Aviation is a continued pattern of privilege for the very few at the expense of the many, argues Plane Stupid.
First to die, first to fight
The predicted impacts of climate change are well known by now. If emissions and temperatures continue to rise at the current rate it is likely that global temperatures will be 4 degrees above pre-industrial levels. This is double the ‘safe’ increase of 2 degrees, after which the changes become irreversible and catastrophic, leading to increased severe weather, sea level rise and biodiversity loss. In fact, the effects are being felt now: from severe flooding in the UK to the Arctic being 50 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than usual.
The impacts of climate change, however, are not experienced equally. Those who had least to do with causing the problems are the ones who are and will continue to feel it worst. From the small island nations in the Pacific Ocean to refugees fleeing war-torn Syria (where the conflict has been found to have had links to climate change, amongst other causes), to the predicted 75 million climate refuges by 2050. Primarily the victims of climate change are black and brown poor communities in the global South, and the impacts are often worst for women.
Not only are these communities feeling the effects of climate change, they have long been suffering the negative impacts of the extractive industries (oil, gas, coal and now ‘unconventional sources’ such as tar sands): the very industries which are driving climate chaos. Rarely do local communities see any benefit, with profits being extracted by the corporations and/or corrupt officials. The Niger Delta, for example, is a clear example of this. Estimates suggest that over the past 50 years over 9 million barrels of oil have been spilt in the Delta, equivalent to 50 Deep Water Horizon disasters. Since 2009, Shell has been responsible for over 1,000 spills, but continues to make a profit of over $15 billion in 2014. The effects of this amount huge number of oil spills has had unimaginable impacts on local communities’ health, their ability to grow or hunt food and their overall wellbeing.
Communities around the world who are suffering at the hands of extractive industries and climate chaos, however, are not sitting idly by. Resistance movements are being led by those affected most. In the Niger Delta, for instance, despite widespread repression of peaceful movements (including the high profile murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others), those fighting Shell have reduced output in the region of 30 per cent a year. In (so-called) Canada, it is indigenous communities who are leading the fight against pipelines from the Alberta Tar Sands, which need to pass through territories that were never signed over to the colonial government. Blockades such as the Unis’to’ten camp are ensuring that these projects, which would have devastating impacts locally and globally, don’t go ahead.
Though the particular effects of projects such as the tar sands pipelines may only have been a threat in recent years, the drivers behind these projects have much deeper roots. The reason that the negative impacts of climate chaos are distributed in the way they are is linked to three intersecting processes: capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy. Not only are these systems are premised on massive inequality that take hierarchy, be it based on wealth, race or gender, as a necessary condition to function, but they have an insidious way of trying to convince us that this oppression is the natural order of things and that ‘there is no alternative’.
Capitalism, with its need for never ending economic growth, requires ever increasing amounts of natural resources and energy, which always leads to increasing pollution and waste. That is why the only time in recent history CO2 emissions have decreased globally is during the financial crisis. Capitalism relies on exploitation. Exploitation of labour and of nature. Colonialism was a key driver of the shift to capitalism, with much of industrialization being made possible due to slavery. Similarly, as Siliva Federici shows, the evolution of patriarchy was key in in the expansion of capitalism and colonialism. This happened in various ways: from relegating women to the domestic sphere, which allowed for men’s labour to be exploited in industry; to taking away women’s power over their reproduction, meaning birth rates could be controlled for the good of state and capital; to the horrific violence that occurred to hundreds of thousands of women through the burning of ‘witches’. All of this oppression reinforced the power of the state and capital, and the techniques for doing so – for example torture and burning of witches – were often put on trial in one setting e.g. the colonies and then brought back to Europe – and vice versa.
The overall result of these processes is that profit becomes more important than life, especially if you are black, brown, indigenous, a woman or a non-human organism. This can be seen clearly in historical examples such as the Late Victorian Holocaust in India, where 10 million people died of hunger whilst the East India Company exported vast amounts of grain. More recently, speculators placed bets on commodity food prices leading to price spikes, food riots and mass hunger in 2008. Naomi Klein outlines in This Changes Everything how trade and profit trumps climate in international agreements. This could easily be re-written as profit trumps life.
The overall pattern of benefits being gained in the North and impacts being felt in the South continues to this day. Whether it be through ‘free trade’ agreements, which provides cheap goods by outsourcing production where there is little or no labour regulation; outsourcing dirty production, onto those who have the least voice; land grabbing practices, which take away space for growing food in order to produce bio-fuels or through offsetting carbon emissions by building mega-dams and displacing local communities – it seems as if only the scale gets worse. With the COP21 deal being deemed ‘half assed and half baked’, by former NASA climate scientist James Hansen, for a lack of any binding or enforceable emissions targets (and excludes any commitment on aviation), this trend can only continue. The costs of our unsustainable lifestyles will continue to be externalized on to those that our culture deems unimportant. This pattern will undoubtedly continue, that is of course, unless someone fights back, as frontline communities are doing.
Stop Aviation, Stop Co2lonialism
It’s in this context that the climate justice movement, including the fight against aviation expansion, needs to stand in solidarity with those most affected by climate change. And with the big NGOs clearly needing to decolonize themselves, with organizations like AVAAZ forcefully attempting to silence the Wretched of the Earth bloc at the most recent climate march in London, it’s down to the grassroots to show real solidarity.
The links between aviation and continued co2lonialism couldn’t be clearer. Not only is aviation the fastest growing source of CO2 in UK, which means more and more extraction, but the gulf between those who do and don’t fly couldn’t be wider. Globally, a mere 5 per cent of the population has ever taken a flight. So those arguing for expansion are doing so for the benefit of a tiny elite. Even within the UK, 70 per cent of flights are taken by just 15 per cent of the population. Aviation is a clear example of the North-South divide. Communities in the global South suffer twice: first from extraction and then from the effects of climate change, whilst the global North primarily uses aviation as a form of leisure or to expand processes of capital accumulation.
Aviation expansion isn’t even about family holidays for those who are relatively privileged in a global perspective, it’s about a continued pattern of privilege for the very few at the expense of the many. This, if we are to have any semblance of justice, must stop.
This means that there can be no third runway at Heathrow, no second runway at Gatwick and certainly no ‘Boris Island’. No, there can be #NoNewRunways in the UK. It also means looking globally to places like Mexico. Just outside Mexico City, in Atenco, local communities have been resisting a sixth runway airport and have suffered awful treatment at the hands of the police. This airport is being designed by Fosters + Partners, the same firm that profited from the new Terminal 2 at Heathrow. Wherever the elite try to profit at the expense of people, people will be ready to resist and say no. #NoNewRunways anywhere, no more pipeline, no fracking, no coal and no more roads.
In Paris we laid down a #RedLine. The limits which cannot be crossed for a safe climate and for just world. And we’re the ones that are going to make sure they’re not crossed. The fight against aviation must also be seen as a fight against other interconnected forms of oppression – otherwise a ‘just future’ is just wishful thinking.
Turning to our Zapatista sisters and brothers for inspiration:
‘What we have learned as Zapatistas, and without anyone or anything except our own path as teacher, is that no one, absolutely no one is going to come and save us, help us, resolve our problems, relieve our pain, or bring us the justice that we need and deserve.
There is only what we do ourselves, everyone in their own calendar and geography, in their own collective name, in their own thinking and action, their own origin and destiny.
We have also learned, as Zapatistas, that this is only possible with organization… Then we have not just a momentary flash that illuminates the earth’s surface’
Plane Stupid: planestupid.com