Sunday, 23 December 2018

Gatwick, CO2 emissions and the wrong sort of activism

Should the incident at Gatwick this week be labelled 'eco-terrorism'?
Gatwick Airport drone disruption could be caused by environmental protestor | UK | News | Express.co.uk

We would certainly expect the likes of alt-right website Breitbart to be using this kind of language:
DELINGPOLE: Gatwick Airport Drone Chaos - I'm Betting Eco Terrorism - Breitbart

What is clear, however, is that planes were grounded because of genuine fears for safety:
How dangerous are drones? Gatwick runway warning raises security fears | Travel News | Travel | Express.co.uk

This is still a matter of speculation:
Media speculation over Gatwick disruption | The Ecologist
Comment: Why It's Too Soon for Newspapers to Claim Gatwick Disruption is the Fault of an 'Eco-Warrior' | DeSmog UK

Although arrests have just been made:
Gatwick drone: Identities of arrested couple revealed - Telegraph
Gatwick Airport drone chaos: Two ARRESTED in connection with Gatwick Airport drone chaos | UK | News | Express.co.uk

Nevertheless, it has raised all sorts of issues: 
Futures Forum: To define 'eco-terrorism'

The Independent reports on this particular incident:

If the Gatwick drone is being run by eco-activists, they’ve got their tactics completely wrong

We don’t know who has done this yet – but what we do know is despite the action’s effectiveness in reducing carbon emissions it shouldn’t be used as a template for future environmental campaigns

Roger Tyers
Saturday 22nd December 2018

This drone episode reminds us – like the eruptions of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull back in 2010 – just how interconnected the global aviation network is, and how potentially fragile it can be.

It hasn’t taken long for The Sun, Telegraph, and Times to point the finger (currently without any evidence) at environmental activists as potentially being responsible for the drone.

It is true that green activists have been known to carry out stunts to raise awareness. As recently as November this year, the Extinction Rebellion movement blockaded several bridges in London in an effort to raise awareness over climate change. Back in 2015, Plane Stupid activists were arrested for breaching the fence at Heathrow and chaining themselves on the runway, to protest against the proposed third runway and the carbon emissions that could cause.

Extinction Rebellion, Plane Stupid, and Greenpeace have all denied responsibility for yesterday’s drone “attack”, and it is important to note that it is still unclear who carried it out, or why. We might never find out.

But the very fact that environmentalist activists are under suspicion is interesting in itself, for it is true that the shutdown would have meant that thousands of tonnes of CO2 emissions were prevented, albeit for only a day, before normal business resumed.

If yesterday’s events at Gatwick make at least some of us stop and think about the pollution from air travel, that is no bad thing.

There is no other human activity that pushes individual emission levels as fast and as high as air travel (unless, perhaps you drive Formula 1 cars, or have a taste for space tourism). For instance, one return flight from London to Sydney creates about 4.5 tonnes of carbon. To create those kind of emissions in any other way you would have to drive a car every day for over a year. For context, the average total yearly emissions per person globally is just 1 tonne.

We all seem to be in collective denial about this problem.

Every single day, around 100,000 flights take to the skies, requiring 5 million barrels of oil to fuel them. If the aviation industry were a country, it would have a carbon footprint similar to the entire economy of Germany.

Going forward, passenger numbers are forecast to double with 7.2 billion flights in 2035, compared to 3.8 billion in 2016. This kind of growth is a product of cheap ticket prices, which are themselves the product of an under-taxed industry. Airlines and manufacturers may talk up the idea of electric planes or another green breakthrough which is always “just around the corner”, yet the gas-guzzling Boeing and Airbus aircraft being built and sold today will be around for decades.

So if nothing is done, flying could account for as much as 22 per cent of global carbon emissions by 2050 as other sectors become greener. This kind of growth will make the chances of us meeting our targets under the Paris climate change agreement very, very challenging.

Are we in denial? The UK government’s recently released aviation strategy document suggests that they are unwilling to do anything which might reduce growth in the industry, and will gladly help by building more airport capacity.

Among passengers, there is plenty of academic research which suggests that even people who are very concerned about climate change are unwilling to change their flying habits.

We can see there are strong political, economic and cultural reasons why it’s easy to deny that flying is a problem. So environmental campaigners need to be especially careful about how they try to win over the public – including those stranded at Gatwick this week – who have come to accept flying as normal.

This is why I think it’s unlikely that any environmental group was involved in the Gatwick shutdown. Ruining plans to see families at Christmas is no way to win over those whose support we need.

The UK has the third largest air travel market in the world after the USA and China, most of our flights are taken for leisure, and therefore we have a potential position for green leadership on this issue.

We need to convince our politicians to apply a meaningful carbon tax to flights, on a national, and eventually an international basis; to stop airport expansion; and improve land-based transport.

As consumers we might wish to send a signal to our family, peers, and leaders by flying less – the single best way to reduce your carbon footprint.

You could even give Mother Nature an early Christmas present by pledging, along with many others, to a “Flight-Free 2019”. It’s certainly cheaper than a drone.

Dr Roger Tyers is a research fellow at the University of Southampton

If the Gatwick drone is being run by eco-activists, they’ve got their tactics completely wrong | The Independent

No comments: