Eco-anarchy in the UK: dissidence group mobilises for climate justice

A direct action group shut down roads in London’s political district Friday evening to oppose new runway construction at London’s Heathrow Airport. The rush-hour road-block in Parliament Square was the culmination of a campaign by Vote No Heathrow, an autonomous branch of the Rising Up direct action network. It saw a 14 day hunger-strike, solidarity fasts and arrests for non-violent civil disobedience.

Submitted by RosalindR on June 24, 2018

Around 30 activists blocked a busy intersection next to the UK parliament demanding UK Labour and the Scottish National Party vote against the runway at Monday’s crucial parliamentary vote. Some were on the final day of a two-week hunger strike.

Since the mid-2000s, proposals for a new runway at the world’s busiest airport have attracted organised opposition from London residents and environmentalists. 478, 000 flights land and take-off at the airport currently. This would jump to 700, 000 by 2030 with the runway. Political elites across the ideological spectrum have repeatedly justified expansion using the language and policy framework of free-market exchange. In 2013, Sir Howard Davies of the Airports Commission sold the runway as being compatible with ‘deliver[ing] the maximum connectivity bang for each of our carbon bucks’. [1]

This strategy of eking maximum fossil-fuelled economic growth from the carbon budget belies the gravity of what aviation expansion means for human health and global climate. The Laboratory of Aviation and the Environment at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found in 2016 that the noise generated by London Heathrow and London Gatwick already affected 255, 800 people, contributing to 17 premature mortalities each year. [2] Further, the post-Paris Agreement UK Committee on Climate Change set an absolute minimum reduction target of 37.5 MtCO2 (metric tons carbon dioxide) in yearly carbon emissions from UK aviation by 2050 to prevent average global temperatures rising beyond 2 degrees celsius. [3] Since the UK is not legally bound to these commitments, there is no reason to believe increased aviation would be offset by fuel-efficiency measures promised by the government. Heathrow runway expansion would only erode the possibility of maintaining a habitable planet. 

While politicians have shifted debate toward issues of transport capacity, expanding markets and logistics, the Vote no Heathrow campaign is wrenching the frame toward the moral urgency of mitigating climate breakdown. Its tactics are guided by the recognition that the UK political system remains beholden to the carbon economy as the critical window for preventing human catastrophe narrows.

Despite popular opposition and mounting climate breakdown, the UK Tory government has forced members to support the runway while the so-called progressive parties have refused to organise a solid oppositional alliance. Vote no Heathrow also released a public statement condemning the culture of caution at Green NGOs such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, a challenge that finally prompted the organisations to endorse the campaign.

The group now plans to scale up their activities. Their ‘Extinction Rebellion’ campaign is currently mobilising for a series of blockades at key UK logistical hubs. They urge anyone who wants to fight for climate justice to message or and get involved.


[1] Steven Griggs, David Howarth, ‘The Airports Commission, the Dilemmas of Political Leadership and the Third Runway at Heathrow Airpot, The Political Quarterly’, 2018

[2] Philip J. Wolfe, John L. Kramer, Steven R.H. Barrett, Current and future noise impacts of the UK hub airport, Journal of Air Transport Management, 58, 2017

[3] Committee on Climate Change, Meeting the UK aviation target - options for reducing emissions to 2050, December 2009,, p. 7