Thursday, August 02, 2007

Bah on BAA in Britain

You can't fix stupid, as the classic line by the standup comedian Ron White goes.

But you sure can define it. And today it takes only three letters: BAA.

The British Airports Authority (BAA) -- the company that runs Heathrow and other airports in Britain and around the world -- really hit the publicity jackpot when it went to court in London requesting a sweeping injunction against a planned week-long environmental protest near Heathrow starting Aug. 14.

The protest is called the Camp for Climate Action. Its organizers want to block any expansion of Heathrow, but more generally they want to draw attention to aviation as a source of CO2 emissions that contribute to the climate change crisis. They also intend, a statement says, to "raise awareness of the need to fly less."

Organizers of the encampment have said they plan at least one day of active protests to disrupt Heathrow operations. They said will not do anything illegal like attempt to block runways, though they been clear that other unspecified "peaceful" protest tactics are being planned. The encampment is to be held at so-far unspecified sites near the airport.

OK, that could mean problems, and BAA Heathrow of course has every right to make preparations to minimize them. After all, Heathrow already firmly holds the title as the world's most screwed-up major airport. Heathrow is designed to handle 45 million passengers a year, and it now handles more than 67 million. And hair-trigger British security authorities have added to the chaos with arbitrary new hassles.

But what does BAA Heathrow do? It rushes to the High Court in London applying for an injunction that, according to British press reports, would provide for the widespread arrest of protesters bound for the airport.

How, you might ask, could this amazing feat be accomplished in a democratic nation with ancient legal traditions with names like habeas corpus?

Well, BAA -- which is owned by the Spanish company Ferrovial -- asked the British court to give police the authority to pre-emptively arrest identifiable members of 15 separate environmental and preservation groups as they make their way to the airport. BAA included in its request the ability to have Heathrow-bound passengers arrested on the Piccadilly underground line, and even at Paddington Station, where protesters would board the BAA-owned Heathrow Express. The Piccadilly line has since been dropped from the request.

And who are these scary environmental groups? Well, some are well-known activists coalitions, including AirportWatch. PlaneStupid is another. Groups such as the National Trust also are among the suspects. You know the National Trust, the big preservation organization that looks after 612,000 acres of British countryside and coastline, as well as hundreds of historic properties?

The president of the National Trust is Prince Charles. The previous president was his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, who is now presumably off the hook when the coppers come round looking for provocateurs. Up against the wall, Charley boy! Here's a coin to call yer old Mum.

The court is still trying to sort out BAA's application for the injunction.

[Update, Friday, Aug. 3 -- The High Court said it would rule Monday on the injunction request. Meanwhile, a leader of one of the protest groups said BAA's bungling had brought unanticipated widespread attention to the event. "BAA has done all my press work for me," said John Stewart, who heads Hacan Clearskies, a group of Heathrow-area residents who have organized to stop airport expansion and reduce noise. "The injunction is just one long press release for us." Stewart was quoted in the Richmond and Twickenham Times newspapers.]

BAA, digging itself deeper, reacted to the uproar and ridicule by really saying it only wanted to block illegal protesters bound for Heathrow, and maybe just their ringleaders. It was widely pointed out that (outside of Franco's Spain and similar prescient law-enforcement environments) you couldn't really tell who was going to be an illegal protester until they actually got to the airport sites and did something against the law.

As drafted, the injunction would conceivably cover 5 million citizens of Great Britain, the newspapers pointed out.

In a statement, BAA replied: "Contrary to media reports, the injunction will not affect anyone lawfully traveling to and from Heathrow Airport." [My italics] BAA said that the injunction "will only affect those individuals who wish to [my italics] conduct harassment, trespass, obstruction and/or use any unlawful means; to deter obstruct or prevent the lawful operation and/or development of the airport; or to prevent persons from traveling to, from or at the airport." [Uh, BAA's grammar and punctuation].

OK then. Glad you made that clear, BAA.

Meanwhile, if you're going through Heathrow in mid-August, watch what you wish for.

[Update, Aug. 6 -- The High Court granted BAA a narrowed version of its sweeping injunction request today in a ruling that nevertheless would have been described in the U.S. as a form of prior restraint, but which the British media seem to find unobjectionable.]



Calvin Jones said...

Camp for Climate Action

From the 14th to the 21st of August 2007 people from all over the UK will come together to form the Camp for Climate Action at Heathrow airport. Described last year as 'Glastonbury, science seminar and protest all in one'1, we clearly have a lot to live up to. Last year this mixture of education, protest and entertainment captured the media imagination with the camp receiving unheard of news coverage for a climate change protest. At that time we focused on dirty coal2, this year the focus has changed to the ever expanding aviation industry.

Deciding to highlight aviation growth with this years climate camp was not an easy decision. But we asked ourselves: 'Where are government policies on climate change weakest and most badly needed?'. The answer is clearly the aviation industry: a heavy polluter that is highly subsidised and growing fast. Just imagine would could be done with the £9 Billion in subsides given to aviation3. That is a lot of hospitals, schools...or tax cuts! The government has climate policies that exclude aviation and aviation policies that exclude any consideration of climate change. According to a cross-party group of MPs who looked at this conflict, growth in aviation emissions are likely to entirely destroy progress made elsewhere4.

Whereas the government has shown it's rhetoric to outshine it's performance the Camp for Climate Action seeks to lead by example. The week long event will have a strong emphasis on learning, both about low carbon living and about communicating climate change. Renewable energy such as Solar and Wind will power the event, including on-site internet access, projectors and lighting5.

Heathrow was chosen as the symbol of aviation due to it's international profile and it's vast carbon footprint—larger than many countries6. It was also important to us that many local people are already strongly resisting the expansion of Heathrow, we felt a strong desire to strengthen there fight.

We have three aims:

1.To highlight government hypocrisy in pursuing both a climate plan and an entirely inconsistent airport expansion plan.
2.To support local communities i there struggle against loosing homes under the ever expanding tarmac of Heathrow.
3.To educate ourselves and all those who join us about low carbon living.

We do all this with a simple philosophy:

Climate change is our generations challenge, it must not be left to burden our children. As governments fail us the realisation is clear, action is our responsibility: we are the ones who we have been waiting for.

3.AEF, Hidden Cost of Flying, 2003
4.Environmental Audit Committee, 2002-2004, 9th Report (Budget 2003 and Aviation)

Aviatrix said...

So they're going to arrest anyone approaching the airport
a) on a bicycle
b) in a Prius
c) in a clapped out Honda Civic covered in left wing bumper stickers?