“Extinction Rebellion” movement activists, many retirees, wage a sit-in at the entrance of London City Airport and halt two planes
By Laurie Goering
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – As climate change activists attempted to shut down London City Airport on Thursday morning, John Curran, a 49-year-old former police detective from Nottingham, sat with his hand super-glued to a concrete walkway outside the front entrance.
“Five years ago, if you’d said I’d glue myself to the pavement, I’d have said you were insane,” he said, as a ring of police officers worked with a syringe of solvent to free his hand, following his arrest.
But with the British government failing to act swiftly enough to curb climate threats in Curran’s view – plans to expand City and Heathrow airports were just one example, he said – he felt he owed it to his 3-year-old daughter to step in.
“I’m not an activist. I don’t see myself as that. I see myself as a father,” he said.
But, he added before police officers carried him to a nearby van, “the climate science is clear – we have 11 years to fundamentally change things, and nothing is happening.”
One, James Brown, a partially blind former Paralympic cyclist, clambered atop a British Airways plane after buying a ticket for the flight, halting its departure.
A second ticket-holding protester boarded an Aer Lingus flight, then refused to sit and calmly spoke out about climate change risks. Both were arrested and removed.
Extinction Rebellion organizers said the protest had caused “major disruption” but had not shut down the airport as they had hoped.
London’s Metropolitan Police, on their website, called the airport protest “wholly unacceptable and irresponsible”.
They noted that more than 840 people had been arrested in four days of Extinction Rebellion protests across the capital this week.
Those have ranged from a “nurse-in” of mothers and babies on a public road near parliament on Wednesday to the planting a temporary forest of potted trees.
SYMPATHY – AND COMPLAINTS
Some of the travelers pulling trolley bags past ranks of largely silver-haired protesters at City Airport said they could sympathize with the protest’s aims, despite the inconvenience.
“I don’t mind. If the government can’t take any decision to act, then people have to strike,” said Irena, 75, who had just arrived from Warsaw and would only give her first name.
She said that working as a nurse in London, she had seen the impacts of worsening air pollution, including on children’s lungs, and felt faster measures were needed to stem the threat.
Richard Collins, however, rushing for a flight to Amsterdam, said the activists risked alienating potential backers rather than winning them over.
“I’m for saving the environment, but not by these means. It gets the message across but makes them unpopular,” he said, as he searched for a back route to the airport, with police blocking a main entrance from a nearby train station.
David Williams, 42, a protester from Wales, said that while a “vocal minority” of those passing through London City Airport had been critical, he felt many were “quite supportive of what we do”, with some stopping to talk.
“Our methods are disruptive but they need to be disruptive to have an effect. I bet nobody would look back and say Martin Luther King or Gandhi should not have been arrested,” said the tradesman, as he and others used a banner to block a road.
“We’re scared – that’s why we’re here,” it read.
‘A SMALL THING TO DO’
Many of those arrested on Thursday were elderly. Phil Kingston, 83, of Bristol, sat on a concrete walkway near the airport’s entrance, his back resting against a pole, sipping a thermos of water offered by Extinction Rebellion volunteers.
Kingston, part of a Christian coalition of climate activists, said he had been arrested twice since the latest protests started on Monday – but kept returning on behalf of his grandchildren.
“This movement is going to grow. We have to reduce the vulnerability of our children and grandchildren,” he said, before a pair of police officers again gently arrested him and carried him away.
A tired-looking Sheila Collins, sitting nearby, also was arrested and removed, after sitting hand-in-hand on the cold concrete with other religious protesters, some singing hymns.
“I’m giving up my liberty, but it’s a small thing to do. I’m at the end of my life. I’d like to use what’s left to make a world others can live in,” said the 80-year-old from Cardiff.
Mervyn Sears, 69, a retired London telecommunications worker who held a banner outside the airport, laughed at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s characterization of climate protesters as youthful “crusties” living in “hemp-smelling” tents.
“This is far more mainstream people,” he said, predicting Johnson “will pay for it at the ballot box if he dismisses this movement”.
Worsening climate change pressures, including droughts and water shortages, could drive much higher immigration pressure than Britain has already seen, he said – one reason to act now.
He admitted Extinction Rebellion’s demand that Britain move to reduce its climate-changing emissions to “net zero” by 2025 – 25 years ahead of a UK parliament promise to do so by 2050 – was likely unachievable but said it was still a crucial aim.
“If science says we have to do it, then we’d better try quite hard,” he said. “You have to start now, with energy and investment.”