This morning, we awoke to the news that a third runway to Heathrow airport will go ahead. I rubbed my disbelieving eyes. Could it be true that 415 elected officials believe that access to air travel (for the few) is superior to tackling air pollution (for the many)? Over morning coffee, I read that 415 powerful people think that economic growth trumps the living world and all of us in it. I discovered that 415 MPs want to lead us kicking and screaming into pure climate chaos for the sake of getting to Mykonos more easily.
We are halfway through 2018, so I have accepted that most mornings I will wake to disappointing news. And most mornings, I manage to get on. But this has hit me hard.
The Heathrow expansion is emotional. It is a visceral moment in our descent, as we collectively choose quick cash and empty, frequent travel – the epitome of YOLO culture – over the hard graft of building better – both ideologies and structures. We are being given exciting opportunities to think the world anew: to question why we live this way, how we would do things differently, and whether we are content with the society we’ve been given? And every time, we go ‘safe’. Ironically, the safest capitalist options are often the most deadly.
This decision comes at a time when I am only just coming to terms with my own aviation-addiction. I actively campaign on climate change issues, so I understand that flying is one of the most carbon-intensive forms of transport available to me. I am not ignorant to the fact that every time I choose to fly, I make life harder for people I have never met. My choice is directly impacting theirs. I may not want to think about it, but my decisions will inevitably lead to a young Bangladeshi woman leaving her childhood home due to flooding. It may devastate an Indian farmer finding another failed crop. It will see a whole family’s history drowned along with the pacific island they have never left. I am not for fear-mongering, but there is a difference between morbidity and realism. I have had to wake up and acknowledge that if I want to be on the right side of history, then I need to change. I have pushed back on early-morning short haul flights for one meeting. I have resisted the ever-cheaper European city break. In our search for social media gratification, I have embraced the FOMO. Sometimes we just have to accept missing out.
But my individual resistance is not going to be enough. The reality is that MPs who voted for a third runway at Heathrow are more deluded than committed climate change deniers. There has been no explanation of how this expansion will fit our climate change targets, set by the historic Paris Agreement. In fact, there has been near enough no mention of the big C at all. Instead, we appear determined to keep feeding the beast. With Heathrow’s third runway, it is estimated that by 2050, carbon emissions from aviation will use up two third of the UK’s carbon budget – if the UK sticks to its Paris Agreement commitment. This expansion does nothing to question why our lives are dominated by travel, and whether there is an alternative that is better for our health and the health of our planet.
This whole shameful debacle is a perfect example of ‘business as usual’. In other words: as usual, it is all about business. And nothing else.