The romantic nature of flight was best encapsulated by Frank Sinatra in the 1957 classic ‘Come Fly With Me’. It makes reference to the “exotic booze” in Bombay or floating down to Peru. Any debate on air travel is often influenced by personal memories of trips taken alone, with friends and with family. This article is not launching an attack on flight, but will rather seek to highlight the damaging effects of aviation from the proposed third runway at Heathrow airport. Whether the increase in deleterious effects outweighs the benefits is a matter of subjective taste, though in my opinion it does.
What’s the big fuss? At present, it is estimated by the Committee on Climate Change that 6% of the UK’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are from the aviation industry. Duncan Clark, a visiting researcher at the UCL Energy Institute, estimates that the actual figure is around 15%. This is due to factors such as ancillary emissions related indirectly to flying. As noted by the now defunct Department of Energy & Climate Change, between 2013 and 2014, of all sectors producing CO2 emissions (such as energy, residential and business) only emissions from the transport sector increased.
To avoid bringing up painful memories of GCSE Geography for those reading this, I will keep my description of climate change brief. CO2 and other “greenhouse gasses” make it harder for radiation to leave the Earth’s atmosphere. Some of this is welcome, but too much affects the climate negatively.
In addition to this, there are other pollutants released by aviation. Others include ‘black carbon’, a particulate that is linked to early human fatalities and sulphur dioxide, a compound that causes respiratory problems, premature births and premature deaths, or acid rain when dissolved in water.
A cursory glance at the impact of the third runway gets straight to the heart of the issue. More planes will create more emissions. The levels around Heathrow are already in violation of the European Union’s Directive on Air Pollution. I am unable to share the views of many on my end of the political spectrum that intangible benefits to the economy are worth a very real and much more easily quantifiable scientific danger to health.
Can technology redeem flights? This seems to be an attractive solution especially in the light of developments in the automotive industry. One has only to go to Darts Farm in Topsham to find two Tesla recharging stations. The sad truth is that there is no parallel that can be applied to the aviation industry. Electrical motors currently cannot produce enough power to lift the aeroplane into the air. British Airways, by contrast, have committed themselves to developing biofuels, but with global food shortages likely to be an issue in the next few decades, replacing farm land with crops to fly with is not a sensible solution.
‘I have no desire to shame anyone for flying in this article; I would be a hypocrite, with some of my best memories being from trips abroad.’
I have no desire to shame anyone for flying in this article; I would be a hypocrite, with some of my best memories being from trips abroad. The task for you approaching this debate is to balance the competing interests, here between the benefits of flight and the harm it causes. It is my opinion that increasing capacity through a third runway is disproportionate and should be opposed. I welcome the cross-party support for stopping the expansion at Heathrow, including most notably by Zac Goldsmith MP recently triggering a by-election. The European Commission in 2006 found that 28% of people affected by aircraft noise in Europe lived under Heathrow flight paths and with a third runway this will rise to 35%.
What alternative is there? HACAN noted that 20% of Heathrow’s flights are domestic and of the remaining 80%, 45% are under 500km in distance. With the train being between a factor of 5 to 10 times more environmentally friendly (depending on length of journey), is it not worth considering the Eurostar on your next jaunt to Europe?