Members of Scientists Rebellion kept airplanes grounded at Schiphol

08 Nov 2022

In the run-up to the climate summit in Egypt, hundreds of protesters occupied a part of Schiphol on Saturday. 25 of them were scientists of the protest group Scientists Rebellion, including Radboud microbiologist Marjan Smeulders. ‘Someone in my group was immediately tackled by the police.’

It was not the first time that Marjan Smeulders (microbiology department) joined a climate protest, but it was the most exciting. Last Saturday, the researcher was one of what she said were five hundred activists protesting at Schiphol Airport. The goal: keeping private jets grounded.

They succeeded. For hours, protesters of Greenpeace, Extinction Rebellion, and Scientist Rebellion – for which Smeulders is the spokesperson – managed to occupy the parking area. Footage of protesters on bicycles went around the world. Smeulders herself was taken away by the police around 4 pm.

Why did you participate?

‘I became an active member of Scientist Rebellion (the ‘scientific sister’ of Extinction Rebellion, ed.), because I believe that as a scientist I have to take responsibility to limit climate change. That is why Schiphol needs to downsize, we think. And private flights need to disappear completely: the super-rich have exceeded their carbon budget many times over. In addition, Schiphol doesn’t have its environmental and nature permits in order. And finally, we think that kerosine should finally be taxed.’

How many scientists were there?

‘Around 25 scientists of Scientists Rebellion were present. Apart from myself, there was another employee of Radboud University. And there also turned out to be three Nijmegen students, participating as members of Extinction Rebellion. It’s nice to see that our little club is growing.’

‘I believe that as a scientist I have to take responsibility’

What made the protest so exciting?

‘I had no idea what would happen exactly. We only heard we would be blocking private jets when we arrived at the fence. When the fence was cut, everyone sprinted towards one of the jets. At that point, I started feeling the adrenaline. You also feel quite vulnerable. Someone in my group was immediately tackled by the police.’

Marjan Smeulders. Eigen foto

How far are you prepared to go? The activists who glued themselves to the Girl with the Pearl Earring have to go to jail for one or two months.

‘I only want to participate in civil disobedience protests, where nothing is destroyed. That is also in line with the codes of conduct of Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion: peaceful protesting. The instructions were clear: “do not touch the airplanes.” We quietly sat under an airplane for hours.’

The fence was cut though.

‘Yeah, that scared me a little. But it was done in such a way that the damage was minimal. The fence could quickly be repaired in the afternoon.’

In the end, the police took you away. Will you now get a citation on your criminal record?

‘Most protesters didn’t carry an ID, me included. That’s how you stay anonymous. All those people the police took, were put on a bus and taken to the train station in Nieuw-Vennep. There, we were allowed to go. Besides, I’m pretty sure this protest is an offense, not a crime. You are in an area where you are not allowed.’

‘A fellow protester of another university often receives encouraging text messages from his boss’

What does your boss think of all this?

‘I just got a new supervisor, so I still have to talk to her about this. If she finds it problematic that I’m participating in climate protests as a scientist, we’ll have to see what is possible. But I do find it important to be able to continue doing this. A fellow protester of another university often receives encouraging text messages from his boss.’

Can we expect any new protests by Scientists Rebellion in the near future?

‘I can’t really say anything concrete about that. But this will surely not be the last, as long as policy continues to lag behind what is needed for the climate.’

Translated by Jan Scholten

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