Monday, 8 December 2008

Plane Stupid - what's the point?

This morning's protest by Plane Stupid at Stansted Airport - can anyone tell me exactly what it is meant to achieve?

Yes, they've managed to disrupt one day's flights from one airport and in doing so presumably cost the airlines millions of pounds, but what's the point?

They're not going to 'stop climate change' by such actions - although air travel is the fastest growing source of carbon emissions, it's still a relatively tiny amount of the whole. And stopping the planes at just one airport for one day ain't gonna make the slightest bit of difference.

And nor are such protests likely to stop airport expansion - and nor should they. Although I don't think there should be another runway at Heathrow or at Stansted and the focus of government transport policy should be on developing high-speed rail links across the country, I think it's daft to think that such protests are likely to change government policy.

Although I support the right of people to protest about such matters if they want, including breaking the law if absolutely necessary - I intend to break the law on ID cards, for instance - the best way for policy to change is to get people in place in both government and business who are committed to change.

That means working within the system, getting people elected and promoting different policies. Instead, the protestors seem to show disdain for the boring legwork of politics and just complain that "the government aren't listening, so we have to protest". Well, if that's the case, then vote for another political party who will listen. Or if you feel none of them are, stand for election yourself and persuade people of the merits of your case. If enough people support you, you'll get yourself in a position to stop airport expansion.

But of course, standing for election and achieving real change through the ballot box isn't as exciting or glamorous as chaining yourself to a fence at Stansted. And it also has the problem that you'd have to deal with balancing the question of the economic benefits of air travel against the environmental down side, which doesn't seem to be a high priority for the protestors.

Plane Stupid seem to want an end to all short-haul air travel. Well, I challenge them to listen to my 12-hour monologue on the benefits of air travel during a train trip from Inverness down to see my family in Kent. If after that they still insist that there are no benefits to air travel - even if only to get away from a bore like me - then they're more than welcome to chain themselves to airport fences all over the country, as long as they don't do it when I'm travelling.

The truth is that any sane aviation policy will have to balance those economic benefits against the environmental impact that flying undoubtedly has. An end to all short-haul plane travel is not a sensible option. For instance, unfortunate chats with the party leader aside, my local MP Danny Alexander would not be able to do his job properly if he weren't able to fly between Inverness and London, and there are many others with similar issues. That's not to say that a significant amount of air travel can't be cut - Radio Five Live interviewed one group of women this morning who had been planning to have a 'girly day out' in Bremen. Would they have been doing anything there that they couldn't have done on a trip to York or Norwich or London by train?

If the Plane Stupid protestors really want to make a difference to aviation policy, they will be campaigning for candidates at the next election who want to stop a third runway at Heathrow, introduce high-speed train networks across the UK and create an international system of taxation of airplane fuel. Funnily enough, those are all Lib Dem policies, but I doubt that the Plane Stupid people realise that. They're too busy chaining themselves to fences to bother with boring things like policy or democracy.


Liberal Polemic said...

"can anyone tell me exactly what it is meant to achieve?"

Thousands of people's holidays ruined; loss of revenue for shareholders; one more nail in the coffin of the budget airline.

I can tell you what it did achieve.

A lot more people who hate environmental activists and their stupid, selfish stunts.

McDuff said...

Well I suppose that's one way of looking at it.

Of course, another way is to suggest that having to catch the train from London to Inverness might just mean that people, well, work like they have done for years before domestic short-haul became so commonplace. Except, of course, this time there's a huge data infrastructure enabling a great deal of work - all work that does not actually require face-to-face contact, in fact - to be geographically independent.

To be honest, the one decent thing about the ubiquity of short haul air travel - the fact that it allows us mere proles to go places and do things that we would not otherwise get to go - is the one you deride and pooh pooh. I suppose it depends where your own prejudices lie, doesn't it?

Really though, this post only serves to highlight why out actions on climate change are too little, too late. We might do something about it, but only if it doesn't personally inconvenience us. Who are these damned activists and their "stupid, selfish" insistence on telling us that the planet earth is finite and that we can't consume all these resources. Who do they think they are, some kind of empirical rationalists or something?

Bernard Salmon said...

McDuff, I wasn't deriding or pooh-poohing the ability of people to go to places, just pointing out that there is scope for some reduction in short-haul air travel through encouraging more train travel, especially if the economics of air travel are changed by a proper system of taxation of airplane fuel.
And I agree with your point that there is considerable scope for reducing plane travel through use of new technology, but that certainly can't replace all short-haul business trips, as my example of my local MP makes clear.
My basic point is that any sane aviation policy will consider both the economic and the environmental impact of air travel. The Plane Stupid campaigners don't seem to wish to look at the economic aspect and are focusing solely on the environmental situation.

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