A blog written for the Guardian’s Comment is Free website about the protests at Stansted Airport this morning…

When I first heard about protesters breaching the perimeter fence at Stansted airport on the radio this morning, my first reaction, given Plane Stupid’s previous actions, was to wonder why the campaign group hadn’t done something on this scale earlier in the year.

Protests of this nature had been effectively cleared for take-off in September by jurors at Maidstone Crown Court, who acquitted the so-called Kingsnorth Six of causing £30,000 worth of criminal damage while protesting at the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station in Kent in October 2007. The protestors successfully argued, for the first time in a British court, that their actions had a lawful excuse because they were trying to protect against climate change-induced damage on a far greater scale. I’m sure Plane Stupid’s defence team are already pouring over the details of the trial.

The protest has caused, on average, 90 minutes’ worth of delays at the airport. In other words, not too dissimilar to any normal day at a British airport. Yet I heard people on the radio this morning putting the protestors on a par with murderous Islamist terrorists. And the protestors are accused of losing perspective? I can understand – as do the protestors themselves – that people find their actions annoying and disruptive, but that’s the point.

Non-violent direct action rubs against the grain of popular opinion in order to get itself noticed amid a sea of self-interest, apathy and day-to-day distractions. It is born out of desperation and frustration that the normal democratic processes have failed, are flawed, or are corrupted by vested interests, despite clear evidence that the current path is dangerous or unjust. How many people now see Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela and Emmeline Pankhurst as criminals rather than heroes, despite the fact they all broke the laws of their day to protest for what we now see as worthy causes?

As the protestors said this morning, they see their actions as a last resort having already spent years trying to use the lawful democratic processes. For the past 20 or so years, an ever-broader consensus of scientists has warned us of the self-induced dangers of climate change. Yet, following our political leaders, we continue to sleepwalk towards an avoidable (although the clock appears to be fast running down) destiny. Aviation has, justifiably in my view, been singled out by the protestors as a sector that is still far from internalising its environmental costs and that continues to increases its emissions with little hope of reversal. Stopping airports from expanding any further is a sure way to throttle any extra supply.

It is ironic that today, the new energy and climate change minister, Ed Miliband, who sits within a government that has been staunchly pro-aviation, should be calling for “popular mobilisation” and “countervailing forces” to help drive climate change further up the global political agenda.

“When you think about all the big historic movements, from the suffragettes, to anti-apartheid, to sexual equality in the 1960s, all the big political movements had popular mobilisation,” he said. “Maybe it’s an odd thing for someone in government to say, but I just think there’s a real opportunity and a need here.”

Well, he got his wish this morning.