Is direct action ethical?

Is direct action ethical?

Ethan Greenhart

Topics Politics

This is a bit of random text from Kyle to test the new global option to add a message at the top of every article. This bit is linked somewhere.

Dear Ethan,

I read with interest your views on the Heathrow Climate Camp last week but I wonder if direct action stunts are really ethical? Surely such acts are potentially dangerous both for the people taking part and the people affected? Wouldn’t it be better to try to convince others by using different methods?

Terry Minnall-Fife

Dear Terry,

This is no time for such cautious thinking. There’s an emergency on Planet Earth! If your mother was about to be knocked over by some ignorant motorist, you’d throw yourself in the path of the oncoming climate wrecker in order to save her, wouldn’t you? Well, Mother Earth is being threatened by the lobotomised masses who trample over her prostrate body every time they clamber on board another 767 to Syphilis Central on the Costa del Mundo.

It’s time for a few of us to put ourselves in harm’s way because as things stand, we’re all in harm’s way. We need to stop people flying and if that means physically preventing them, so be it. In fact, we need to stop people using anything other than human-powered means of transport.

The brutal destruction, not only of the planet but of all of our freedoms, that arises from fossil-fuelled transportation was illustrated to me only too clearly on the way to the Climate Camp this week. Spurning motorised transportation, I packed my bicycle with large bags and set off on a journey of many miles to join the other protesters. However, the police must have known I would be there – my reputation goes before me louder and faster than a jumbo jet. So, they tried to prevent me from cycling down a public road, some distance from Heathrow! What happened to the right to protest? Of course, they used some trumped-up traffic offence as a cover for their actions, telling me: ‘It’s called a motorway, sir. The clue is in the name.’ Fascists. Thankfully, I had the support of many cars and lorries travelling behind me, blasting their support on horns and klaxons.

In fact, I have other experiences of the heavy hand of the authoritarian state when it comes to roads. My formative time as an activist was in the roads protests of the 1990s. We made sacrifices, squatting in houses due for demolition or living in tunnels to stop the bulldozers. I myself lived chained to an oak tree branch high above the ground for seven months, three weeks and four days, unable to feed myself or perform the usual rituals in relation to my bodily functions. You may remember me under my nom de guerre of the time, ‘Stinky’, although I was never as popular as ‘Swampy’ for some reason, though my sacrifice was perhaps even greater than his. I did however make the press when the fascist police finally cut me down and I plunged back to Mother Earth; the Medway Chronicle led with a photo of me looking dazed under the headline ‘NUT FALLS FROM TREE’.

Now our targets are the metal beasts (a term I would never use for a beautiful animal, only humans or their monstrous products) that fly thousands of miles, contaminating both the air they travel through with their noxious emissions and contaminating their destinations with their noxious passengers. I’ve already made my feelings clear about what we should do, from setting up camp on the runways to screaming and shouting on board the planes (see Is it ethical to attend the Heathrow Climate Camp?).

Actually, being in the climate camp reminds me of the good old days with a heady atmosphere (and not ‘odour’ as some have suggested) of loving commitment and unity of purpose within a fully diverse and non-hierarchical structure where each view is nurtured and welcomed even if it is apparently ‘contradictory’.

The flaw in your argument, Terry, is that you believe we can ‘convince others’. This is nonsense. While a few enlightened proles may see the searing light of Gaia’s wisdom come streaming through the clouds of consumerism, the majority are hopeless slaves to Mammon and the package tour. The only thing we can do is get in their way, to just STOP THEM. Some will see this as elitist but for soldiers for the planet like us, our mandate comes from the trillions of living things who are currently regarded as ‘voiceless’ – if only because humans refuse to listen to them. This is ‘dem-eco-cracy’ in action.

There are some noble exceptions among the silent majority. I salute our selfless feathered friends who fly into the engines of airliners forcing them to crash. A ‘birdstrike’ is not an accident, it’s a guerilla blow against air travel. Why is there no monument to the Unknown Pigeons who die in the War on Air Travel? While we humans are in no position to leap into a jet engine (believe me, I’ve tried but they’re really high off the ground and they move so fast) we need to use our imaginations to find other ways to achieve the same result.

One environmental activist has described direct action as ‘theatre’ and if we can put on a show for the cameras, all the better. If we can only make flying downright difficult to do, or if the sacrifices of eco-warriors become too unpopular, perhaps someone enlightened in authority will make the brave and necessary decision to shut down the airports altogether. It was this kind of thing that forced the British to leave India 60 years ago. Now we need to make humans leave the skies.

Perhaps there could be a transitional phase when other forms of transport were still allowed, with individuals limited to one return train journey per year or something. But eventually we must reach a stage where powered transport means human-powered transport. While I’ve commented before on some of the potential dangers of cycling, the humble bike is a tremendously useful thing. For example, I am writing this article using my normally solar-powered computer but using pedal power instead. (Admittedly, steering and typing is proving a little difficult, but it’s surely worth it.)

Direct action is just the first step in our own revolution in transport. To rephrase a sadly mistaken, nature-hating old German: ‘Workers of the World – you have to lose everything except your (bicycle) chains!’

Ethan Greenhart is here to answer all your questions about ethical living in the twenty-first century. Email him at {encode=”” title=””}. Read his earlier columns here.

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Topics Politics


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