The decision on Heathrow’s third runway came on Thursday 15 January. It was not, unfortunately, a surprise. The government has continued to prioritise the needs of business and profit above the people, and Labour’s planet green rhetoric is exposed as meaningless by their deeds.
While building a third runway is clearly environmentally, socially, politically, and medically detrimental, the government and BAA’s economic argument is also fundamentally flawed.
Climate Change is the biggest threat facing humanity today, and the chances of a global catastrophe are getting larger. During summer 2008, Kevin Anderson, a scientist, from the reputable Tyndall Centre of Climate Research, claimed it was possibly too late to stop runaway climate change, as carbon emissions are rising faster than predicted.
Aviation is the fastest growing contributor to climate change in the UK, currently accounting for over 13% annually of CO2. Another effect of aviation is the potent greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide. Extraordinarily, this is not included in the Climate Change Bill. When asked, pro-Aviation groups (as well as the government) tend to state that aviation only contributes 2%. In other words, ‘what is the fuss about?’. However, this figure is a global average and comes from 1992. Furthermore, the IPCC suggest that by 2041 the global figure will have increased to 15%, making aviation “a significant contributor to global CO2 emissions”.
But this a distraction from the main point. It is the Western industrialised countries which predominately cause climate change, and it is these countries which need to clean up their act. Crucially, according to the Tyndall Centre, the 80% cut by 2050 cannot be met if a third runway is built. Even if all other sectors become carbon neutral, this runway would still exceed the 80% reductions.
The government appears to have made some concessions towards greens in their new proposals. But how far can we believe them? BAA does not keep to its promises; they have promised in their time not to build a third runway, fifth or sixth terminal, all broken promises. BAA also promises that technology will be up to date and the new aircrafts that will be used on the third runway will be less noisy and less polluting. However, these planes do not exist; they are barely even a prototype. Furthermore, while planes may well become more efficient, it is highly debatable whether this efficiency will outweigh the doubling of flights leaving Heathrow. While the government has stipulated that the aircrafts using the third runaway have to meet EU regulations, there has been no such stipulation for the existing two runways. This is on top of the emissions produced from others areas, such as the construction, and increased transport to Heathrow which would accompany the third runaway. In others words, there is arguably no way that building a third runway is compatible with meeting even the governments conservative targets on reducing CO2 emissions.
There are several other reasons why building a 3rd runway is unjustified.
The most common destination of flights leaving Heathrow is Paris, a destination easily reached by rail. Moreover about 25% of all transfers in Heathrow are to another UK airport. We should demand of the government that they put more effort and money into faster, cheaper rail services, and therefore reduce the demand for air travel. The IPCC maintain that 10% of current travellers within the EU could be transferred onto high speed rail from aircraft, a statistic that can be corroborated by the significant success of high speed rail in France and most recently Spain, where rail passengers are up 28% and aircraft passengers have dropped 20%.
‘Recently, Greenpeace bought one acre of land right in the middle of the construction area for a third runway. There are now 27,000 owners of this land, including celebrities, scientists and activists’
It is also vital that we do not overlook the estimated 2000 people who will lose their homes, 22 businesses that stand to loose their premises, and whole communities and graveyards which will be displaced. For those left within the near vicinity of the airport, doctors predict that the rising air pollution will contribute to noticeably increased cases of asthma and lung related diseases, especially amongst children. Noise pollution will affect ever more people due to the new flight paths planned. Local teachers under the present flight paths describe the difficulty in teaching a ‘stop-start’ education which will be inherited by a further 114 schools in West London. One of the borough’s best schools lies on the proposed runway.
But, what about the cornerstone of the pro-aviation argument, the economic benefit of building a 3rd runaway? It simply doesn’t fly. There is already a £15 billion annual deficit in aviation tourism – that’s the difference between the amount of money spent abroad by Britons flying out of the UK (£26 billion) and the amount visitors to the UK spend here (£11 billion). The WWF spell out that rather than making a profit, the 3rd runaway would lead to a loss of £5billion.
This is based on their discovery that on average transit passengers using Heathrow airport to connect to another UK destination do not contribute to the economy in their stop-off, a statistic the government ignores. Coming from a rather conservative position, the Stern Report reflected these findings.
Linked to the economic argument is that a third runway would create jobs. Gordon Brown, along with a host of leading trade union leaders, claim to care about creating jobs, but earlier in the week Brown made the decision to close low carbon building plans that could loose thousands of workers their jobs. The Department for Transport openly admits that of the 15,000 jobs expected to arise from the construction of the airport, 11,000 will be lost after the construction of the airport. Recently British Airways shed more than 100 jobs, exemplifying that aviation jobs are no less vulnerable to the recession (especially as there is a drop in passengers flying). Brown appears to be willfully beating off projects which could tackle the environmental and financial situations simultaneously.
Could the government – and the unions leadership – not propose creating jobs in renewable energy sources, home insulation, fast-speed rail, a coordinated UK train and bus transport system? or the construction of the tens of thousands of needed new homes? These are only a few of the areas where tens of thousands of jobs could be created. But the point is that the government does not actually care about job creation and the TUC leadership, epitomized by Brendan Barber, know to kowtow to the Labour Government.
But, the hypocrisy of the government and BAA has not gone unnoticed. There is a growing movement
against the expansion of Heathrow and the aviation industry more generally. Recently, Greenpeace bought one acre of land right in the middle of the construction area for a third runway. There are now 27,000 owners of this land, including celebrities, scientists and activists, all of whom are entitled and intend to appeal the decision. The residents of Sipson are up in arms about the decision, with grannies and single parents ready to take direct action to protect their homes. Only in the last week, there have been two large protests at Heathrow Airport. Though not at Heathrow, a direct action group called PlaneStupid recently occupied Stansted Airport (which BAA and the government also has plans to expand), shutting down the entire airport for five hours and inflicting millions of pounds of losses on the aviation industry.
Preventing this runway from being built is symbolically crucial, but is also essential in its own right. If this runway is built, the consequences are unquantifiable. Not only will it virtually make it impossible for the 80% target by 2050 to be met, but it also indicative of the governments priorities.
They have made an unnecessary political error, which, we hope, they will deeply regret. As the Suffragettes proclaimed, what we need is ‘Deeds Not Words’. But if the government is unable to act, if the government continues to prioritise short-term profit above humanity , then it is up to us to act. Already, globally 160,000 people die from climate change each year, this is a 9/11 every two weeks. For how long will you stand aside and let government perpetuate this cycle. At what point will you start to itch?