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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

E-mails with a Gloucester Councillor on Staverton, following the 5 things you need to know about global warming email to the Mayor of Gloucester

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Dear Mr. Taylor,

Thank you for your reply and the time that you have put in to making your argument, however I would suggest that it is worth more fully reconsidering some of the points that you have made, and I trust that you will bear with me whilst I try and answer them. I apologise in advance for the length of the reply.

You have said that that the information I have provided is well known to you. I therefore trust that you also appreciate the ultimate and over riding urgency of taking action. No matter how optimistically we hope, global warming will not go away and it is absolutely certain to become an overwhelming problem in the very near future. The problem is so immense that it will not be resolved by simply putting up a few windmills and hoping for the best.

The government, and even Staverton Airport, have said we need to take action at local, national and international levels. First consider each of these levels. Effective action at an international level that results in CO2 and other greenhouse gas reductions has been none existent. As you have pointed out China, India and the USA have not signed the Kyoto Protocol and have little intention of doing so. In fact China’s position is that they are concerned about global warming, but do not intend to reduce emissions. Even those countries that have signed the Kyoto agreement have signed targets that are either easy to achieve or require no actual cuts in CO2 emissions to be made. At a national level, little progress is being made. Alternative solutions for energy supply such as wind power are consistently being proven to be ineffective in terms of consistently meeting the energy demands of a energy hungry country with 60 million people, and other ideas such as bio fuels are actually far worse for the environment than burning fossil fuels. That leaves us with no option but to take robust action at the local level, and this means taking action in all areas. It ultimately means completely changing our expectations and life style. Whilst persuading people to cut down on car journies and reduce heating will help, it will be far too small to be effective, and will do nothing more than provide false hope.

It is precisely because action in all other areas is failing that makes the necessity for taking local action imperative. Solving global warming will not come about by us all determining that we should have an equal slice of CO2 emissions as there is not enough time to reach such a complicated agreement. Global warming will only be resolved by the masses recognising that the earth is saturated with CO2 and nearing the point of catastrophic climate change and then taking urgent action to reduce our emissions and avoid creating any new emissions in all areas.

I accept your point that vehicle emissions and power emissions are large, but at least their rate of increase is relatively steady. Aviation by contrast is the most rapidly growing source of emissions. It makes absolutely no sense that we allow something as dangerous to the environment as this to expand when we actually need everything else to contract. By allowing Staverton Airport to expand, it sends out the loud and clear message that the environment is actually not important. If you allow the airport to expand, you will certainly face the car owners arguing that there is no point in them cutting back their journeys if you do not have the courage to oppose a relatively small airport expansion.

It is also worth taking a lesson from road transport. We now know the environmental damage from road traffic is enormous and potentially catastrophic, yet we are virtually powerless to do anything to stop it, so addicted have we become as a society to it. It is clear from the experience of the road, that it is easier to stop a bad thing from starting than to stop a bad thing from continuing. Staverton Airport is no different. Once new services start, it would be virtually impossible to stop them as various vested interests would argue that their businesses or life styles had become dependent on the new services, or contractual obligations prevents them from being stopped.

Further more, the total green house effect from aircraft is considerably more that the CO2 emissions alone. The exhaust from planes is a cocktail of gases; in particular there are large amounts of NO2. As well as this being a dangerous gas at ground level that causes asthma and respiratory ailments around airports, it is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas which is in the region of 300 times more potent that CO2 alone. The high altitude that this is emitted at further increases the global warming impact. The result is that the additional radiative forcing increases the global warming impact of aviation by a factor of 4 to 6 over the actual CO2 emissions alone.

When evaluating total CO2 emissions from planes, you also need to consider that international travel is not counted, despite this being the largest source of emissions. With international emissions counted, aviation accounts for 6% of the UK’s total emissions. With the radiative forcing, this suggests that aviation is potentially contributing about 20% of our total global warming impact. This is not insignificant.

I further believe that your point about Britain’s contribution to the world CO2 emissions being negligible also needs further consideration. Firstly, Britain is the 7th biggest contributor of CO2 emissions in the world. One of the reasons why our emissions have been able to stay stable recently is that we have simply exported much heavy industry abroad to countries such as China. Even still, on a per capita basis, China’s emissions are still only 30% of ours and India’s are 10%. It therefore completely destroys our position in trying to persuade these countries to make cuts in their emissions when we are not prepared to stop even a relatively small airport.

Bring the debate fully home to Staverton. We have calculated that approximately 1.5 million trees would be required to absorb the CO2 from the new services outlined in their business plan. For Staverton to make their investment viable, they would need many more services than publicly admitted, thus many more trees would be required than my estimate. So whilst Staverton, may be small in relation to Heathrow, it is only small because the other airports are so large. Trying to argue that it is acceptable to expand Staverton because it is smaller is akin to arguing that it is okay to rob the corner shop because it is smaller than the Great Train Robbery.

Given your initial point of your deep interest in environmental matters, and hence I would suppose your recognition of the risk that we face, you must appreciate that the idea of supporting an airport expansion is not logical. You must recognise that if we were to actually build the airport it is likely to become a white elephant very soon as the economic impacts of climate change will bite and reduce any utility for an airport. From your interest in environemental matters you must be aware that we face the risk of world temperatures rises being in excess of 4 deg C. At this point, the few survivors on the planet would not be interested in flying off for holiday weekends. The recent falls in the stock market are the first global warming economic impacts, as poor weather around the world and demand for bio fuels has pushed basic food prices up, with corresponding impacts in inflation and interest rates. This is a situation that it only going to become much worse, and potentially very quickly. Gloucester tax payers will simply be left trying to support a financial liability at the time when they are least able to do so.

I note with interest that you are in the Liberal Democrats. I had been highly impressed with their public position on opposing all airport expansions. Ultimately stopping airport’s and other instruments of ecomomic development are painful decisions, but often the correct decisions are the most difficult to make and not making them will be far worse in the long run.

You must finally recognise that many of the flights from the airport will be made for ultimately frivolous reasons, such as holidays and weekend’s away. As you may be aware, Staverton see business jets as being one of their main growth areas following the expansion. However, European Air Traffic data shows that amongst the top 20 destinations for business jets are Cannes, Nice and Mallorca. For those of us who are concerned parents with children who are trying to make reductions in our emissions we find it galling that a few elitist people are prepared to completely ignore the science and negate any reductions in CO2 that thousands of us will make.

Staverton airport’s publicly owned status offers a unique position where the council, as the representatives of the people, can take a real lead on this issue and put the environement above short term profit motives. You have the opportunity to stop this development and potentially form a coalition of other willing organisations that would be prepared to make cut backs in their output to safe guard the future. I would offer this as a vision of what you can achieve rather than contributing to the biggest disaster that mankind will see. The alternative is that your hope "that the major international polluters act in unison before the debate becomes irrelevant" will simply remain an unfulfilled hope unless people at the local level are prepared to take leadership positions where they can.

Kevin Lister

Phillip Taylor wrote:
Dear Mr Lister,

Thank you for sending me a copy of your e-mail. The information that you provided is well known to me, as I have a deep interest in environmental matters. My personal wish would be to see a reduction in air travel and, in that sense, I support your position. However, I would like to introduce a little balance into this debate. You are doubtless well aware that a complete cessation of fossil fuel consumption today by the entire United Kingdom would do little or nothing to diminish global warming. The UK's consumption of fossil fuels simply is not big enough for us alone to bring about significant change. What is required is a massive global shift away from fossil fuel consumption. The signs are not too promising that China, India and the USA are on the verge of making such a shift. It's also clear that the EU is a long way from making the necessary progress in this vitally important issue. I read today that e.on are hoping to win approval to build a coal-fired power station in the UK, something that would represent a major backward step in our own country's approach to this issue if granted by the Govt. I could go on, but trust that I have demonstrated how utterly insignificant an expansion of Staverton Airport would be as far as global warming is concerned.

I believe that we must all continue to press major polluting nations to make necessary, massive and rapid reductions in their fossil fuel consumption. We as individuals must also take a responsible approach. The Council, too, has a duty of care to protect our hard-pressed environment in whatever small way it can. However, let's keep an open mind about all of this and evaluate the benefits and disadvantages of the expansion proposals fairly and dispassionately. The major polluters are domestic heating, vehicle usage and industry. Persuading people en masse to turn their heating down a little and/or drive their cars less would be far more effective in reducing the production of greenhouse gases in Gloucester than limiting flights in and out of Staverton. My recommendation would be that we all devote our attention to the areas that will bring the best return.

It is probably worth noting that I am a LibDem City Councillor for Barnwood Ward and am not a member of the City Council's Cabinet.

I'm sure that this debate has some way to go. I just hope that the major international polluters act in unison before the debate becomes irrelevant.

Yours sincerely,

Phil Taylor
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