Written by Eric Lombard While the aviation sector and governments promise a new era of “sustainable” aviation fuels (SAF), we know that it will divert much-needed resources away from other sectors and take decades to happen, if at all. Yet there is an efficient way to...
“We’ve come to tell the super-rich that the party is over”
It was a key moment for the growing movement against private jets and excessive flying: On Tuesday, 23d of May, 103 climate activists disrupted Europe’s biggest private jet fair EBACE in Geneva. More than 800 news articles reported on the action. The same day, a bike demonstration in Geneva protested against EBACE.
“Private jets and their immense climate impact are a scandal. We just had to interrupt these business people drinking champagne and going shopping for their newest jet model”, explained Charlène Fleury, one of the activists.
Some of them entered the exhibition area on the Geneva airport by bike, others chained themselves to the entrances of the jets, or held up banners. Giant tobacco-style health warning labels marked jets as toxic objects and warned that private jets ‘burn our future’, ‘kill our planet’, and ‘fuel inequality’. Public service announcements from loudspeakers carried by the activists exposed the dramatic consequences of private jets for our planet and revealed the hypocrisy of promoting private jets amidst rising social inequality.
EBACE – Europe’s biggest private jet shopping party
“We’ve come to tell the super-rich that the party is over. To expose the toxicity of the private jet industry, which is fuelling further the climate catastrophe and injustice!”, explained Charlène Fleury, who came to join the action from France. “They didn’t expect us”, she said. EBACE was taken by surprise. Access to the exclusive show was virtually impossible for the general public. Roughly half of the more than 10.000 attendees own or operate an aircraft.
EBACE is Europe’s largest – and one of the world’s leading – annual gatherings of business aviation industry stakeholders such as sellers, buyers, component suppliers, and producers of private jets, hosted by the European and American private jet lobby groups EBAA and NBAA. Private jet sales are likely to reach the highest ever level this year!
Private jet owners have an average net worth over 140 million and are 0,0008 % of the world population. “It made me really angry to see that this event, with the rich guests in their suits, is taking place amidst a cost of living and climate crisis and showed me that we’re in the right place”, said an activist.
Aware of the rising critique, EBACE attempted to wrap itself in a veil of green, adopting the theme of sustainability. “This greenwashing of luxury flights is simply ridiculous”, says Magdalena Heuwieser from Stay Grounded. “The only green private jet is one that stays grounded.”
Outside the private jet fair, a bike demonstration took place, organized by Swiss Stay Grounded member “Actif-trafiC”. One attendee was Prof. Julia Steinberger, who is anecological economist said: “Aviation is cornered and has its back to the wall: it has no viable low-carbon alternative in a horizon of decades. … If we don’t manage to ban private jets completely from the face of the earth, we won’t be able to meet the Paris agreement.”
A movement rising up to hold the rich accountable
It was amazing to see people gathered from 17 countries for this action, supporting different climate justice groups like Stay Grounded, Greenpeace, Extinction Rebellion, Scientist Rebellion, ANV-COP21 and Abolir Jatos.
“The climate crisis is really dire, and sometimes I feel alone with my concerns. But meeting all the people here and taking action together really gave me hope”, said one activist after the action. For some, it was their first action of civil disobedience.
This diverse and broad coalition shows that the movement against the unjust and climate-damaging private jet industry has taken on a truly European dimension.
A solidarity protest even took place simultaneously in the US, at the Burlington Airport, Vermont. Europe and the US are home to more than 90% of all global private jets.
The same day, a private jet airport in Ibiza was targeted by climate activists. Just a few days before, the Cannes film festival was interrupted by activists from Extinction Rebellion France, ANV-COP21, who prevented a private jet from taking off through remote-controlled cars carrying smoke.
Protests are mounting. On February 14th, more than 20 simultaneous actions around the world from the coalition “Make them pay” targeted private jet airports, demanding a ban on private jets, a tax on frequent flyers, and making polluters pay for the enormous climate debt.
In January, activists disturbed the World Economic Forum in Davos, blocking a private jet airport. In November last year, simultaneous “Make them pay” actions took place in 13 countries. And in October, a mass action at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, embedded in a bigger campaign, led to the recent announcement of Schiphol to soon ban private jets from their airport.
At Geneva, the activists made headlines. However, they also faced repression.
Charlène Fleury reports from the action:
“It all went so quickly. When entering the exhibition area, securities and airport police stopped us, peppersprayed or even blocked some on the floor. We told them it was a peaceful protest and nothing would be damaged, but the exhibitors were freaked out and became very aggressive. Some emptied their water bottles on us to try to stop us filming the violence. One very young neatly dressed guy shouted at me “But you have plastic shoes!”. I didn’t understand what he meant at first, since it was so surrealistic. Did he really mean my shoes were polluting, comparing it to a private jet? I burst out laughing, it was so absurd. But then, while filming, one of the exponents pushed me back violently and I fell on the ground, I still have a bruise. A policeman took me quite violently out of the EBACE area, and even though I was very calm and cooperating, he handcuffed me and pushed my head down.”
After a few hours, the area was cleared, and the 103 activists were detained for more than 24 hours. Some reported that when released from the police stations, people on the street thanked them for their brave action.
They now have to face charges. “But we will go through this together, and hope to get more support. It was exhausting, but the mood is good. We managed to really hurt the private jet reputation, and that’s a key step for achieving real bans on a policy level”, adds Charlène.
“Actions like this from the movement are extremely helpful to bring the topic on the agenda”, says Magdalena Heuwieser from Stay Grounded. “To win this battle, we need more of this, but also a diverse range of tactics. We need to show that the movement is growing, getting influencers, NGOs, scientists, politicians on board. We need to make clear that bans are the most effective tool – and that we cannot wait for yet-to-be-developed technology. After all, using precious renewable energy for private air taxis of the rich doesn’t fit into our vision of climate justice!”
The time is ripe: The French Greens started floating the idea of banning private jets last year, which is now gaining traction with various levels of support from Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Portugal at least.
“Of course, the problem are not only private jets!”, she adds. Private jets are the pinnacle of climate injustice. But so is aviation as a whole. 1% of the world population produces 50% of aviation emissions – while 80% have never set foot on a plane. Aviation has contributed more to global heating than the entire African continent!
The problem is also about frequent flying in general: about air miles programmes that incentivise unnecessary flights, about business seats that take up too much space, about “bullshit flights” that are frivolous and unnecessary.
If everyone flew as much as the wealthiest 10% of Europeans do, aviation alone would emit 23 billion tonnes CO2 per year. That is two thirds of all global emissions in 2019.
Find out how to engage in the campaign to end private jets and frequent flights: https://stay-grounded.org/ban-private-jets/