The China Syndrome

Beijing has a shiny new international airport. Built in just four years by an army of 50,000 workers, the terminal is 3km long, with floor space a fifth bigger than all of Heathrow’s four existing and fifth planned terminals combined. It can handle 60 million passengers a year.

China is, quite literally, taking off. In 1985, total air passenger numbers were 7 million. By 2007, this had skyrocketed to 285 million. The government has announced the commissioning of an additional 97 airports by 2020. Thirteen of China’s airports are being built with a capacity of 30 million passengers each a year.Before tut tutting those wayward Chinese, let’s not forget that Ireland too has been getting in on the airport expansion bandwagon with gusto, as previously covered, so we are in no position to wag our fingers at anyone else’s ecological madness.

We have the IPCC’s grim Fourth Report, we have the UN’s Geo4 report setting out the depth and urgency of the environmental crisis gripping the planet. The evidence is piling up higher and higher. And yet.

Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary was on the radio during the week, and when not socking it to the air traffic controllers, he was purring that his airline, currently carrying 50 million passengers a year, plans to double that inside the next few years.Then on last night’s Late Late show, Pat Kenny (a man well versed in the science and dangers of climate change) ran an exciting competition to fly a lucky winner out to Dubai, to perhaps play golf in the desert or have a go on their gigantic indoor ski slope with its real ice.

One of Pat’s guests last night, developer Neil Mellon, is building housing for the poor in Cape Town. No doubt his heart is in the right place, but the labour to build these houses, instead of being drawn from the huge local population, is instead jetted in from Ireland for one week ‘builders holidays’.

The concept could be seen as a cross between an adventure break and one of those game shows where contestants have to undergo some ordeal for a few days before jetting back to their suburban lives to regale the dinner parties of Dublin about their charity work.

Doubtless Neil Mellon’s work is leaving a lasting legacy for those who benefit. One part of the legacy that is not in doubt is the carbon involved. Each of the 1,300 volunteers who flew out from Ireland contributed 2.3 tons on the round trip to Cape Town. That’s around 3,000 tons of CO2 every time a gang of well-meaning Irish head for the airport.

But nobody mentioned it. Pat Kenny hardly could, since he was giving away a trip to Dubai as a prize. Had anyone brought it up, they’d doubtless have been shouted down as kill-joys.And yet we in Ireland have a Green Environment Minister, and we have signed up to the EU mandate to reduce our CO2 intensity by between 20-30% in the coming years. You can hardly blame the Chinese as they accelerate towards the abyss. All they have to do is look at us, and carry on regardless.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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3 Responses to The China Syndrome

  1. Jim Beam says:

    Was watching the late late and sitting there thinking exactly the same thing about all these squads of Irish people jetting off to SA for what amounts to just a few days. IF they’re going to go, surely it should be for a month, or something half way useful to make up for the awful waste of fuel and co2 flying them all the way there and back.

  2. Eric Conroy says:

    Here! Here!

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