Environmentalist John Stewart, recognized as Britain's "most effective green activist," was recently barred from entering the US to participate in a lecture tour about climate and aviation, but found a high-tech workaround.
Last week, I was denied entry to the United States. I was coming to America from London to participate in the Aviation Justice Express, a month-long national lecture tour endorsed by 350.org. I had been invited, along with Scottish community activist Dan Glass, to talk about the successful campaign which defeated plans for a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport.
I never made it beyond New York's JFK Airport. I was escorted off the plane by six law enforcement officers before being questioned for six hours by the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, and immigration officials. I was then sent straight back to London. No reason was given, though the men and women in uniform kept trying to determine if I was visiting to the United States to inspire some kind of violent armed eco-terror. The local news said that I was alleged to have made some threats against President Obama, a total fabrication; I can only conclude that it was simply another excuse to deny me entry.
What's so frightening about a a mild-mannered British climate activist? I spent the past decade campaigning against the planned third runway at London's Heathrow airport, helping build the largest possible coalition against the project. Neighbours wanted to save their communities. Climate activists wanted to keep the aviation industry's 11% share of national greenhouse gases from rising any further. Fiscal conservatives wanted to avoid waste. We learned to work together, overcoming mutual suspicions, until we had Conservative Party elected officials, radical climate activists, and everyone in between telling stories, building trust, and strategizing together. It was this coalition, which I chaired, that persuaded our Conservative-led Government, when elected, to scrap the plans for the expansion of Heathrow Airport. I have no way of knowing precisely why I was barred from entering the U.S., but the people questioning me seemed to think I may have been coming to foment armed environmental terror. In reality, I was only describing the role of nonviolent civil disobedience as one of the many parts of the Heathrow victory—just as lunch counter sit-ins played a part in the Civil Rights Movement, and Tar Sands Action may play a part in the shutdown of the Keystone XL project.
Our American speaking tour continues all October as planned, thanks to the power of videoconferencing, a remarkably green aviation alternative. Catch one our American tour dates in New York, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Seattle. Or contact us if you want to host an event in your area—now that we're appearing live over the Internet, we can beam in to communities all over, and not just in the handful of cities we were originally planning to speak in. Aviation is a vital climate issue. The global aviation industry accounts for 4.9% of the human causes of climate change (anthropogenic climate forcings)—only a smidgen less than the total climate impacts of the entire population of India, a nation of 1.2 billion people. (This doesn't even take into account noise, air pollution, and other environmental impacts.)
I'm safely back home in London now, but my fellow aviation justice speaker, award-winning Scottish youth climate activist Dan Glass (who also didn't receive a US visa), is now visiting more welcoming Canada, where he's giving presentations, learning from the work of the amazing Canadian environmental justice movements, and seeking out more contacts. They can shut down the borders, but they can't keep us from swapping stories, building the strong coalitions and networks we'll need to address the biggest problem on the planet.

John Stewart

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