Message from the North: "Climate change is upon us"

Posted by bex — 31 July 2007 at 10:44am - Comments

A glacial melt lake in Greenland
A glacial melt lake in Greenland.

It's becoming pretty obvious that the aviation industry is creeping closer and closer to the tactics of big tobacco and big oil in their attempts to "teach the controversy" over science that doesn't suit their profit margins.

Last week, it was an outrageous display of bullying aimed at groups concerned about climate change. A couple of weeks ago, there was another, smaller episode that got a lot less press; the aviation industry's briefing against an Inuit leader who came to the UK to tell his "southern neighbours" that the people of the Arctic are already feeling the impacts of climate change.

Aqqaluk Lynge is president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC). He came to the UK to speak out against the planned expansion of Stanstead Airport (from where BAA plans to increase the number of flights by 72,000 each year), and made the connection between climate change and greenhouse gas emissions from unsustainable levels of aviation.

"Inuit people," he said, "are experiencing first hand the effects of climate change. We are on the front line of globalisation... Climate change is upon us." The increase in carbon dioxide emissions from airport expansion will add to the global warming that is wreaking havoc for the Inuit people, he explained.

"Our side of the story has to be told to the people of England. It is important because the Arctic is also your backyard. Everything we do, particularly industrial plans, should be looked at in terms of how it impacts on climate change."

This was enough to attract the ire of Flying Matters, the aviation industry lobby group recently formed to take on environmentalists over airport expansion and headed by Sir Digby Jones (former CBI boss and now part of Brown's government) and Brian Wilson (former energy minister for Tony Blair - revolving door between aviation and New Labour, anyone?).

Briefing against Mr Lynge in the Mail on Sunday, Wilson said: "An apocalyptic campaign of green spin confuses the issues rather than doing anything to resolve them."

Hmm. Spin? Confusing the issues? This from the first answer to the first question about aviation on Flying Matters' website:

Aviation is a relatively small contributor to climate change. However, with predicted industry growth, that amount is set to slowly rise.

Aviation is already responsible for 13 per cent of the UK's impact on the climate (the government's figures). It's the fastest growing source of emissions in the UK. If it keeps growing at its projected rate, emissions will quadruple by 2050, wiping out all other emissions savings we make in every other sector (pdf).

Last week, I had the pleasure of listening to Mr Lynge address the All-Party Parliamentary Sustainable Aviation Group in the House of Commons. A quietly spoken man, he was careful to point out that his aim was "not to scare, but just tell the truth about climate change".

"We have lived there [the Arctic] for thousands of years, long before there were countries called Greenland, Russia or Alaska," he said. "For generations uncounted, Inuit have observed the environment and predicted weather accurately." While things have changed in the past, the Inuit have never experienced change like they are now. "Today, it’s too much. The change is too quick."

Among the impacts Inuit hunters are now seeing are failing ice, disappearing ice floes, eroding shorelines (blocking off access to hunting areas and causing homes to fall into the sea), changing animal migration patterns, the arrival of new species like mosquitoes and black flies, structural damage from thawing permafrost, and drinking water contaminated by advancing sea water. "Several Inuit villages across the Arctic have already been destroyed so much by climate change that relocation is the only option."

"Environmental impacts of airport expansion aren’t only local," he said. "What happens in countries such as Britain has impacts in the north... Emissions of greenhouse gases from planes and cars threaten our ability in the north to live."

Finally, Lynge emphasised Michael Meacher's observation, that "what happens to the world happens first to the Arctic":

"The Arctic is the barometer of the globe’s environmental health. You can take the pulse of the world’s health in the Arctic... What is happening to the Inuit will happen to you too in the South, soon… Is it too much to ask for moderation for the sake of my people today, and for your people tomorrow?"

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