Climate Activists, Including Scientists, Are Arrested in Protests at Private Airports
More than a dozen protesters, including scientists, were arrested on Thursday at private airports in the United States, coinciding with similar actions around the world to highlight the toll of private jets on the environment, activists said.
The protesters temporarily shut down the main entrance to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, and also picketed at airports in North Carolina, California and Washington State. They were joined by protesters who took similar actions at 13 other private airports in 12 other countries, activists said.
Climate activists have taken part in several high-profile stunts recently. In October, they flung mashed potatoes on a glass-covered Claude Monet painting, “Grainstacks,” at a German museum. The $111 million painting was not damaged, officials said. Activists in Britain and Italy recently glued themselves to art.
The action on Thursday included climate scientists, a small sign that researchers have become more willing to take a more forceful public stand on climate change given the increasing clarity of the science, said Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab.
“Five years ago, the majority view was that it was unacceptable to be an activist and to speak out if you were a scientist,” he said in an interview late Thursday. “I think the majority view now is you probably should be doing that because the science is so frightening.”
Dr. Kalmus was arrested on Thursday on a charge of misdemeanor trespassing at a private jet terminal at the Wilson Air Center in Charlotte, N.C. He was among four people, including another scientist, who were arrested as part of the protest at the Charlotte airport, he said. A representative for the airport declined to comment about the matter.
As of late Thursday, a spokeswoman for Scientist Rebellion, a group of scientists who have turned to climate activism, said that at least 16 scientists in the U.S. and a total of 81 worldwide had taken part in the climate actions on Thursday.
In April, Dr. Kalmus was one of roughly 1,000 scientists in 25 countries who blocked traffic and chained themselves to, among other targets, the gates of the White House and doors of bank branches as part of the Scientist Rebellion, one of the groups behind Thursday’s protests.
Dr. Kalmus said he is careful to follow NASA’s rules “scrupulously.” He makes clear that he speaks only for himself, not the agency. On Thursday, he took a personal day from work. He said that he worried about one day having a research grant reviewed by someone wary of his activism, but that he had not faced any repercussions so far.
On Thursday, the protests were aimed primarily at the aviation industry. Scientist Rebellion along with Extinction Rebellion, an affiliated group, said in a news release on Thursday that the sector was “the pinnacle of climate injustice and emissions inequality.”
The effect of aviation on the environment is under scrutiny in the United States and elsewhere. The sector is already considered among the world’s top carbon emitters. Experts say it accounts for about 3 to 4 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Private jets are estimated to cause five to 14 times as much pollution as commercial planes per passenger, and 50 times as much as trains, according to a study published last year by Transport & Environment, a group campaigning for cleaner transportation.
Lenis Valens, a spokeswoman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said that seven people were arrested on charges of trespassing, disorderly conduct and interference with public transportation at the protest at Teterboro, which included 15 to 20 people and blocked the main entrance to the airport. Ms. Valens said that the airport temporarily rerouted employees and customers.
She said no one was injured in the arrests but she believed that two protesters, who had glued themselves to an object, were taken to a hospital. She did not have further information about the episode.
Activists said that at least 15 people were arrested during the protests at private airports in the United States on Thursday, though that number could not be confirmed. It was not immediately clear how many people were arrested overseas.
Organizers said the goal of the actions was to draw attention to how the “jet-setting life-styles of multi-millionaires and billionaires” are hurting the environment, all while governments are subsidizing the use of private jets.
“It is obscene that Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates can fly their private jets tax free, while global communities starve,” Gianluca Grimalda, a social science researcher and member of Scientist Rebellion, said in the news release. “It’s only fair that wealthy polluters pay the most into climate loss and damage funds to help the most vulnerable countries adapt.”