The tobacco industry managed successfully to conceal the relationship between smoking and cancer for so long simply by obscuring the science. They did this by creating uncertainty and doubt in the publics’ mind by arranging for well paid “experts” to highlight imagined discrepancies in the data, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.
The climate change sceptics and deniers have used many of the same tools to spread uncertainty about the human impact on the climate.
Despite physical evidence such as forest fires and shrinking ice caps, as well as nearly unanimous scientific opinion, they have continued to blame other causes for the change in the climate in a well-funded but totally misleading campaign.
We are now seeing the exact same tactics being deployed in our own backyard at Bristol Airport by the management and the owners, Ontario Teachers Pension Plan.
To recap; Bristol Airport put in a planning application in December 2018 to expand from ten to 12 million passengers a year. This would have meant 23,600 extra planes a year, 10,000 car journeys a day, a multi-storey car park on greenbelt land and a huge amount of carbon emitted into the high atmosphere where it is especially damaging. The airport have also published longer term ambitions to expand to 20 million passengers a year.
After a year long campaign by Bristol Airport Action Network (BAAN) and others, during which more than 8,000 people objected to the plans, the expansion was rejected. Despite this clear local decision, it comes as no surprise that the airport have now publicly said they are going to appeal against the blocking of their plans.
The airport’s tactics are to try and spread doubt (in the same way as the tobacco industry and the climate deniers) about the real impact of their plans in a number of ways.
They say the amounts of extra carbon emissions will be less because of newer, more fuel efficient planes. Soon, they say, we may even have large electric passenger planes. The truth is that even the most optimistic projections for these electric planes talk about them not being deployed until the 2040s.
The airport also say that they will be “a carbon neutral airport” by 2030. The trouble with this statement is that it does not include the emissions from the planes! They’re talking just about their own internal emissions from light bulbs and such like at the airport. Again they’re trying to obscure the links between the expansion and increased carbon emissions simply by presenting misleading information.
However you look at it, the increase in the amount of air travel means that the extra emissions generated far out-strips any efficiencies made. Aviation’s greenhouse gas emissions are projected by the Committee on Climate Change (the UK Government’s own advisers) to be the largest carbon emitting sector in the UK by 2050. So no one should be taken in by the supposed technological fixes the airport are touting.
You would think that the impact of Covid-19 on the aviation industry would mean that no expansion was necessary anyway but the airport say that we will be back to business-as-usual in two to four years. Does that really seem plausible in view of the economic devastation, and passengers natural reluctance to sit in a metal tube, breathing recycled air from 200 other people?
In addition to the potential huge impact locally, this appeal has also become a nationally important test case because, unbelievably, more than twenty other regional airports are also currently planning to expand and Bristol will be a test case.
This is the single most important environmental issue in the region because of the amounts of carbon involved; it is our ‘Alaskan pipeline’ issue. In view of the local objections, and the decision of the councillors in the original planning committee, it would also be a severe blow to any semblance of local democracy if the appeal is successful.
Just to be clear; we are not trying to stop people taking their annual holidays and we are not trying to close down the airport; we just think it is big enough already.
Please help Bristol Airport Action Network (BAAN) to instruct an expert legal and scientific team and participate in this appeal by donating what you can at www.tinyurl.com/bristolappeal
Stephen Clarke is the Green councillor for Southville.
Main photo: Bristol Airport