Airport Expansion

Siân Charnley writes on the environmental impact of airport expansion and how we might taking action against this:

I first became aware of Quakers, and made life-long personal friends amongst them, when we sat together in the early 1980s to blockade the most reactive nuclear weapons base in Europe at the time: USAF Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire. It involved breaking the law. The event was intrinsically non-violent, but Quakers were prominent in bringing an extra dimension to this.

Eighteen months ago, I sat with a much smaller group of people on one of the approach roads to Heathrow Airport. We were protesting and drawing attention to the plans to expand Heathrow Airport. This particular serious set-back to action against climate change, draws less support than the reaction to fracking, most likely because there is no identifiable ‘baddie’ here: many people do not want their right to fly to be drawn into question.

We know that a new runway would emit as much carbon dioxide as the whole of Kenya, as well as causing many more people to die prematurely from air pollution. Heathrow would fuel more climate change, creating over 50% more flights at what is already Europe’s largest airport. Scientists have warned that this will drastically undermine the UK’s ability to meet emission targets agreed upon in the Paris Agreement. The threat of these emissions can’t be put off  —  a recent study said that climate change could drive 122 million more people into extreme poverty in as little as 14 years’ time. (Greenpeace)

Shockingly, almost a quarter of flights from Heathrow are to destinations less than 500 km away and are accessible by train! Substituting these flights for train services and investing more in our train network would reduce the need for extra capacity at Heathrow. Train travel is up to ten times less damaging to the climate than flying so it’s the obvious choice if we’re to protect our planet.

Climate change is very much a Human Rights issue. Scientists agree that it is the world’s poor who will initially be most affected by climate change, and this is already happening. Last time I heard (and these statistics are difficult to check) only 5-10% of the world’s population had ever flown. Whatever the exact percentage, it is small. If we envisage a situation where everyone had access to the same number of flights as the average British citizen, we would find ourselves in unimaginably greater trouble. So we need to take the lead in the reduction of flying.

What can you do?

Probably sometime in June, Parliament will make the decision on whether or not to go ahead with the project. There is room here to put pressure on parliamentarians and to fill their post bags. The Labour party, for example, are currently inclined to have a free vote on this. You could call for a three-line whip, so that MPs from this party all have to take this historic chance to show that they are serious about climate change. Some of you will know more about the position of other parties. Bear in mind that when they account these things, MPs set more store on emails than petition signatures; but most store of all on old-fashioned letters which arrive in the post.

More direct action is planned for June. Whether or not I personally take part again, will depend on finding a group I feel comfortable to be with. In November 2016,  I was with people from Oxford whom I knew and trusted.  I have not had time to get to know the mainly young Bristol activists that well; they move faster than I do and have no need to have regard to their own personal frailties. I am looking for a group of either predominantly older women or a group of Quakers. I wake at night thinking of the implications of climate change; so I am prepared to break the law. But there are many other, equally important roles in such actions, such as legal support or caring for participants. The first planning meeting for this action took place in London earlier in April, and unfortunately I was unable to go. But I shall continue to find out what is happening; and would love to meet Quakers who would like to talk about this.

Siân Charnley