Image credit: Plane Stupid, used under Creative Commons license.
From occupying airport runways to scaling the House of Parliament, the direct action anti-aviation activists of Plane Stupid are well known for courting controversy. With a number of protesters now facing trial for chaining themselves to a plane (yes, really), an interesting conundrum has arisen—because their actions actually lead to an increase in carbon emissions. The question is, should it matter?Protests Increased Carbon Emissions
Reporting on the trial of six Plane Stupid activists for occupying Manchester Airport, Helen Carter explains that—according to prosecutors—the protests in May actually created an increase in carbon emissions due to a delay in take off:
"Moore said the six breached the perimeter fence on 24 May last year and approached the plane which was waiting to take 252 passengers and crew to Egypt. Five surrounded the nosewheel and chained their arms together while a sixth chained himself to the group so he could move freely and provide food and drink. The airport had to be closed to aircraft for 30 minutes, he said. The delay led to an additional £1,500 fuel bill and £196.88 in crew costs for Monarch as the plane attempted to make up lost time."
Of course, to anybody with even a rudimentary understanding of the aviation industry—this increase in emissions is no great surprise. But it does pose an important question. (Let's leave aside the other safety, moral and legal concerns around chaining yourself to a great big bloody plane and preventing a perfectly legal takeoff—all of which deserve their own, lengthy debate.)
Leverage Versus Footprint
On the one hand, if we spread the message that individual actions matter and we can all do our part to cut emissions—then raising emissions, even by a fraction, is counterproductive. On the other hand, I have argued for a long time that leverage is as important as footprints.
In other words, if you accept that non-violent direct action is sometimes necessary to prevent injustices, then it is fairly likely that there will be an environmental cost associated with that direct action too. (What's the carbon footprint of the Sea Shephard's anti-whaling activities, for example?) To bash protesters for a temporary uptick in emissions from one plane is as pointless as it would have been to praise them had they prevented the take off.
Ultimately, the goal on all sides is to gain the upper hand in the debate and bring about (or prevent) the kind of societal changes needed to really combat climate change. Anything else is peripheral. Whether chaining yourself to a plane is justified, that's a different matter...
More on Aviation Protests and Plane Stupid
Airport Protesters Scale Parliament
Heathrow Protesters Breach Security and Occupy Plane
Protesters Who Occupied Runway Prepare to Stand Trial