Some Guardian letters on the Heathrow 3rd runway decision

19.1.2009   (Guardian letters)

Folly and foibles of the Heathrow decision:


Geoff Hoon has wrapped himself in intellectual knots in his justification for
a third runway at Heathrow (We can have hundreds of extra flights a day and still
be green – ministers, 16 January).


Obviously we cannot build long-lasting infrastructure that locks us into a high-emissions
future and drastically cut carbon dioxide emissions. This is scientific fact.
It has been clearly shown by Professor Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate
Change Research that explicit and significant demand management is a prerequisite
of any measures designed to put aviation on an emission-reduction pathway compatible
with avoiding dangerous climate change.

Moreover, why haven’t supporters of a third runway learned from recent events?  
The financial crisis highlights the problems stemming from policymakers and business
leaders being seduced by short-term profits for the few (financial services companies),
which then lead to serious long-term problems for the many (the credit crunch,
job losses, massive taxpayer bail-outs).  Avoiding similar profits-now-catastrophe-later
policies in relation to climate change is probably humanities most pressing task.
No wonder there is such widespread anger at the decision.

Dr Simon Lewis

Earth and Biosphere Institute, University of Leeds


In the present debate over Heathrow expansion, which is predicated on a three-fold
expansion of demand by 2050 (Letters, 14 January), we have seen little discussion
about whether such demand could even be met by the fuel industry.

Supporters of growth cannot gloss over the probability that global oil supply
will peak within the next decade.  It follows that growth will be entirely impossible
unless passengers are willing and able to pay very much more for a rising share
of a decreasing resource.

The Society of British Aerospace Companies has one briefing paper on alternatives
to conventional kerosene aviation fuels.   It concludes that there is currently
no commercially available alternative.  It also finds that liquids produced from
gas or coal have CO2 emission problems, and liquids produced from biomass are
a very long way off from either commercial production or a resolution of land-use
issues. Unless supporters for expansion can demonstrate a high probability that sufficient fuel at an acceptable
price will remain available for the next 40 years, it seems likely that a third
runway would soon be redundant – a divisive and expensive white elephant.

Dr Richard Miller

Trustee, The Oil Depletion Analysis Centre


The government and BAA assure us that CO2 and nitrogen oxide levels around Heathrow
will be brought within acceptable limits by improvements to aircraft technology.
Even if this technological improvement was possible, it would be overly optimistic
to assume that airlines will rush to scrap their old fleet in favour of the new

The government might think that by the time the third runway has been built,
the recession will be well behind us. However, the effects are here today and
are slowing development. Boeing has just announced that it is to cut 4,500 jobs
in its commercial aviation business. Airbus is expecting a drop in orders this
year to about 60% of the total received last year. It is hard to see where the
money and confidence will come from to fund research and development into new
aircraft. It is on the basis of this rosy and absurd optimism that billions are
to be committed to expanding Heathrow. Once that money has been spent, we will
be pressured into accepting whatever conditions prevail at the time.

Steve Astell

Isleworth, Middlesex


The approval by this government of a third runway at Heathrow is impossible to
justify, and one would suppose that there is little benefit for Gordon Brown in
promoting a project so much at odds with our fears for the environment. This mystery
will only be clarified when the public is made fully aware of the influence of
ex-Labour ministers and advisers in the BAA’s relentless lobbying of the government.
We need to know precisely which of these government-related people were concerned
in the process and the precise amounts of their remuneration, in securing a decision
which makes a mockery of Brown’s “green” policies.

Lawrence Glover

Bootle, Merseyside


Could a deep Machiavellian plan explain the Heathrow runway decision (Comment,
17 January)? Let’s assume that the government is deeply committed to reducing
carbon emissions, but is worried that the public hasn’t got the message. Everyone
knows that single-issue environmental causes mobilise the most effective protests.

So the government makes an obviously crass decision, torpedoing their own emissions
policy, in order to stimulate a campaign that will do the public education work
for them. Could it work?

Roger Downie



Third runway or fourth term?

Corinne Angier

Kirkwall, Orkney Islands