Posted on the Bevan Foundation blog on 14th January 2009
George Monbiot has written a typically sparky piece on class and the environment. I'm not an avid reader of his but I think this post is worth quoting liberally from.
He compares the campaign against patio heaters with the silence on the ownership of Aga's.
Patio heaters are a powerful symbol: heating the atmosphere is not a side-effect, it's their purpose. But to match the fuel consumption of an Aga, a large domestic patio heater would have to run continuously at maximum output for three months a year.
So where is the campaign against Agas? There isn't one. I've lost count of the number of aspirational middle-class greens I know who own one of these monsters and believe that they are somehow compatible (perhaps because they look good in a country kitchen) with a green lifestyle*
It's a fair point. But more importantly the issue of class is a live one in the debate over airport expansion. It seems likely that Geoff Hoon will give the go-ahead to a large new airport in London - otherwise known as the Heathrow Third runway.
A public transport hub is expected to be announced at the same time in the vain hope it will mitigate the emissions rises. Despite signing up to carbon cuts of their own the Assembly Government seem concerned only to secure a high speed link to south Wales from the new Heathrow rail terminal.
Even though there is sizable Cabinet and backbench scepticism of the predicted economic benefits claimed by BAA, the airport is seen as essential for the economy.
And again class creeps into the debate. It is often claimed that opponents of the growth of aviation and cheap flights are doing down the common man. The working classes now have the same opportunity to travel the world and broaden their mind - the greenies would deny them the chance to see the world. Monbiot again:
the Civil Aviation Authority's surveys show, the average gross household income of leisure passengers using Heathrow is £59,000 (the national average is £34,660); the average individual income of the airport's business passengers (36% of its traffic) is £83,000. The wealthiest 18% of the population buy 54% of all tickets, the poorest 18% buy 5%.
Ryanair, Britain's biggest low-cost carrier, champion themselves as the hero of the working classes. So where would you expect this airline to place most of its advertising? I have the estimated figures for its spending on newspaper ads in 2007. They show that it placed nothing in the Sun, the News of the World, the Mirror, the Star or the Express, but 52% of its press spending went to the Daily Telegraph. Ryanair knows who its main customers are: second-home owners and people who take foreign holidays several times a year.
Who, in the age of the one-penny ticket, is being prevented from flying? It's not because they can't afford the flights that the poor fly less than the rich; it's because they can't afford the second homes in Tuscany, the skiing holidays at Klosters or the scuba diving in the Bahamas. British people already fly twice as much as citizens of the United States, and one fifth of the world's flights use the UK's airports. If people here don't travel, it's not because of a shortage of runways.
The poor are often prayed in aid of schemes will are contributing to catastrophic climate change. And yet it is the poorest - especially those in developing countries - who are those who often suffer the most from environmentally damaging developments.
* The picture appears in honour of David Cornock who is taking a break from bloggng. I feel sure that if was blogging at the moment he'd have taken the opportunity to share the photo again. This one's for you Dave.