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At Heathrow, UK government does the right thing for people AND the planet

Two years ago, I joined thousands of people in west London to protest the construction of a third runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow airport.  The proposed expansion would have almost doubled air traffic into Heathrow, causing increased air and noise pollution, climate change, and devastating impacts to local communities. I was thrilled to turn on my computer last week and read that the new UK government has scrapped the project! This is a huge victory for the people, the planet, and all of the organizers and activists that made it happen.

While I certainly can’t take credit for this victory, I can’t help feeling connected to it because of the one day that I raised my voice.  I just happened to be in London for a conference when a friend and fellow activist invited me to join the protest.  It was a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in May, and we met up with friends from Platform UK, Greenpeace and other organizations helping to challenge this project which—like so many that we at EarthRights deal with—was both impractical and unnecessary. Because of the widespread impacts to both communities and the environment, the protest was filled with diversity. Residents spoke of their homes that would be lost; environmentalists implored the government to expand rail access; spiritual leaders spoke of our common duty to protect the earth; and teachers and children from local schools described the disruptions to their learning from overhead planes. It’s the same story we hear at EarthRights all too often -- everyone, from every walk of life, had something to lose if the private interests won and moved forward with the expansion.

I’m glad that they didn’t.  I’ll always remember how I felt that perfect spring day, in the middle of a village field as bands and children played, and thousands of us organized our bodies to form a huge NO, which passing aircraft could certainly see.  I remember seeing photos of that NO in the newspapers the next day, and looking for myself and my friends on the left side of the letter O.  While there were too many people for me to pick myself out, I knew I was there. Yes, I was one person, taking action for one day, on one event.  But it was part of a sustained, well organized campaign—a campaign that I have followed since then, and a campaign that I can feel proud to say that we won.  Onward!

Thousands took part in the May 31st 2008 demonstration against expansion at HeatThousands took part in the May 31st 2008 demonstration against expansion at Heathrow.

Photo © Nick Cobbing