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Cleared for take-off

There was a great deal of media excitement yesterday over the Government’s announcement that it favoured the creation of a third runway at Heathrow over a similar at either Gatwick or Stansted … or indeed any other solution. Reporters were sent to the perimeter fences to stand for up to ten hour delivering ‘relevant’ bulletins to the radio or TV news every half an hour or so. Reaction at Westminster took the form of MPs, Lords and other rent-a-mouths from experts to lobby groups stampeding to Collen Green and elsewhere to give their verdicts for the benefit of the nation’s viewers and listeners.

Three things struck me in particular yesterday.

The first was the fact that it had taken the Government (and yes, I do know there’s going to be a year of consultation and time built in for legal challenges, protests and filibustering to come before anything actually happens) approximately sixty years to come to a decision since it was first proposed that Heathrow development/expansion should include a third runway. One of the ‘sour loser’ contributors to a radio show I was listening to complained that this was by no means the end of our slide to Armageddon – by the time projected for completion of the third runway (2030), he fully expected the airline industry and other power-that-be to be clamouring for a fourth, despite their deadpan denials that this would ever happen.

The second and third were the sheer number of ‘black and white’ disagreements on everything from basic facts to the – often contradictory – assumptions, projections, dangers, political and economic effects that each side of the argument had amassed … and the pompous self-confidence of the diametrically-opposed experts, industry figures and lobbyists (presumably each of them filled to the gunnels with academic brainpower and learning) being fielded by either side.

Let me give a simple but stark example – the issue of climate control.

bartleyOne of those seemingly on a 12-hour ‘hot-air-athon’ stint of going round the news studios and outside broadcasts was the co-leader of the Green Party – the one that isn’t Caroline Lucas MP – a pleasant-enough looking middle-aged cove going by the name of Jonathan Bartley.

Mr Barclay comes straight from Central Casting as a male suitable for life in British mainstream politics – and indeed he was the Green Party’s candidate for the constituency of Streatham in the 2015 General Election. Affable, suave, smooth, seemingly unflappable.

The gist of his thrust was not that just that Heathrow should not have a third runway, but that given (1) the imminent threat to human civilisation presented by the ever increasing production of self-inflicted carbon emissions, and (2) some accord or another that had been signed by nearly 200 countries around the world in either Paris, or Geneva … oh, well, somewhere … only about a year ago, Britain now had absolutely zero chance of meeting the ‘carbon emission reduction’ targets that the Government had (legally?) signed up to.

According to Mr Bartley, what was needed was not more airline/flying capacity, but actually the Government enacting a law to stop people flying at all … and then sort the roads and public transport out … so that people wouldn’t need to fly so much etc.

[This against a background helpfully laid out by one aviation industry expert who informed BBC viewers that China had built 50 major airports over the past five years, whereas Britain had taken fifty years to come to a decision to build one runway].

Anyway. To this viewer/listener, Mr Bartley’s outpourings sounded all very plausible, reasonable and rightfully of significant concern.

The one thing that governments often tend to fail on is ‘joined up’ thinking – in this case, why were they contemplating attracting tens of thousands of more air flights over a capital city in which over 10,000 people died every year from carbon emissions already … especially when we had all these draconian ‘reduction of carbon emissions’ targets to meet?

olearyAt least they did until (a couple of hours later) Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryan Air, had his ‘fifteen minutes of fame’ (once again) on the airwaves.

He opened by revealing that France and Holland were already in the middle of building enormous hub airports that would dwarf Heathrow even after it had its third runway up and running.

His theme was that global carbon emission reduction targets were a complete joke. Mainly because – irrespective of what anyone had ever signed up to – there wasn’t a country in the world that was going to achieve its supposed legally-binding ‘reduction’ target, so all the ‘Green’ campaigners and activists out there were just pissing in the wind. And they knew it.

I was a bit puzzled. Mr O’Leary’s opinions were at total variance with Mr Bartley’s. Initially I judged them both to be about 50:50 in credibility until the former came out with what, for me was a killer fact.

Warming to his theme of debunking the arguments of ‘climate changer’ Green lobbyists, he said that them attacking the projected increase in Heathrow traffic on grounds of its increased carbon emissions was but a pimple on a bear’s behind (to coin a phrase he didn’t actually use on air).

He pointed out that the entire world’s aviation industry combined accounted for but 2% [TWO PERCENT!] of all human-produced carbon emissions. In this context, he suggested, adding a third runway to Heathrow would barely register. If the Greens seriously wanted to reduce worldwide carbon emissions, it should campaign to force world governments not just to stop building more and more roads, cars, power stations etc., but actually (for example) ban the motoring industry entirely, given that worldwide it spewed tens of times more carbon emissions annually into the Earth’s atmosphere than aviation did.

I’d have loved to have heard that point being put to Mr Bartley simply because I would have liked to have heard his reaction. However, unfortunately and inevitably, Mr Bartley continued to spend the rest of the day spouting his Green opinions on the airwaves unchallenged on this point … as, no doubt, (though I didn’t personally hear him again) did Mr O’Leary.

About Nancy Bright-Thompson

A widely-respected travel editor, Nancy is a past president of the Guild of Travel Writers (GTW). She and her husband Phil now run a horse sanctuary in East Sussex. More Posts