Friday, 16 January 2009

Heathrow, a defeat for hippythink

I don't fly very often, less than once a year on average over the last decade. It is an activity reserved for holidays or, on very rare occasions, important events in the lives of friends who live overseas. One thing I have noticed on my rare forays into the sky is how very busy airports are. I have flown from Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted on various days of the week and at various times of day, but each time I have noticed huge snakes at the economy check-in desks and queues of planes waiting to take off. A plane that misses its slot due to tardy passengers or a technical difficulty can wait an age for another opportunity to depart. Less noticeable for those departing is that every plane leaving first has to arrive and disgorge its contents. If you are near an airport it is easy to see the arriving planes, they come in one after the other in quick succession and sometimes can be seen circling in a queue because the runway is busy. To help counter the delays and costs incurred by the throng of pressurised metal tubes, Heathrow is to build an additional, third, runway.

When I was young air travel was undertaken by very few because it was extremely expensive. The posh people did it because they had spare cash, but common people like us could only look on in amazement and, if we were so minded, envy. Everything changed when pioneers like Freddie Laker put their heads above the parapet and challenged the established elite. He felt he could make transatlantic travel affordable for the many, and he did (for a while). It started a massive change in the way air travel was both operated by the airlines and viewed by the public. The consequences affected not just airlines and airports but all aspects of the travel and tourism businesses both in this country and around the world. Although I can think of few things ghastlier than a fortnight on the Costa del Anything, others love it. That's great because I want people to have enjoyable lives, after all it's not for me to seek to dictate what they should or should not enjoy. Companies such as Easyjet and Ryanair make a profit taking them there, the travel agents they use get a cut, hoteliers make their living and everyone is happy. The more the merrier, come one come all, enjoy all the fun of the air.

Of course there is always someone who wants to fart in your soup. Increasingly it is the eco-fascists and so it has proved over Heathrow's planned expansion. There are all sorts of arguments against adding a third runway at Heathrow, not least that it will have a detrimental effect on those living nearby, that people will be required to sell their houses to allow use of the land, that transport links into London from Heathrow are already jammed full all day and that other areas of the country might be more suitable venues for an extra runway. Yet the one objection chosen by our friends at the BBC for debate on Question Time this week was the effect of an additional runway on the environment. The question was interpreted by almost all commentators to refer to emissions of carbon dioxide by aeroplanes and the well-pedalled argument that it will cause polar bears to boil.

Perhaps I spend too much time reading arguments against the great global warming fraud, but I was rather surprised to find so many people in the audience and on the panel who seemed to accept the man-made global warming theory lock, stock and fumigating barrel. This is in stark contrast to what I find among people I know. In fact I do not know anyone who believes the apocalytic predictions. The most I have heard from any of my friends and acquaintances is that increasing one greenhouse gas probably has some effect but nobody could possibly say how much because so many other factors are in play. Leaving that to one side, the question that occurred to me is whether an additional runway at Heathrow could make any difference to the environment, even if the doomsayers are correct.

It seems to me that in order for it to make a difference there must be some people who do not fly at the moment but will do so if another runway is built. Is there anyone, anywhere in the country, who is sitting at home saying "I really hope they build that new runway so that I can go abroad"? Of course there isn't. There might, for all I know, be some people each year who would like to go somewhere overseas but cannot find a flight to their chosen destination at a suitable price and are forced to stay at home, that is possible. Perhaps it is likely in most cases that they choose an alternative venue and fly anyway, leaving only a modest number to plop a knotted handkerchief on their heads and go to Bognor instead.

The proposed new runway has nothing to do with meeting a presently unsatisfied demand, it is about the future. In the future should we expect more or fewer flights in and out of the country? Once we have got through the current economic turbulence the likelihood is that more and more people will be able to afford foreign holidays. The policy choice is between catering for their desires by ensuring domestic airports can cope with the additional demand, or seeking to stifle that demand by limiting the number of flights allowed to take off and land in the UK. Of course it will not be a stifling of demand but of supply. Limit the number of flights out of the UK and those prepared to pay most get the few available seats. Flying will again become a rich man's playground.

It is yet another example of the inevitable irony built into all hippythink. Every time, and I mean every single time, those whom the hippies claim to want to promote are the people first in line for a battering from their naive ideas.

But the story doesn't end there. True though it is that limiting the number of flights in and out of the UK will limit the amount of Chicken Licken gases produced by aircraft used on UK flights, it will make absolutely no difference to the rest of the world. If prices to the UK from America, India and Australia are increased, other venues for their tourist dollars will become relatively cheap and more attractive. Rome, Prague and Paris will be among the big European cities visited instead, with perhaps a short trip through the tunnel on a day trip to London. Those wanting to spend their spare cash visiting Europe are likely still to do so, resulting in no significant reduction in overall gaseousness.

For once the government has made a correct decision by allowing a further runway to be built. A tiny victory over the lentil knitting extremists, but every little helps.


Mark Wadsworth said...

Agreed. Every now and then the government does the right thing. It's just difficult actually saying so.

Pogo said...

Mark... "Even a blind sqirrel finds the occasional nut".

james1071 said...

Fat Bigot,

Perhaps you could tell us why the scientific consensus on global warming is wrong.

Pogo said...

I'll do it for him...

1. "Consensus" is a political concept, not a scientific one.

2. There isn't one anyway.

TheFatBigot said...

Thank you Mr Pogo, very nicely put.