I mused yesterday on the scale of public support for an airport in the Thames estuary. While no direct indication of public reaction, it is always instructive to observe the media response and here it is...
The Times is generally taking the stance that Britain needs a new airport, whatever the consequences. It suggests that Heathrow’s 3rd terminal was only avoided as an election ploy for west London voters. Now it seems, the Tories can’t turn back on it. Many are now warming to the idea. The headline ‘Olympic call for airfields to help avoid ignominy of ‘Third World’ Heathrow’ implies that embarrassment of overcrowding is the main problem. They talk about the temporary terminal but imply it won’t help our economics for long. The conservation side was very much an afterthought on the 2 page spread. However, an opinion piece by Willie Walsh, Chief Executive of International Airline Group gives an entirely different perspective suggesting that the scheme is likely to be politically unacceptable and passengers and airlines will only move if Heathrow is closed.
The Guardian seems fairly sure that Boris’s leaking of info to the Telegraph has killed off his plans with the Lib Dems opposition to any expansion in South East. There are two full articles in guardian online. Juliette Jowitt has a kinder introduction into the birds it will impact and the significance of the protected areas involved. Damian Carrington’s environmental blog is calling the government’s claims to be green, cynical. He points out that if a cavalier attitude to carbon emissions doesn’t worry you, it should.The Daily Mail seems positive about the Thames options being explored.The Daily Telegraph " href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelnews/9023815/Nick-Clegg-threatens-to-veto-unviable-vision-of-a-new-airport-in-the-Thames-Estuary.html">The Daily Telegraph blames Nick Clegg for threatening to ‘sink’ Boris Island airport. They have a pro and con box of Boris Island, Lord Foster’s proposal, Stansted, Gatwick and Birmingham. Boris Island comes off pretty well, followed closely by Gatwick. The Independent provides a much more balance two page spread introducing the environmental argument early on. It highlights the conflicts of local people as well as the wider environmental impact. A for and against box from Simon Calder, Travel Editor and Michael McCarthy, Environment editor discusses the possibility of cutting emissions and increasing flying. Again, Gatwick is mentioned as least objectionable proposal.
And as for the broadcast media, our man Rolf Williams, appeared on the 6 o'clock and 10 o'clock news as well as Newsight (about 30 minutes in). The latter is worth a watch. Rolf is great and I think that there are enough arguments in this clip to kill off the idea.
It seems that there is going to be a consultation, that the Thames Airport will feature as an option and my best guess is that it will be dropped. It is a huge distraction and will generate great unease for the communities in the Thames. But we will not be complacent. We will fight this.
What is your assessment of the public mood about new airports and what do you think we should do to manage demand for flying?
It would be great to hear your views.
Getting a new car was a traumatic experience for me so I decided to do it quickly by asking my four year old daughter to choose which car to buy. I think she did a good job. For others, buying a new car is pretty exciting, and it is especially so today for the RSPB because we get delivery of our first electric vehicle.
It’s great to be spearheading a new environmental revolution in motoring. Most of us cannot envisage our lives without some form of motor vehicle, so we need to make them greener. After many years of development and investment, electric vehicles are now crossing the ‘near market’ boundary and there’s a huge variety of makes and models available or ready for launch – from tiny city cars to the powerful Tesla sports adopted by green celebrities.
Ours is somewhat more prosaic. It’s is a Renault Kangoo ZE (see image attached) – that’s zero emissions, more on that later. It’s a five seat MPV and looks just like a normal car, but with an electric plug socket instead of a fuel filler. It has a somewhat limited range, just over 100 miles, but that will fine for local journeys, and the network of charging points is springing up across the UK surprisingly quickly. Lands End to John O’Groats by electric venhicle? It’s actually not that far distant.
I haven’t driven the Kangoo yet, but was surprised by the Nissan Leaf we had on a week’s trial last summer was to drive. Nice to drive, quiet – eerily quiet – and with plenty of torque for getting up to speed, which is a characteristic of electric motors. And the environmental benefits are huge. Like all electric cars, it has zero tailpipe emissions – the car itself doesn’t produce greenhouse gas emissions. Our Kangoo uses12.9 kiloWatt hours of electricity to drive 100 kilometres and that electricity has to come from somewhere. Using electricity from the national grid, that works out at 71 grammes of CO2 per km, which compares very favourably to the 137 g CO2 per km for a normal diesel Kangoo. As we move to greener electricity generation, this will fall, right down to a fat, round zero if plugged in to a renewable power source. Now that’s a dream worth working towards! Meanwhile, charging at night makes use of the ‘slack’ period of energy consumption, when there is plenty of spare power generation capacity.
So, a small step up for us in the climate war, and a potentially big one for the environment overall. We cannot have both our current richness of nature and dangerous climate change – like water and oil, they don’t mix.
But would you drive an electric car? What would make you consider one?
5165.640-1564-11-12 Electric van livery.pdf
Recent talk about ‘responsible capitalism’ has tended to focus on issues of equity and social justice. Yet business also has a responsibility to the environment.
This week, I want to explore where business can step up to do more for nature.
Many multinationals, and some large domestic businesses, have global reach. They connect people with nature in many different ways – through their supply chains and products in particular. Their brands shape popular values and some of them reach billions of people every day. Companies influence governments, both in relation to particular decisions and legislation and policy. They emit a high proportion of greenhouse gases, consume resources and control or influence how large areas of land are managed.
It's easy to assume that 'advocacy' and 'influencing decision-makers' starts and ends with politicians and government departments. But big businesses have an equally large influence our lives - and probably an even greater influence on the environment. So focusing your influencing efforts on the policy sphere means that you are only doing (at best) 50% of the job.
If we want to achieve long-term success, we cannot simply rely on governments to do the right thing. We need companies to align with our conservation goals, and not only those of shareholders.
The RSPB works with private companies all the time: we advise thousands of family farms about nature friendly farming every year; we have helped reshape the way that water companies manage their estates for water and for wildlife; we influence hundreds of development decisions; we continue to enter into a number of partnerships to support conservation management (especially on our nature reserves); and we do benefit from corporate sponsorship such as the much enjoyed Black Grouse whisky.
But we can and should do more. We want business to reduce the environmental impact of their operations and advocate change within their own sector. Practicing and preaching sustainability should be key features of any responsible business.
And irresponsible businesses that seek to weaken environmental regulations should be exposed as self-serving and not acting in the public interest. I hope that, in the run up to important decisions about planning reform and the Habitats Regulations, UK Government ministers remember that fact.
What role do you think that businesses have in saving the planet? And what do you think the RSPB should do about it?
In my article in the Guardian on Friday I argued that this Government should tirelessly pursue ways to decouple economic growth from environmental harm. I suggested that this would help show the rest of the world that it is possible to maintain current standards of living without destroying the things many of us hold so dear.
The forthcoming consultation on ways to maintain the UK's status as an international hub for aviation is a major test of the Government's ambition in this area. The motivation is clear - to kick start a faltering economy and boost UK competitiveness. Laudable ambitions, but I remain unconvinced that aviation expansion is a justified response to this challenge.
For the consultation to include the option of major airport expansion and specifically a proposal for a new airport in the Thames, the Department of Transport must convincingly address a number of questions. Here are just a few that have been buzzing around my brain over the past few days:
1. Is aviation expansion compatible with targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions? While trying to defend a third runway at Heathrow, the previous Government commissioned the Committee on Climate Change to assess the options for increasing aviation whilst meeting targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The august Committee concluded that "there is potential for aviation demand to increase while still meeting the Government’s target – in the most likely scenario, a 60% increase in demand is allowed. Higher increases might be possible if technological progress and the development of sustainable biofuels were more rapid than currently envisaged, but it is not prudent to base current policy on the assumption that speculative future technological breakthroughs are achieved." It went on to say that policies to limit demand for aviation were still "essential" as without it, demand would increase by 200%. The report is robust, as one would expect, but the Committee was only allowed to look at existing Government targets. It was not able to look at consequences for aviation expansion if, as our current Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne is seeking, we agree tougher emissions cuts. The latest climate science suggests that developed nations should be planning c40% cuts from 1990 levels rather than our current plans for c30%.
2. Is it safe to build an airport in the Thames Estuary? Work done for the previous government as part of the 2003 Aviation Review concluded that the Thames Estuary was one of the most hazardous locations in the UK to build an airport - thousands of birds and planes don't always mix. At best the level of risk was found to be equal to the most dangerous of any of the present top 10 UK civil airports and, at worst the level of risk was up to 12 times higher.
3. What are the risks associated with the SS Richard Montgomerie sunk at the entrance of the Swale? I was reminded of this quandry in a comment on my blog from my Merlin last week who said that "in the middle of the Thames Estuary, and might I add, directly under the flight path of the proposed new airport, lies the wreck of the S.S. Richard Montgomery, sunk there in WWII. It has on board 1400 tons of High Explosive in the shape of munitions. There have been many attempts in the past to clear, and defuse, the ticking "Time-Bomb", all have failed due to the unstable nature of the cargo. The best advice was to stay clear, until it blew up! The resultant detonation, according to an expert, would see wreckage falling as far away as Canterbury, in Kent, and Billericay in Essex." I trust the Government has a good answer to this question.
4. Which major airlines actually want to move away from Heathrow? Judging by comments from Willie Walsh last week, I don't reckon that there are many clamouring to move to the Thames.
5. If the Government concludes that it wants to build more capacity, how will it be able to show that there are no benign alternatives to building on an internationally important wetland? Under the terms of those excellent Birds and Habitats Directives, any proposal for increased aviation through a new airport on an internationally important wetland will need to demonstrate that there are no alternative more environmentally benign options. What a sensible test of sustainable development.
6. Who actually wants more airports? Despite relatively warm responses from some parts of the press, I do struggle to see who actually wants a new airport. Certainly no one living in the Thames, nor the audience of Any Questions or indeed Germaine Greer - did you see her excellent performance on Question Time last week?
7. If the London mayoral elections were not imminent, would the option for a Thames airport be included in the consultation? Sorry, I just couldn't help myself.
I am all for the grown-up debate that politicians appear to be seeking about how to kick-start the economy. But surely not all grown-ups have to discuss daft ideas.
What questions do you think Transport Secretary Justine Greening should be wrestling with before she finalises the draft aviation white paper?
Sometimes you just need space to think.
If Transport Secretary Justine Greening needs a little time to reflect on the big decisions that she needs to make about the UK's future aviation capacity, she should go for a walk in a flower-rich meadow. Last week I was reminded of a paper by Sheffield scientists and published here. They concluded that psychological benefits increase with species richness ie the more species, the better your brain works!
Now, I know that our meadows are not at their best at this time of year, but I am sure that the research could be applied to species other than flowers. If so, perhaps the Transport Secretary should pop up to the Lodge (pictured below courtesy of Jesper Mattias rspb-images.com) where last week we reported that a staggering 1,915 native species had been reported at our headquarters. Last year’s total brings the list of native and non-native species recorded at the site to 4,035 - the third highest RSPB nature reserve for the number of species recorded.
So, if officials are reading this, can I suggest you find some time in the Secretary of State's diary to visit the Lodge? It will help her take time to reflect on the draft aviation white paper. She could always pop in for a chat with a few RSPB colleagues to hear what we think about the proposal for a Thames Estuary Airport. We spend a lot of time at the Lodge benefiting from all that species richness - so we are worth talking to.
Alternatively, why not schedule an hour recording birds in her garden this weekend? That should do the trick because, yes, it's Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend!
Where do you go to reflect on life? Are you taking part in Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend? If not, why not?