Guest Blog: by Tom Burns
Note: I want to thank HACAN for hosting this blog and to stress that the views are mine and mine alone and do not necessarily reflect HACAN’s position.
A number of Heathrow campaigners asked me put some thoughts together about the way forward after I criticized them for being too negative on social media.
I’m new to this, so do so with some hesitation. I recently bought my first flat in Brixton in South London only to find that it was heavily overflown by Heathrow (and London City) aircraft. 18 miles from Heathrow it never occurred to me to ask about aircraft noise when I spoke with the estate agent.
When I went on social media – and particularly on twitter – I realized that’s lots of other people many miles from Heathrow shared my anger, distress and frustration at the constant aircraft noise. And I thank you all for being there!
But then I became depressed at many of the tweets. They revealed people’s emotions – and that is important – but few offered any solutions. It was like paint – very black and dark red – being splattered constantly but haphazardly against a wall with no suggestions of how to get over the wall.
There were some exceptions. I think I know what HACAN is after. And the Teddington Action Group. And now RAAN. And it is clear what the No 3rd Runway Coalition wants! But, generally, it tends to be relentless negativity.
I am a young businessman working in the City. At work we identify a problem, come up with a solution and then promote that solution. We argue for our chosen solution at meetings and press conferences, with clients and colleagues.
In my view, campaigning has to be the same. Unless we can promote viable solutions, we remain depressed, in a muddle and without any chance of moving forward.
So, my first suggestion as a new boy, is to be solutions-focused. Use social media, use twitter, yes to express our anger but mainly to promote our solutions.
Solutions means we are bringing something to the table. We have something to unite around, to get politicians and other decision-makers to think about, to take our first steps to achieve the change we want.
And promoting solutions will give us a renewed hope and self-confidence. This constant bashing on social media of Heathrow and parts of the aviation industry suggests to me a deep insecurity about having the confidence to promote viable solutions.
Don’t get me wrong. There are times when Heathrow and its allies need bashing. But, if that is all we do, we are simply throwing more paint indiscriminately against a wall. The real challenge to Heathrow is when it is faced with viable solutions, well-articulated.
My second suggestion to the Heathrow campaigning groups is to distance yourselves from I call the ‘evangelical’ wing of the environmental movement. As a new boy, I may be wrong but it seems to me that your closeness to that wing of the movement has hampered your search for solutions.
I understand the need to build as wide a coalition as possible in fighting a campaign. And the green movement certainly helped to win you the campaign against a third runway 10 years ago.
But I would argue it is hindering you this time round. I think the need for a new runway – maybe even a new airport – somewhere in London and the South East over the coming decades is so obvious it shouldn’t need spelling out. Millions of people who are coming out of poverty and into prosperity in the emerging economies (i.e. most of the world) will be looking to fly. The demand for business and leisure travel is going to be huge, even with a proper tax on aviation which I support. We will need new runways to tap into this.
If they are to be realistic, our solutions must fit into that context. It means looking at putting runways and airports where the least number of people will be impacted and, where they are affected, to deal with that through mitigation, good operational practices and sharing the pain. In my view, our links with the evangelical greens has limited out chances of promoting these viable solutions.
And, make no mistake, these evangelical greens are fair-weather friends. If our concerns on noise conflict with theirs, they will ditch us like a shot. If new flight path procedures reduce CO2 emissions, but increase noise, you know whose side they will be on. If new aircraft technology improves emissions at the expense of noise, they’ll be singing the praises of the aviation industry. No compromise in defence of mother earth! We shouldn’t allow these fair-weather friends to hold us back.
That’s not to say climate change isn’t an issue. But the deep green solution is not the only way forward. Michael Gove got a lot of stick when he was appointed Environment Secretary. He was accused of being weak on climate change. The green ‘twitters’ and some of the Heathrow campaigners had a field day. But I urge you to read this article: http://blueandgreentomorrow.com/environment/michael-gove-qa-at-the-conservative-environment-network-launch-full-text/ Gove takes a different approach to tackling climate change than the deep greens. He argues, like so many, that it can be done through the free market and investment in new technology.
I happen to agree with Gove. But my view is not important. The point of this blog is that, if we are to move forward in tackling the terrible noise problems we face under the Heathrow flight paths, we need to scale down our negativity, focus on promoting solutions, and loosen our connections with the deep greens who are holding us back developing a number of these solutions. I look forward to your tweets!