Since the 'rising tide' of consumer consciousness about climate change began, few industries have come under heavier scrutiny and criticism than aviation. However the current Labour government, in it's 2003 White Paper on aviation, removed aircraft emissions from its carbon reduction targets of 60% by 2010. It also handed airports a quota for extra passenger traffic and asked them to set out how they were going to achieve it. The regional airports, typically bought by private consortia from local councils, have been quick to respond.
Edinburgh airport, owned by BAA, plans to more than treble traffic from 7.5 million passengers a year in 2003 to 26 million by 2030. Birmingham, owned by the seven West Midlands district councils, wants to almost quadruple traffic from 8.9 million to 34 million.
Such growth has spawned a wave of new protest groups. In the past two years groups have been set up at Lydd, Doncaster, Southampton and Exeter. Membership is building for groups at Nottingham, Bristol, Aberdeen, Belfast, Birmingham, Coventry, Bournemouth, Durham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Norwich, as well as Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, and Luton.
Some have seen successful. In November, the Essex district council of Uttlesford rejected plans by BAA to double the number of passengers at Stansted. And last week, following a campaign that saw over 4,000 people write to oppose the plans, North Somerset district council ordered an inquiry into the expansion of Bristol airport because of climate change and potential damage to the local environment.
As Paul Kingsnorth makes clear in the current edition of the Ecologist increased road capacity means increased traffic. The same is true for air travel. If the government predicts an increase in air travel and business caters for it, more people will fly and more carbon dioxide will be released into the upper layers of our atmosphere.
This article first appeared in the Ecologist February 2007