I don’t regret risking prison to defend the climate

Walthamstow solicitor Melanie Strickland was this week given a suspended sentence for her part in a protest at Heathrow Airport – here she explains why she has no regrets

Melanie Strickland

Melanie Strickland locked to fencing at Heathrow Airport during the Plane Stupid protest in July 2015
Credit: Plane Stupid

In July 2015 myself and twelve others staged a non-violent action at Heathrow Airport, under the banner of the ‘Plane Stupid’ campaign.

The action involved setting up a tripod structure and occupying the runway until the police cut us out. This resulted in a number of flights being cancelled – and less flights means less emissions, which means less suffering from climate change.

We did the action just two weeks after the government’s Airports Commission recommended a new runway at Heathrow. To put this into context, Heathrow Airport as one of the biggest airports in the world, is already the second-biggest carbon emitter in the UK and, if a new runway goes ahead, will be the single-biggest carbon emitter in the UK.

I did the action because not to take action when the climate is being destabilised, putting millions of lives at risk and impoverishing generations to come, is wrong.

I have no faith in governments or the United Nations to solve the climate crisis – after more than 20 years of climate change negotiations, by almost every environmental measure, things are getting worse. It’s up to ordinary people to avert ecological crisis and to bring about the transition to a peaceful, socially just and sustainable world.

Heathrow 13

Heathrow 13 protesters celebrate outside Willesden Magistrate’s Court, including Melanie Strickland, front right
Credit: Kristian Buus

Our action has made a difference. So far the government has put off a decision about airports expansion until at least this summer. A movement has mobilised to support us, asserting that any new runway in the UK crosses a redline. We have been getting support internationally and linking up with other anti-airport expansion struggles.

I want to help bring about the end of the fossil fuel age. I know that for this to happen, there needs to be many more bold, disruptive actions against polluting infrastructure. But the most powerful companies on the planet are invested in fossil fuels and this transition is not going to come without sacrifice.

My understanding of history is that there is no change without friction – just look at the abolitionists, the suffragettes, civil rights struggles – there are many examples.

For me, the possibility of a few weeks in prison was a risk worth taking to defend the planet. It was a privilege to have done this action, and I hope it inspires more actions. Many people I admire have spent time in prison for principled action – including two of my favourite East End heroes; suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst and socialist and George Lansbury.

I have absolutely no regrets about what we did.

Melanie, and all 13 protesters involved in last July’s protest, were given six-week suspended sentences at Willesden Magistrates’ Court on 24th February having previously been found guilty of aggravated trespass and entering a security-restricted area of an aerodrome. For a full report of the case:

Visit www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/feb/24/heathrow-13-climate-change-protesters-avoid-jail

For more information about Plane Stupid:

Visit www.planestupid.com

For more information on why Heathrow Airport wishes to expand:

Visit http://your.heathrow.com/takingbritainfurther/vision/