There could be no better snapshot of the elitism, killjoyism, and outright snobbery of the radical environmentalist movement than the protest taking place at Stansted Airport in London today.
Here we have an attempt by a tiny clique of well-to-do eco-protesters — with Middle-England names like Joss, Tamzin, and Lily — to prevent thousands of people from flying abroad, whether for fun, to meet loved ones, or, in one distraught woman’s case, to attend her father’s funeral in the Republic of Ireland. This is the very essence of environmentalism: an aloof effort to police and restrain the desires of the mass of the population.
Protesters from the youthful lobby group Plane Stupid (you said it) stormed the runway at Stansted at 3:15 GMT. They brought with them six-foot-high security fencing, and promptly chained themselves to it. Their aim, they say, is to “draw attention to CO2 emissions from the aviation industry.”
The group’s broader aims are to bring to a halt all airport expansion in the UK, end the “culture” of short-haul flights by demanding better government investment in the rail system, and get rid of “cheap flights” altogether by raising fuel taxes on flying.
This would price out the poorer sections of society, those who have only relatively recently discovered the joys of flying. But then, Plane Stupid and its supporters seem to view these “cheap flyers” — the unspeakable members of the lower orders — as the most noxious and destructive tourists of all. “Our ability to live on the earth is at stake, and for what? So people can have a stag night in Prague,” said Plane Stupid’s erstwhile spokesman Joss Garman, making an effortless link between the debauchery of working-class British lads and the end of the world as we know it.
Plane Stupid backer Caroline Lucas, Member of the European Parliament for the Green Party, has written of the “stratospheric cost of cheap flights” and says we need “an end to cheap stag nights in Riga.” Which is a bit rich coming from a woman who sits in a parliament that shifts itself from Brussels to Strasbourg once a month, involving the transportation of 732 MEPs, 2,000 parliamentary staff, and hundreds of other European officials hundreds of miles by bus, train, and plane at a cost of 209 million Euros each and every time.
The anti-flyers’ instinctive loathing for the holiday spirit, for free movement around the globe, for “cheap people” and their “cheap holidays,” has been on full display at Stansted.
Ryanair (that most despised facilitator of cheap flights) has had to cancel 52 flights as a result of the protest today. And guess what? Not all of Ryanair’s disappointed passengers were planning to indulge in that prurient middle-class eco-nightmare of bachelor parties abroad. One woman, Anita Kelleher, was due to fly to Ireland for her father’s funeral. She missed it. “I am heartbroken,” she told the BBC.
The anti-flyers’ claim to be acting in the name of science — or “The Science,” as they inevitably describe it, with biblical reverence — does not add up. They conveniently ignore the fact that, according to a comprehensive survey published in The Economist, aviation’s contribution to total manmade emissions worldwide is around 3 percent. That is way behind electricity generation (33.9 percent), industry (18.8 percent), agriculture (7.6 percent), and everyday residential living (7.6 percent).
No, it is not “scientific fact” but a pernicious moralism and misanthropy that makes eco-activists so obsessed with flying. Manmade flight represents humanity’s most naked defiance of nature and its limits, where we take to the skies in the most unnatural way imaginable in order to conquer and explore the globe. And modern airports, with their no-frills airlines and bustling crowds of people thirsting to see the world, represent aspirant consumerism at its most explicit.
This is why the eco-poshos hate flying: it’s clever, arrogant, exploratory, and desirable. And at Stansted today, where 50-odd eco-worthies have prevented thousands from soaring through the skies, we can glimpse, in an undiluted form, a major battle of our times: that between green misanthropy and mass desire.
In response to the protest at Stansted, an environmental writer for the Guardian compared the Plane Stupid protesters to Rosa Parks. What a monumentally historic insult to the U.S. civil-rights movement. Where Parks refused to get out of her bus seat, and went on to organize a mass boycott of buses, in order to increase people’s rights and choices — to increase equal access for everyone to the transport system and beyond — the miserabilists at Stansted fundamentally want to restrict our freedom of movement and limit our choices. If they had been around in 1955, they would probably have started an activist group called “Bus Stop,” ejecting everyone — black and white — from the seats of dirty, polluting buses.
– Brendan O’Neill is the editor of spiked and the author of Can I Recycle My Granny? And 39 Other Eco-Dilemmas.