost pointless exercise in their campaign against aviation. So are they not as guilty as the rest of us for the decline in our delicate environment?

Compared to even ten years ago, there has been some dramatic changes in the way that we think about the effect we are having upon the environment. Recycling has become a daily part of many people’s lives, and even petrol companies are advertising their methods and intentions to reduce CO2 emissions. Is it all now just too late? 2007 saw what we can only described as a sneak peek at what is to come. Freak weather brought parts of the UK to their knees, and 2007 saw countries around the world that are prone to weather outbursts unable to cope with the extremities of the conditions. In the interview with Robbie Gillett I asked him if he thought we had already gone past the point of no return?

“There’s a probability we’ve already passed the point of no return, and that unavoidable feedback mechanisms will kick in regardless of what we do, but that’s quite a low probability. Unfortunately the odds go up with every day of business as usual, and the day when we can say we probably have passed the tipping point, and all efforts to save us are likely to come to nothing, is years away, not decades. That’s still every reason to fight.”

Being one of the thousands of people in the Gloucestershire area which was affected by the 2007 floods, it is frightening to see how life has casually returned to normal now that the water has receded. During those months we saw nothing compared to what Plane Stupid predict for us if we continue with business as usual. Unfortunately, however, with fear also comes denial, and we are left within something of a vicious circle.

Denial of the inevitable, though, is something that we could never associate with Plane Stupid and with 2008 comes one of the organisation’s biggest challenges in the form of the proposal for a third runway at Heathrow. It will accommodate a further 222,000 flights per year by 2030. Its proposal indicates this to be an add-on to Heathrow, a side development with just one extra runway. But the reality is that this little runway and its terminal is the equivalent of another airport the size of Gatwick.


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This post was written by Ami Johansson

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