Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Climate Camp at Heathrow

A weeklong "Climate Camp" has been set up near Heathrow Airport, as far as i know on the ground or nearby of the proposed new runway that would almost double the flights already taking off and landing there. it's all over the press but i couldn't find a link to their own website so it's here

they are encouraging people to come along, and i hope that it will be peaceful and there won't be any serious trouble. "take the train to Hayes and Harlington" - i take it every day to work but i get off before that. I'm not sure i've got the time and energy to visit this week, we'll see. I certainly support the ideas behind it:

"...Aviation is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, and all our efforts to tackle climate change in other sectors are undone by the massive growth in air travel. Holding the camp at Heathrow aims to highlight the lunacy of the government's airport expansion plans, target industry giants profiteering from the climate crisis, and raise awareness of the need to fly less. The camp will also support local residents in their long-term struggle against the building of a third runway and the destruction of their communities...."

As a German national living in the UK you've got to fly at least a few times a year, just to go home to visit friends and family. In the last few years I've become an uncle and there were quite a few family occasions where i basically had to go over for a weekend at least, and also just to stay in touch. I could have said no, i don't want to fly, but you miss out on their development with small children if you don't make an effort to see them, it's special and unique. I also used to visit old friends in Berlin on a regular basis. In the very early days i did actually take the train for a while, maybe three or four times, but that basically meant travelling for two days, from South West Germany to Brighton. I don't like travelling through the night as i can't sleep like that on a train so i stayed in this lovely hostel in Bruges a couple of times. they were quite good trips in a way as i had the chance to explore a couple of places in Belgium in the evening and in the morning. But on the whole it was a long, long trip and soon i realized that flying was a far more convenient option. At the time, and this is quite a long time ago, i wasn't that familiar with flying either, but as an expat it's something that became almost second nature fairly quickly. A Swedish friend of mine still has a fear of flying, and she takes the train from Stockholm to Gothenborg and then the ferry to somewhere in England whenever she comes to London. She says the trip is usually alright and quite entertaining, especially on the boat, and i believe her but it's still not something i'd want to do too often when you can fly in two hours. or so i used to think. with the arrival of the cheaper airlines we started going to Italy and other places a lot too, and it's something that's been quite special over the years, to be able to fly out there at a reasonable prize and explore places, areas, etc.. where i'm from in germany is not too far from italy but it became close again through Go, Easyjet and ryanair flying to all sorts of familiar and not so familiar locations. I've been quite hooked on ryanair for a while, i don't mind the rather brusque service, and all the things that people moan about, if it gets me out there. It's been good, i'm not denying it. However, slowly but surely, i started to think again. While all this cheap flying around was quite fresh and exciting for a while, so many people are now doing it you've got to think of ways to slow it down. airports have become so crowded and the whole experience has gradually soured. last christmas my flight back home was cancelled because of thick fog, it was horrible being in this crowded claustrophobic space at Stansted, and i still haven't received a refund from ryanair. i haven't flown with them again this year. and i'm thinking: do we really need to fly so much? couldn't you just take a holiday nearby or take the train? do you really need to go abroad so much, even as an expat? I don't think there are any clear or straightforward answers. last night i briefly entertained the thought about travelling to chicago to see one or both of the only Robert Pollard shows this year, as he definitely won't come here again, and i quite enjoyed that thought i have to admit, however briefly. i could do it if i fly. i might even do it if i feel it enough, it's a bit silly to fly to another continent for a rock show but i've done it before and it was a great *experience* so if i feel it and if i can do it, which is not that likely, i would probably do it, other people are doing it, hey, and there are people who fly a lot more, drive cars when they don't have to, etc.. even though i try to be a good green citizen, have never driven a car in my life, recycle, try not to waste energy and don't fly abroad, especially long distance, that much, i'm still more and more uneasy about flying and everything it entails, the general atmosphere of it, the security measures, the questions at checkin, the airtport lounges. it's become too familiar. and i'm worried about climate change, it's become a lot more tangible recently. surely one flight more or less won't make a difference but it's the tendency to fly less or more frequently that might make some change eventually.

London is a big, full-on city, it's great but having so many people in one space often makes you yearn for a different pace, the air can be bad and you often feel like you need to get out. it seems to me a lot people associate getting out with flying somewhere, presumably warmer or exotic. However, there is wonderful countryside all around it. ever since i started regular daytrips with the Time Out Book of Country Walks my feeling about living in this city has shifted: it made me realize you don't have to go far to "get out", a 45 train ride that isn't expensive with a South East railcard (20 quid per year) is often all it takes. This wonderful book has walks that always start and end at a railway station so no need to use a car either. It might not be what some people want to do in their spare time but it's worked for me. This year we decided to take a week off before Easter at short notice. I did look around at flights, but it being Easter they were very expensive, even the "cheap" ones. So we didn't really plan anything, did a couple of daytrips, then hired a car and stayed in a B&B in Battle near Hastings for a few days. It's just over an hour from London but feels quite rural, not exactly remote but there was enough nice countryside, castles, old towns, village pubs (the so called 1066 country...)etc to explore to make it very worthwhile. So it is possible to have a good holiday without going that far. The only thing i will say is that a vacation in Britain can be quite expensive, and it isn't always maybe as remote as you'd want it to be. the cost of renting a cottage in Cornwall for instance seems to have skyrocketed. you can get it half prize or less in, say, Italy. Still, i'm always into going to the West Country. Often it's just having a different space around me, clean air, seaside, fields, woods, old villages. You don't have to go that far to get out. So this is my picture, and roughly where i stand. What's yours?

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