Over the last few days, hundreds of environmental protestors have descended on major intersections and landmarks in Central London shutting down roads and even super-glueing themselves to a mass transit train in order to gain publicity. The protestors from a group calling itself ‘Extinction Rebellion’ have been largely peaceful but business groups in London say the demonstrations and sit-ins have cost companies millions of pounds in lost revenue and productivity.
The protests started on Monday when protestors initially targeted the headquarters of oil conglomerate Shell but it soon spread to Parliament Square, Waterloo Bridge and the shopping mecca of Oxford Circus – where a bright pink boat is parked in the middle of what is normally one of London’s busiest intersections.
Extinction Rebellion says the world is facing an “environmental emergency” and claim that “peaceful, nonviolent, civil disobedience” is absolutely essential to draw attention to what they’re calling the “most pressing issue of our time.” The group is demanding the British government “tells the truth” about climate change and wants the authorities to commit to reducing greenhouse emissions to net zero by 2025.
As you can imagine, the British government hasn’t really engaged with the protestors so the demonstrations continue – Extinction Rebellion says they plan to keep going for at least two weeks. So far, London’s Metropolitan Police Service says they’ve arrested more than 480 people in connection with the protests that they describe as “unacceptable”.
The police have deployed more than 1,000 officers, cancelled leave and day’s off, got officers working 12-hour shifts and even asked for help from police forces outside of London. Despite those efforts, they haven’t managed to clear the protests and now there’s a new threat.
The British media have been reporting that Extinction Rebellion plans to “shut down” Heathrow Airport on Friday – which coincides with the start of the Easter holidays.
The protest group has acknowledged the threat, saying that it is justified in targeting Europe’s busiest airport because we face a “manmade disaster on a global scale”.
“We are aware of information that suggests the protesters will carry out a demonstration on Friday, 19 April in the vicinity of Heathrow Airport,” the Metropolitan Police said in a statement.
“We have strong plans in place that will enable us to deploy a significant number of officers to Heathrow and take firm action against any protester seeking to cause disruption at this location by committing criminal offences such as obstruction of the highway.”
Whereas the police seem to have been pretty ineffective stopping disruption in Central London, they appear to be taking a very different tact against the threat to Heathrow.
“The airport is part of our national infrastructure and we will not allow the illegal activities of protesters to cause further disruption and misery to thousands of travellers, many of them families, over Easter. We would urge any protester planning to attend Heathrow to strongly reconsider.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for Heathrow confirmed that the airport was “working with the authorities to address any threat of protests which could disrupt the airport.”
The spokesperson told us: “While we respect the right to peaceful protest and agree with the need to act on climate change, we don’t agree that passengers should have their well-earned Easter Break holiday plans with family and friends disrupted.”
They also said Heathrow was one of the first airports in the world to sign up to the goals of the landmark Paris climate agreement.
This isn’t the first time Heathrow has been targeted by environmental protestors. In 2017, protestors first blocked a major tunnel going into the airport and later in the year, activists broke onto the runway and chained themselves to scaffolding to disrupt the airport.
Enviromentalists have long campaigned against plans to build a third runway at the airport – British lawmakers gave the greenlight for expansion last year, although the expansion faces many legal challenges and it could be years before work begins.