A climate activist group’s reported vow to “shut down” Europe’s busiest airport Friday turned into a flop when only a few handfuls of people showed up – and were quickly surrounded by police officers.
Videos circulating on social media showed British cops standing in a ring around activists from the Extinction Rebellion group, while cars streamed a few feet away – undeterred -- into London’s Heathrow airport. The group, which has snarled traffic and public transit in the U.K.’s capital this week through a series of blockades and protests, has been trying to force the British Parliament into accepting their climate action-related demands.
“Tomorrow we raise the bar. We are going to shut down Heathrow,” the group reportedly told its followers Thursday, according to the LBC radio station.
Yet only a small number, estimated to be less than 20 – and all of which Extinction Rebellion claims were under the age of 17 years old -- made it out to the airport Friday. Some, in a video the group streamed on Facebook, were in tears after the police arrived.
“I shouldn’t be here, I should be revising for my end-of-year exams,” Talia Woodin, a university student, told The Guardian newspaper. “But I have to be here. What good is a degree if there is a possibility that there is no future?”
“I’m Mia, I’m 13,” Extinction Rebellion’s website quoted another teen as saying. “I’m doing this because something has to change, I’m being told to make decisions about my future when it can’t even be guaranteed the Earth has one.”
As of late Friday afternoon at Heathrow, traffic was still flowing smoothly. It’s not clear if the protesters have anything planned for later in the evening.
But London is where they have had greater success drawing attention to their demands, which include that British Parliament “act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025,” while also pushing Parliament to “create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.”
The Metropolitan Police said as of Friday morning, 570 arrests linked to the protests have been made.
“The protesters are using tactics of lying on the ground when approached,” the police said in a statement. “This means that it takes at least four officers to remove one person to ensure their safety, which is resource intensive.”
Police officials have also decided to cancel officers’ scheduled vacation days in order to be able to have all hands on deck this Easter weekend to deal with the ongoing demonstrations.
The Metropolitan Police say “we have now asked officers on the boroughs to work 12-hour shifts; we have cancelled rest days and our Violent Crime Task Force have had their leave cancelled. This allows us to free up significant numbers of officers whilst responding to local policing.”
One person on Twitter who identified herself as a British police officer lamented the decision, while also chiding the protesters for the effects of their actions, which some have said aren’t so environmentally-friendly.
“My valuable #Easter holiday with my family, who I haven’t been able to see in a while, is now not happening because my rest days have been cancelled for the protests,” she tweeted. “To make it worse, because of the start time I have to drive to work, therefore increasing my carbon footprint.”