Looking back at 5 Years of Stay Grounded
Exactly five years ago, at the beginning of October 2016, ‘Stay Grounded’ was born. We organized simultaneous actions at airports around the world and in 2018, we went public as a network. A lot has happened since, and as we continue to welcome new members, the sense of community and the feelings of solidarity with other struggles around the world remain. While we had planned in the beginning to make ourselves unnecessary within five years – we do think there might be another five years to go until we achieve our goals. 😉 Follow us on the journey that has brought us where we are today and celebrate our anniversary with us!
How it all began
At the beginning of October 2016, after decades of procrastinating, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) finally gathered to agree on a global climate action plan. Well… that’s what it was called. In reality, what came out was CORSIA, the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation. The “Offsetting” is central in it. Unlimited growth of aviation, while paying a bit of money for others mostly in the Global South to do the job for us. We were furious. This would become the biggest demand for offset credits and for projects often leading to human rights violations.
At the same time, in Vienna, where two of our co-founders lived, the airport planned its third runway, threatening fertile agricultural lands, bringing more noise and health problems to the citizens, and, above all, being Austria’s most climate harmful project. The Vienna airport legitimized the project with the toothless international climate agreement, and said that if they wouldn’t expand, other airports would.
So what to do?
We started getting in touch with other groups fighting similar projects. What were their experiences? We learned some tactics, and quite liked the slogan from la ZAD, the Zone to be Defended, against an airport, saying “Neither here nor anywhere” should an airport be expanded. We have to stick together.
First global wave of airport actions
Coinciding with the ICAO conference in October 2016, we held the first global action days with the slogan “Stay Grounded – Aviation Growth Cancelled due to Climate Change!”. Local affected people and action groups in Austria, Mexico, the U.K.,Turkey, France and Australia organized simultaneous actions whilst we also brought the protest to ICAO Headquarters in Montreal, Canada. We gathered more than 100 organisations to reject ICAO’s false climate solutions. The ICAO still approved them… but from there on, legitimacy of this industry-influenced UN institution and offsetting programme has been crumbling.
Building a network, step by step
We realized that this joint effort should not remain a one-off thing. In 2017, we held two meetings with the supporting groups to see how to continue working together: one in Toulouse, the Airbus headquarters, including some critical employees; and one in Bonn during COP22. Yes, they were real-live-meetings, but always with online participation from other parts of the world. No flight has been taken to organize this network.
Together, we analyzed the obstacles and problems of aviation, and considered different strategies and tactics. We developed a position paper defining 13 steps. It embeds aviation within the broader economic system and makes clear that reducing it has to go along with fostering grounded transport solutions, working on a just transition for employees in the sector, and fighting false neo-colonial solutions. This paper has since served as common ground for all members of the network.
By the way: at this point in time, it was radical to not only talk of stopping aviation’s growth, but about actually reducing flights. Seems like some positive developments have happened since, at least in some regions and on a discursive level.
Going public in 2018
Two years after our first wave of action, we went public with our position paper, a website and another round of global actions. 27 actions took place in the Philippines, Mexico, France, UK, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia and Switzerland.
With so many airport conflicts ongoing around the world, the idea was to strengthen the resistance by sharing experiences, being in solidarity, and shedding international light on them. For this, we also started mapping airport conflicts together with GAAM and the Environmental Justice Atlas team. By now, we have 80 detailed cases of airport injustices and resistances mapped – and many more identified that merit investigation!
The action days coincided with the industries’ greenwashing event, the ‘Global Sustainable Aviation Summit’. There, we also made good use of our report The Illusion of Green Flying, which we published in 2017. It remains a helpful resource to understand aviation’s climate false solutions.
Degrowth of Aviation
Now knowing about the false solutions, we asked ourselves: so what are the real solutions? Is it a kerosene tax? Is it a ban on short haul flights? A Frequent Flyer Levy? Or all of these? Which could be most effective? Which are the justice implications? We realized that we’d need a thorough analysis of that. So in 2019, we organized a big conference on “Degrowth of Aviation” in Barcelona.
It brought together 200 people from social movements, NGOs and academia in order to discuss concrete measures and strategies to reduce air traffic. Its findings are summarized in the Degrowth of Aviation Report. As Barcelona is one of the cities overcrowded by tourism, leading to serious environmental, health, housing and other social problems, special links were made to movements for just and environmentally sound tourism. We sparked a debate and local network there that has now, three years later, resulted in 90.000 people going on the streets against the Barcelona airport expansion, and achieving a victory!
Then came Covid…
Suddenly, degrowth of aviation became very real. Well no, the Covid-induced pause of aviation was not at all what we meant with degrowth by design. Apart from this enormous health crisis, it also was a disaster for thousands of employees furloughed, tourism-dependent regions suddenly realizing what this dependency looked like, and billions of public money pouring into industry bailouts. We quickly reacted:
In our #SavePeopleNotPlanes campaign, we gathered 348 organisations, more than 300 scientists and 150.000 individuals to demand that: people should be put first in this crisis; that money should be spent on a just transition towards climate-safe mobility; and that if the industry has paid no taxes, there should be no unconditional bailouts!
We used this pause to connect to trade unions and workers and to discuss how such a transition of aviation out of the crisis could look like. We published our discussion paper on a Just Transition and organized a Let’s stay grounded campaign, urging business, academic and leisure travel to not rebound again. While it was difficult to organize actions during the pandemic, some did happen and were supported through our new Action Pot.
In the meantime, we spent time in developing our Stay Grounded network, now counting more than 170 member organisations, many individuals, several regional groups, very active thematic working groups and volunteer pools. We rebuilt our website, translated huge parts of it into 3 other languages. We surveyed our members in the Global South on how the network could be improved to make it more inclusive, now doing translations and interpretation into Spanish, and started organizing our online network meetings twice for different time zones.
Now that aviation is preparing to rebound again, legitimizing its planned growth through redoubled greenwashing, we are also prepared: We’ll double our efforts to counter false solutions and will continue working on a just transition. Step by step, our movement is growing. Thank you to all the wonderful people we’ve met along the way!