Beyond Coronavirus 1

XR Sheffield activist Dinah Ward talks about the effect of aeroplanes, or lack thereof, on our local environment during this pandemic.  

“You may not have noticed, but it’s been a particularly beautiful spring. On our daily walks, escaping the dark anxieties of the Covid-19 crisis, we see skies of a deeper, clearer blue than we’ve seen for decades, scattered with fluffy clouds like a children’s picture-book. These lovely skies haven’t emerged by chance: they’re only possible because of the disappearance of aeroplanes above Sheffield.

In ‘normal’ times, hundreds of these heavily polluting flying vehicles criss-crossed our skies, leaving dirty vapour-trails that obscured the natural blue. A grubby, depressing covering that only became noticeable when it was suddenly lifted in the first days of lockdown.

And aeroplanes pose a more insidious threat to our environment: they are major emitters of CO2, one of the key factors driving climate change. Scientists report that during global lockdown, for the first time in fifty years, we are ‘flattening the curve’ of CO2 emissions. One of the key reasons for that sudden improvement is the shut-down of the airline industry.

Thousands of people working in aviation have lost their jobs, causing hardship and distress, and the airlines are lobbying hard for government money to help them return to business as normal. That may seem like a good idea, but is it really a sensible use of public funds? Flying is bad for public health and is already costing us money – anyone whose home or business has been wrecked by flooding knows that the climate crisis causes financial as well as personal misery. Like tobacco, flying should be recognised as a drain on the nation’s health and purse and taxed rather than subsidised.

Sheffield Mayor Dan Jarvis has set up an Economic Recovery Taskforce to help shape and direct the post-Covid regional economy. Airlines are appealing for a bail-out, claiming they are ‘good for business.’ However, flying undermines local businesses in several ways. Firstly, cheap flights to holiday destinations abroad subsidise the tourist industry in Spain and Greece but undermine tourism here in Yorkshire. As local people take their hard-earned cash and spend it in Europe, the local economy is depleted.

In terms of freight, the same negative effect can be seen. Far more goods are flown into our region than are flown out. This is particularly stark in relation to food. In Yorkshire, less than 60% of the food we consume is produced in the UK. This lack of self-sufficiency is highly risky. Supporting local farmers and food producers makes much more sense than subsidising food imports.

Similarly, we have seen a drastic reduction in local manufacturing, as global businesses have moved their sites of production to low-wage countries. We should set up and support our own high-quality manufacturing, which could provide rewarding, meaningful and well-paid jobs for local people. Let’s not make it easier for companies to exploit workers overseas, then make money selling their products in South Yorkshire.

My recommendation to the Mayor’s Economic Recovery Taskforce is; invest in our local region instead of subsidising airlines that threaten local health and industry.”

By Dinah Ward - XR Sheffield Activist