There’s a mini-debate going on at the moment about whether or not to support the eco-protestors’ gathering at Heathrow Airport in protest at proposed expansion plans. Whilst on the one side there’s overwhelming backing for the stance that climate change is one of the greatest threats that humanity has ever faced, on the other there’s a certain queasiness in sections of the Left about some of the Green movement’s more hair-shirted solutions to the issue. Regarding airports in particular, this largely surrounds the point that if the volume of air traffic were radically reduced through the likes of Heathrow, the likes of Easyjet and Ryanair would be forced to either raise their prices to cope with a squeeze on passenger numbers, or to go out of business. The knock-on consequence of this would be that whilst middle-class hippies would still be able to go mountain trekking and spritual journeying in the Himalayas, your average working class family would be left with little option other than a return to Blackpook beach. A worthwhile sacrifice obviously if you happen to be one of said middle class hippies, but if you work on the checkout at Tesco you might be wondering if there’s another alternative which still enables you to go on holiday with the kids once a year.
Janine has had a careful think about this already, and comes down on the side of not attending, albeit in thoughtful fashion. She is concerned precisely about travel once again becoming a preserve of the rich, and as a consequence is reluctant to support the protestors, at least until they make it clear that they don’t support this outcome. She says:
“I think the fact that many working-class people regularly travel abroad is a Very Good Thing. From my parents’ generation where only the rich set foot outside these shores, we have progressed to a society where most people in most developed capitalist countries have seen a bit of the world. That’s good for quality of life, for broadening horizons, and – union jack boxer shorts notwithstanding – for integration and internationalism. I have no desire to curtail it by objecting to airports or demanding hikes in taxes on flying.”
She is of course quite correct to say that travel expands the mind, and is tremendous fun to boot. As someone who has been fortunate enough to visit several countries other than the UK, and to live in one of those for some time, I can honestly say that I found all of those experiences tremendously valuable. However, if the cost attached is of the pollutants partly stemming from mass air travel eventually reducing all of these places to devastated wastelands that future generations will not be able to enjoy, then is it really worth it just for the sake of my enjoyment?
Janine does seek for alternatives around targeting specifically business air traffic, and she does acknowledge the reality that climate change is a problem. I’m far from accusing her of being a Nigel Lawson-style climate change “sceptic”. However I simply cannot see how purely slapping restrictions and taxes on business traffic, with no concomitant restrictions on leisure travel, would adequately tackle the issue. And let’s face it, no one ever really suffered a collapse in quality of life because they had to holiday in Scotland rather than Spain.
An altogether more hard-line stance on the camp comes (perhaps predictably) from Ethan Greenhart of Spiked Online magazine, who seems to think the whole thing is totally risible. Posing satirically as someone who supports the camp, he says:
“We Climate Campers are taking on the World Capitalist Oil-Producing Neocon Superstructure that privileges the right to sunbathe over the right to life… we’re calling for LESS choice and LESS freedom in the name of saving the planet from the poisonous gases of the holidaymaking hordes. My chant during the Climate Camp week will be: ‘What do we want?’ ‘A 65 per cent reduction in all forms of greenhouse gas emissions by 2017, a minimum tax of £1 per mile on all short-haul flights under 600 miles, and greater investment in pro-cycling policies including the painting of at least a 175cm cycle lane on all major thoroughfares!’ ‘When do we want it?’ ‘Now!’”
Of course, I’m aware of the RCP’s rather wacky politics on this issue, and therefore of the probable roots of Ethan’s indignation. However, what he says isn’t simply nonsense, at least in the context of the misanthropic tendencies in sections of the Green movement. If there’s a solution to this issue then it has to square to circle of firstly (and obviously) actually working, but secondly also being humanitarian.
Would I support the camp? I think there are two issues here, both of which lead me to the conclusion that I would do so. Primarily, I would support the camp because I believe that climate change is an overriding issue affecting every man, woman and child on this planet. I think that protests of the sort that this camp represents (whether or not their politics is somewhat flawed) serve to highlight the issue in the minds of a general public who would often seemingly rather talk about anything else. And secondarily, I support the camp on civil liberties grounds – for its right to be there per se. The police are proposing to use anti-terror legislation to dislodge what is essentially a group of dog-on-a-rope crusties from a field full of tents. If this is the kind of responsible use of such legislation that the Blair government promised, then I’d hate to see them using it recklessly.
So support the camp, go visit the crusties and if they say something you disagree with, discuss it with them. You might get muddy feet, but it’ll be far more productive than sitting at home and sulking.