Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Airport tunnel? Why have an airport at all?

I realize what I’m going to say here will likely be disagreed with by at least 99% of people following the municipal election in Calgary, but I believe in openness and honesty, so here goes:

The question of whether to build a tunnel under the new airport runway that is going to be built has turned into one of the biggest focuses of this election. There are now petitions for and against, as well as some unpleasant words being exchanged online and various accusations being made.

I’m neither for nor against the tunnel because I think it shouldn’t even be an issue — I don’t want the airport to expand. In fact, I’d like us to start moving toward shutting down the airport. Granted, relative to the vast majority of people in this city, that’s a very extreme opinion.

For me, it comes down to a very fundamental ethical question: Do we have the right to harm others.

Air travel does harm. It does massive harm. It has been identified as the single-most environmentally damaging form of transportation (short of space travel) per passenger mile. Every plane trip is effectively a form of assault and even murder in that it directly contributes to measurable harm to individual humans (especially asthmatics and others with respiratory issues) and contributes to environmental damage that results in humans dying. That’s not even getting into the massive destruction being wrought against non-human life.

What are the vast majority of plane trips for? “Business or pleasure.” Another ethical question: Does anyone have the right to harm others for their own profit or pleasure? I don’t think so.

When I learned a few years ago just how destructive air travel actually is, I stopped using it. Since then, I haven’t travelled as far, or as often, as I used to. I’ve also turned down offers to have plane tickets bought for me (such as for family events, or political meetings), taking long bus trips instead. I would take passenger trains if they existed here (and I’m contributing to lobbying efforts to get our governments and industries to focus on building rail infrastructure to replace the much more destructive forms of transportation that currently dominate our society).

Am I perfect and without harm in this? Certainly not. But I have managed to significantly reduce (probably by at least an order of magnitude or two) the harm caused by my transportation choices.

But, but, but… What about the economy???

There are many who argue that our economy depends on air travel, so cutting it off is not viable.

Well, I seem to recall another economy that was dependent on an immoral practice: The U.S. slave-based economy. People were so adamant that it was critical to their survival, that there was even a war fought to try to maintain that immoral practice. In the end, it was banned. Look at how ending the immoral practice of slavery completely wrecked the U.S. economy. Oh, wait. They went on to become, for a time, the biggest economic power in the world.

Funny, that.


Marcus Riedner said...

I think comparing the use of Air Travel as an economic factor with slavery is a drastic overstatement of the cons associated with air travel. Is there a moral and ethical weight to our environmental footprint? Yes. But there are also moral and ethical demands that being in a society require. We are no longer in 1850, and we can not separate ourselves from the cultural and historical context we exist in.

Rather then saying 'do away with air travel', which is a socially and culturally unviable position, would it not make more sense to make air travel less damaging?

Ethanol fuels, for example, are close to carbon neutral and can be produced off of marginal land without pesticides. In fact they can be produced by preserving wetlands and various other ecosystems through sustainable harvesting. Ethanol even makes a better fuel for aircraft then most airplane fuels.

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