Sheffielder Sam Wakeling, a father of two children, was arrested with six friends whilst taking part in a prayer vigil outside London City Airport. It was part of an Extinction Rebellion protest in October 2019. He was convicted and fined £796 for failing to provide his name and address when asked by a police officer. He explained to the court that he was silent because he was in prayer.
In his statement, he asserts that the law protects the right to protest and the right to practice one’s faith. He believes that according to articles 9 and 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights he was participating in both legitimate protest and practice of faith and that the police’s actions in preventing this were not proportionate or necessary, and therefore were unlawful.
“The prosecution did not show evidence of any threat I was posing to national security, public safety, health or morals, or the rights and freedoms of other people, nor was my presence any cause of disorder or crime.”
Sam believes the government is guilty of each one of those things because they have failed to respond properly to the climate emergency. The Supreme Court ruled on Heathrow, that the Paris Agreement should be disregarded to allow for the expansion. So Sam has little faith in the courts to uphold justice.
This is what led to Sam sitting on the pavement outside London City Airport.
The Airport opened in 1987, at a time Sam, aged three was at a church preschool. He told the court ”I wasn’t aware of it then, but we participated in an activity that the South African government called illegal. The church was multiracial so its activities were against the law.”
Sam discovered early in life that because something is illegal, it is not necessarily wrong. He said “The harder a government tries to silence dissent, the harder we must all look at what they’re afraid of people saying.”
A few months later in Hawaii, a little-known observatory on Mauna Loa recorded atmospheric carbon dioxide above 350 parts per million for the first time.
These three events – opening an airport, an illegal playgroup, and crossing the threshold for a stable atmosphere – would lead Sam to that day in October 2019.
The courtroom was festooned with hazard tape and warnings making it inescapable that we are in an emergency, a global pandemic. The Government has ceaselessly conveyed the seriousness of the pandemic to the public. How different from the climate and ecological crises. Instead of trying to wake us up, those with power seem intent on pressing snooze for as long as they can – moving from denial to pointing at distant targets and greenwash. Yet many need no waking up.
Millions have lived with their house on fire for hundreds of years. Black and brown people treated as less than human, their lands treated as resources and their labour taken without choice or charge.
For centuries wealthy white men have searched around the world for more of ‘nature’ to claim as their own and turn into what they can recognise as wealth. This climate crisis does not spring out of thin air, but out of patterns of exploitation, many of which trace back to the City of London.
The City of London finances the emissions doing violence to our climate. They are also the main customer base for London City Airport.
This airport serves the richest passengers of any major airport in the UK, perhaps the world, with the average incomes of their 5 million passengers in 2019 at around £89k – very literally an airport for the 1%.
Aviation kills, yet the vast majority of the world have little or nothing to do with it. Half of all the emissions from passenger air travel globally are caused by just 1% of the world’s population.
And it is growing. The UK likes to celebrate that since 1990 our territorial emissions have halved. Yet in that same time, and not counted in the figures, emissions from aviation have more than doubled.
London City Airport is determined to continue this growth, especially expanding its capacity for hosting private jets. Months after the protest they announced the airport was now carbon neutral (through buying offsets, and not counting the 95% of their emissions from flights). In 2020 they boasted that while building their new taxiway they saved 3000 tonnes of CO2. They didn’t mention that unfortunately this much is then emitted by the flights the airport normally hosts in just the three days you’d need for a long weekend to Amsterdam.
It gives me great hope that people of faith like Sam are willing to risk arrest to speak the truth to the powers that are pushing our climate out of control. Find out more at http://www.christianclimateaction.org