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David T Breaker: Airports shouldn't be expanded, but it's nothing to do with climate change

David is studying philosophy, politics & economics at the University of Essex.

If you've been following the news (and presumably you have been if you are reading this) you will know that sandal footed, hair shirt wearing, beard clad "protesters", who may or may not be unemployed students, and may or may not know what they are talking about, descended on the greenbelt of London armed with flags, banners and boxes of muesli. Their aim, to stop climate change, by holding a climate camp. Yawn.

Now I am not a fan of expanding airports, indeed I oppose airport expansion, nor do I wish for polar ice caps to melt, but one thing more annoying than the noise of aircraft, the destruction of the countryside, the sheer ugliness of airports and melting ice caps, has got to be protesters making ordinary people's lives awkward by holding "camps" in fields which they do not own, in an attempt to alter decisions which are not theirs to take.

The security services must hate them, for these are the same people who make them build then guard rings of security fencing around G8 meetings, who's forebears formerly made Greenham Common resemble a refugee camp (and caused sales of wire cutters to surge), and now make them plod around muddy fields in the rain of what has got to be the worst summer in years. I'm sure this is just what they joined MI5 and the Police for - no doubt the government will use this very scenario in part of their next £250 million per year advertising campaign to boost recruitment.

Meanwhile ordinary people, trying to escape the said terrible weather, risk having their holidays ruined. Their week or two in the Canaries or Costa or wherever ruined by, frankly, a bunch of total nutters with nothing better to do.

I note the climate protesters when speaking primarily target short foreign sun seeking trips (such as the Canaries) and not more polluting long-haul trips, presumably because they have all had their gap year trips to do the washing up in some grotty café in [insert poverty stricken country of choice here] but believe that's alright because they say it's a worthy "life experience" whereas to them a well deserved family holiday in the sun apparently isn't.

So, back to my plot: airports shouldn't be expanded, but it's nothing to do with climate change.

Protesters have to get realistic. The affect of British aviation, let alone an extra runway, is so minimal it can hardly be measured. Indeed, the UK is just 2% of global CO2 emissions, and one of our top polluters is agriculture - in the form of cows, who globally produce more harmful greenhouse gases than planes, cars and trains combined (18%). If governments were truly serious about stopping greenhouse gases, cows would be the most taxed creatures on the planet (I'm not suggesting this). And if protesters really were there to "save the planet", and not just to be annoying, they'd be doing as Michael O'Leary suggests and driving round shooting cows (I'm not suggesting this either).

So why shouldn't airports be expanded, if it's not because of climate change.

Well, the answer to me is quite simple: neither the government nor BAA own the land. To build the new runway they would have to resort to compulsory purchase powers, effectively a state land grab (like Zimbabwe but far wetter). Well, not quite like Zimbabwe, but you get the point. People own their property, we can't just force them to sell it. Yes they might get compensation, but they might not want it - they might value their home and attached memories more than the offer. How would you like being forced out of somewhere you liked? I'd certainly be annoyed, and it's not our right to force them. It all reminds me of China's Mrs Wu Ping.

And even if the government or BAA did own the land, the runway would affect other property nearby negatively, and under planning law you can't just go building what you like, where you like, if it affects others. If we had an anarchist planning law, property values - and people's biggest investment - could be destroyed by anyone and everyone, building anything anywhere, blighting people's homes. I wouldn't be keen on an airport being built near me. Anarchist planning policy is simply not an option.

This leads me to the worst argument for expansion; the "it's my right to fly" argument. Of course we all have the right to fly, but only when there's the capacity; just as we all have the right to drive our cars but not on other people's property where there aren't roads. The right to our own property is more important than anyone's right to fly, airports shouldn't expand their geographical size.

Of course, there are times we need new or improved infrastructure such as roads and railways, but airports cause the demolition of whole communities. They are a different thing on a different scale altogether.

Will not expanding Heathrow damage the economy? Not if we work round it. In the age of digital communications, more and more people can be meeting anywhere. We are a small country, we don't really need many domestic flights, instead we need better high speed railways. Busy and small airports are a problem globally, and plane manufacturers are working on planes to boost capacity without needing airport enlargement. Technology is a better bet than airport enlargement for our transport woes, just as technology is a better environmental bet than eco-camps. And to be honest, if we agreed to everything that is labelled "not doing this will damage the economy" there wouldn't be anything left in the country but trading estates and airports.

So in conclusion, please don't expand airports, and please - no more "camps".

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