HEATHROW, DEMOCRACY AND SOCIALISM

On the same day that City AM reported the plea by Mark Carney, the outgoing Governor of the Bank of England, to the finance sector that “every financial decision takes climate change into account” (Friday, 28 February), it chose to lead with a hysterical front page banner headline Global Britain: Delayed in response to the High Court of Appeal’s decision on the third runway at Heathrow. The government’s plans were held by the court to be “unlawful” due to its failure to take into account the UK’s Paris Climate Agreement commitments. The government itself says it won’t be appealing the decision, but it will doubtless assist Heathrow’s operators to do so. Under capitalism nothing must impede capital accumulation.

The aviation industry lacks any alternative to fossil fuel for at least the next thirty years. Its attempts to de-carbonise are, consequently, merely cosmetic. While aviation currently accounts for only 2% of global emissions, this proportion will rise as other sectors make progress in decarbonising. Zero carbon emissions will be unattainable globally with an ever-expanding aviation industry. As we have argued previously, the only way to avoid catastrophic climate change is to keep fossil fuels in the ground (1).

The Appeal Court’s intervention was, nevertheless, essentially a technical one and some cynical, legalistic manipulation of the record of how the government reached its decision might well be enough for the Appeal Court’s judgment to be overturned. The government did, of course, secure a huge parliamentary majority of 296 to proceed with the third runway. Did that make it a democratic decision? While socialists are nervous about the power of courts to overrule democratic decisions, our current parliamentary system is, itself, far from democratic. Democracy, as Marx observed, is much more than deciding once every three or six years which member of the ruling class is to represent and repress us in parliament. The real issue here is a class issue, and courts under capitalism have no interest in defending the working class.

70% of all international flights by UK residents are taken by only 15% of the population while 57 per cent of the population in any year take no flights abroad (2) . At a deeper level, if we continue to extract and burn fossil fuels, it will be the global working class who will be rendered extinct, not the super-rich in their bunkers and atop their mountaintop retreats.

Democracy and reduction in CO2 emissions are inter-related. The intervention of the court in this instance has provided a welcome, temporary respite, but to halt global warming we need system change. We need socialism. Never has the slogan of the Cuban Revolution been more apposite or possessed such a global significance – Revolución o muerte.

 

Notes

(1)  See https://communistuniversity.wordpress.com/2019/01/28/global-warming-a-discussion-paper/

(2)  All statistics based on surveys are problematical, but these appear reasonably reliable. See https://fullfact.org/economy/do-15-people-take-70-flights/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIra_R0Ib55wIViaztCh2KzQZjEAAYASAAEgIzh_D_BwE

Criminal Irresponsibility

Interviewed on the Today Programme today, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling sought to defend the government’s decision to push through parliamentary approval for Heathrow expansion without waiting for the Climate Change Committee to report later this week on the UK’s progress on meeting CO2 emission targets. His reasoning was that

  • By 2050 aircraft would be much more efficient, thus generating much less CO2.
  • CO2 emissions by aircraft were an international responsibility and don’t affect UK targets.

Both arguments demonstrate the government’s criminal irresponsibility in this area. Basic physics demonstrates that, after more than one hundred years of development of aviation, the scope for further efficiency savings is vanishingly small. Don’t take my word for it – refer to the late Professor David MacKay’s book Sustainable Energy – without the hot air which he generously published as a free book which you can download here. The proof you need is in Part 111, section C

The argument that aviation’s CO2 emissions are none of the government’s business is simply risible.

Global warming and its consequences, including both the need and the potential for social revolution, is the subject of a discussion paper being researched and drafted by the Communist University in South London. Go to https://communistuniversity.wordpress.com/ to follow progress or, even better, to register your willingness to participate.

You Cannot Be Serious!

In December 2015 the government signed up to the UN Convention on Climate Change (COP 21), requiring net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 – a cut of 90 percent in the then prevailing level. If there is a new runway at Heathrow, aviation is projected to account for 50% of our carbon emissions by 2050. Does this make sense?

Global climate change is a class issue[i]. A world that ignores COP21 will be very different to the present one. The choices for the working class will not simply be between continued exploitation and social revolution. The risk of total subjugation and extinction could not then be ignored.

Aviation’s contribution to CO2 emission is also a class issue. As we pointed out on 29 October 2016, frequent flyers are predominately drawn from the wealthiest 10% of the population. 15% of the British population who fly three or more times a year account for 70% of all flights. More than half the UK population takes no flights at all.

The response of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Transport to Heathrow expansion which reported today is to call for tougher rules on night flights and a plea to keep costs to flyers down. They are silent on CO2 emission.

Have you noticed how the BBC invariably concludes reports of bad news for the government with an anodyne government rebuttal? Perhaps they will employ this one by a Department for Transport spokeswoman in response to the Select Committee’s report:

“Expansion [at Heathrow] will only proceed if it meets strict environmental obligations and offers a world-class package of compensation and mitigations for local communities.”

A more appropriate response to the Select Committee would be that of John McEnroe to a poor line decision:

“You cannot be serious”.

Footnote

[i] If you are interested in participating in research by the Communist University in South London into this, go to https://communistuniversity.wordpress.com/