Few informed people doubt the link between carbon emissions and global warming. Even Blair, commenting on "the world's greatest environmental challenge", admitted our effect on the environment to be "large and growing". And since the fastest growing contributor to that effect is air travel, it seems beyond belief that the government would be pressing to expand airports.
Chief amongst these is Heathrow, where a history of lies and broken promises continues as BAA, in league with the state, tries to force through a third runway and a sixth terminal. But it's ceased to be an easy ride. Public appreciation of climate change is awarding legitimacy to direct action groups and the battle over Heathrow's third runway looks set to be one to remember.
Related: Heathrow's Third Runway challenged by villagers | Air expansion fatcats shamed by Tower Bridge protest | Time for BAA to fasten its seatbelts | Heathrow Residents Take Direct Action with Plane Stupid | West London residents halt traffic outside DfT Headquarters
The history of Heathrow expansion is one of lies and deceit.
The Terminal 4 public planning inquiry was approved in 1978 subject to an Annual Traffic Movement (ATM) cap of 275,000 movements. Yet in 1980 (five years before it opened) BAA recorded 287,000 movements. By 1985 it hit 312,000 movements and by 1990 376,000.
Within three years came a planning application for Terminal 5. The longest public enquiry in history saw BAA and the inspector agreeing that "... a third runway at Heathrow would have such severe and widespread impacts on the environment as to be totally unacceptable".
So to prevent the need for a 3rd runway a new cap of 480,000 was imposed.
But although Terminal 5 doesn't open until next year ATMs have already reached 473,000. Are they really building a multi-billion pound terminal just to soak up the remaining seven thousand flights? Of course not.
In 2002 the government issued a "consultation document" which supported further development at Heathrow, including a 3rd runway, forecasting annual ATMs of 655,000 (now estimated at 800,000).
BAA in turn produced its "masterplan" which defined an area it wished to reserve for expansion. This includes not only a runway but also another terminal.
Sadly for the residents of the village of Sipson, this terminal would replace their ancient village, displacing 700 homes, a school and 2000 people. And nearby residents soon realised that it wasn't just Sipson that would suffer.
The new runway would cross the 6 lane spur from the M4 to Terminals 1,2,&3. Moving that road east would demolish a further 400 houses in nearby Harlington. And the huge number of car journeys prompted by the new capacity (up to 28.8 million per year) would require a widening of the M4. Its proximity to the new runway means that expansion can only be to the north, taking out up to 1600 homes in the Wiselane and Glebe estates.
Some hope came in the news that the expansion could only legally take place if the air quality meets the criteria set out in the 2010 EU air quality directive.
Which it doesn't do even now, without all these proposed extra flights and car journeys.
Janis Kong, the onetime Executive Chairman of BAA Heathrow is on record saying (June 2005): "We are struggling to meet the criteria now - it is highly unlikely that we will even meet the environmental criteria".
FIDDLING THE FIGURES
Given the lamentable history of lies and deceit it's not surprising a few more emerged. The Department for Transport is currently monitoring the air quality around Heathrow. It turned out that BAA put in a a team of 34 people to help, working (source: The Times) with civil servants, "influencing the tests so that they find in favour of building the new runway."
According to The Times report, "the Department for Transport has secretly passed key information supporting the expansion to the Spanish-owned company six months before it is due to be published in a consultation document".
(Mike Forster, BAA's head of strategy for Heathrow, admitted at a recent conference that he had seen the results and that they were "encouraging").
"The department" claims the Times "has also allowed senior BAA officials to influence a series of tests designed to show whether the third runway would breach limits on air pollution and noise".
It would be disastrous if Heathrow were allowed to expand, but even worse to sit back and let it happen knowing it was done because we didn't challenge their lies.
There are two main groups of West London residents campaigning against Heathrow expansion, NoTRAG, (the No Third Runway Action Group) and HACAN Clearskies. NoTRAG is a neighbourhood group mobilising local dissent and lobbying local councillors, MPs and MEPs. HACAN meanwhile has a wider constituency, liasing with national and international groups and providing briefing documents for press and politicians.
Additionally small groups of direct action minded residents have sprung up, trained by Seeds for Change and assisted by Plane Stupid. They have so far succeeded in protesting at and storming aviation conferences and in publicising the incestuous relationship between state and commerce.
But as long as 2 years ago a report on indymedia concluded:
"At six thirty, after a brief fireworks display, coaches arrived to transport people back the 2 miles to the start of the march. Without massive support, it's only a matter of time before they're being bussed away from their demolished homes".
Well, that massive support has arrived. In less than four weeks time, hundreds of people will arrive to set up this year's Climate Camp on Heathrow's doorstep.
From the 14th to the 21st of August hundreds of environmentalists, scientists, teachers, writers, film makers and generally concerned people will converge on a piece of land near Heathrow and set up a self contained, non polluting community that will challenge the status quo way of life.
Last week saw the weekend workshop Departure Lounge take place in the old tithe barn in Harmondsworth, less than a half mile from the airport.
"At the workshop we will work together to create imaginative new forms of protest, share skills and ideas, and design events/actions that will take place during the Camp to engage, delight, provoke, challenge and encourage participation" read their manifesto.
This protest is essential and long overdue, because Terminal 6 won't be the end of it.
In June 2005, 2003 Paul Ellis (Head of Airport Policy and Planning), speaking to the GLA Transport Committee let something slip.
"Finally" he said, "we would not need another (4th) runway at Heathrow until at least 2030...so we would expect there to be a planning agreement covering that".