As an art form, the publicity stunt doesn't get much respect, but there are a few practitioners who can be counted on to move the needle when they want to.

Among them are Sir Richard Branson and Greenpeace, the environmental advocacy group. Both were alive and well and moving the needle in London last week.

Sir Richard, of course, was in the news for engineering what seems to be commercial aviation's first airborne test of biofuel. As Sir Richard himself freely admitted to the news cameras, a lot has to happen before the airline industry adapts to a regular diet of biofuel, but his airline's brief 747 flight from London to Amsterdam demonstrated that it is technically feasible to fly on the oil of a coconut without falling like one.

Of course, as far as the scientific community is concerned, this test could have been performed in an un-marked aircraft over a remote desert without CNN, but where's the fun in that?

Greenpeace, on the other hand, wasn't out to have fun when a handful of its volunteers marched onto the tarmac at Heathrow, climbed on top of a British Airways aircraft, and draped a banner on its tail protesting plans for a third runway.

This was a dangerous and illegal stunt, and although it may have called attention to "the cause," it also raised some alarms about security at Heathrow, where protesters are not supposed to be able to march out onto the tarmac and climb onto the airplanes. (Had this been a U.S. airport, one shudders to think how a terrorist response unit might have overreacted.)

In any event, "the cause" that inspired the Greenpeace stunt is precisely the one that animated Sir Richard: global warming.

On its Web site, Greenpeace lays out its rationale: A third runway at Heathrow would only encourage the growth of airline travel, which is said to be the fastest growing source of CO2 emissions in Europe. The target aircraft for the Heathrow stunt had just arrived from Manchester, a city that is barely 165 miles away and well served by trains to London with a running time a little over two hours.

Greenpeace, in short, believes that governments should discourage short-haul air travel.

We draw two conclusions from the stunts in London.

First, there are radically different ways in which committed individuals can act on their concerns about global warming, and being a billionaire helps.

Second, one of the stunts illustrates a disturbing fact of life that airline and travel people fail to confront at their peril: There are young people out there who are willing to get arrested protesting what you do for a living.

Play it again

Last week's journey of the New York Philharmonic to North Korea won't end what's left of the Cold War in that part of the world, but it will do no harm.

More to the point, its success validates what the travel industry has been saying to our government since the war on terror changed the way we travel: The world needs more cross-cultural travel, not less. 

We are reminded of songwriter Glen Hansard's acceptance speech at the Academy Awards presentation: "Make art. Make art."

To that we would add: And let it travel around the world. 

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