When Does Climate Activism Become Climate Terrorism?
Climate activists glued themselves to the tarmac at Berlin Brandenberg Airport (BER) and blocked both runways on November 24, 2022.
The incursion took place at 5:35pm local time, with “several people” on the runways according to the airport’s Twitter feed. “While some of them are glued to the asphalt, others are riding bicycles across the maneuvering area, bringing air traffic to a standstill,” said the climate activist group Last Generation (Letzte Generation). The group said it had informed the police shortly before with an emergency call.
Can you imagine a scenario where a jetliner short on fuel is forced to divert to a distant airport or make a white-knuckle landing, because protestors have taken over the runways? It sounds like a potboiler novel, or the “Airport” disaster movies parodied by “Airplane!”
Yet the takeover of Berlin Airport (BER) by Last Generation made such a scenario possible. Another possibility: protestors could have been killed by landing aircraft.
Last Generation and other climate protestors achieved more publicity by gluing themselves to museum floors. They also attacked multi-million-dollar masterpieces by Van Gogh, Klimt, Vermeer, Manet and a BMW repainted by pop artist Andy Warhol with food, flour, and liquids. In Germany, Last Generation blocks roads in support of one of their less popular demands—reducing the speed limit to 100 kilometers per hour.
Yet German security services do not see Last Generation as a threat to “free domestic order” or a future Baader-Meinhof gang or Red Army Faction. The president of the security apparatus, Thomas Haldenwang, said that despite blocking roads and desecrating works of art, “committing crime does not make the group extremist.”
Similarly, Fox News called the Berlin runway takeover a “stunt” that was “staged” to protest of greenhouse gas emissions caused by air travel. “One affluent percent of the population is responsible for around half of flight-related greenhouse gas emissions,” Last Generation said.
Earlier in November, climate activists chained themselves to fences and blocked roadways at private aviation airports in 13 countries, claiming private jets pour 10X the carbon per person into the atmosphere.
I wrote about these climate protests and attempted blockades at private jet airports. I asked the CEOs of three separate private jet companies for comments. None would discuss the protests, even off the record.
I can’t say I blame them. Not only do they not want to give additional publicity to these groups, they are probably don’t want to bring up the issue with their growing number of customers. After all, presumably pro-environmental celebrities like Taylor Swift, Ophrah Winfrey, the Kardashians, Steven Spielberg, and personal finance expert Suze Orman are avid users of private jets.
Meanwhile, “Global leaders faced similar backlash when many attended this year’s Glasgow climate conference … on private planes. The BBC reported that leaders flying from Rome to Glasgow would have emitted around 1 tonne of greenhouse gas per person on a private jet – but if they’d taken a commercial flight…they would have emitted around a quarter of a tonne.”
Aircraft manufacturers are hiding their heads in the sand. As one climate publication noted, “In the securities filings of Textron Inc., Bombardier Inc., General Dynamics Corp., Dassault Aviation SA and Embraer SA — whose aircraft together make up over 90% of the world’s private jet fleet — climate change is mainly described as a regulatory challenge or not mentioned at all.”
Business jets fly fewer people shorter distances and do contribute more carbon per individual. As their market is primarily large corporations and wealthy individuals, they make a tempting target for climate activists. But to get the publicity these groups seek; everyday commercial flights will need to be disrupted.
Unsatisfied with their success in extracting ‘billionaire’s tear’ from rich private jet flyers, European activists now appear to have targeted ordinary travelers for the sin of buying a ticket and flying to a destination. The Berlin commercial runway takeover represents a new level of threat to world aviation and the travel industry.
In 2019, when the so-called Green New Deal was introduced, a proposal summary noted “We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.”
Protestors seem to have begun more militant disruptions due to their “end justifies the means” thinking. Frighteningly, it has already been suggested by the environmental press that “climate change needs a martyr.”
We do not need to create any “climate martyrs” while the world tries to deal with the issue. Real martyrs fight unjust tyranny, like 21-year-old Sophie Scholl, whose brave resistance to the Nazis ended in her execution, or the22-year-old Iranian woman killed by the regime, Mahsa Amini. Flying abroad for personal, business, or cultural connection is hardly an unjust tyranny.
Travel is an imperfect industry, like any other. There is income inequality, exploitation, sexism, over-tourism, gaudy excess, and yes, carbon creation. Yet nothing brings the world together more than the travel and aviation industries.
Would the Berlin protestors have blocked runaways to prevent DHL, FedEx, UPS, and commercial jets from flying around the world to deliver COVID-19 vaccines?
Actions like the runway takeover are absolutely not OK and should be punished to the full extent of the law. Governments and the travel industry need to make that absolutely clear.
Both the travel and aviation industries need to own this issue and show how they are responding to the climate crisis. For example, at least one private jet company says it is carbon neutral through the use of carbon offsets. Is that good enough right, until lower-polluting technologies like Sustainable Aviation Fuel are widely available? If not, why not?
The private jet companies, and indeed the entire travel and aviation industries, need to fight back. Aviation is responsible for less than 3% of carbon creation, yet it is uniquely vulnerable to such attacks.
The travel industry needs to make clear that we are going forward, not back. We are not going to stop flying. We are not going to stop traveling. And we are not going to freeze in the dark.