Til they have built a third runway
“And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?” — William Blake

The vote for a new, third runway at Heathrow is overwhelming, passing with the support of the majority of Labour MPs. The leadership, evidently not at liberty to displease Unite the Union, which is its major organised power broker in the party, did not whip the vote.

But why did the majority of Labour MPs vote with the Tories? Why did leftwing Labour MPs like Angela Rayner and Ian Lavery back the Tories? In most cases, for much the same narrow “jobs and growth” reasons that the Unite bureaucracy backed the runway. For the same reasons that the SNP ultimately backed the scheme. They were told that their constituents would see thousands and thousands of new jobs, and they wouldn’t understand if politicians voted to deprive them of the chance of a decent living.

According to the Guardian, Len McCluskey personally wrote to Labour MPs exhaling about “hundreds of thousands of new jobs” that would be created by a new runway. In response to the vote, Unite’s regional secretary revised the figure down to “tens of thousands of new jobs”. They are as well to begin revising the figure down now. Heathrow promised thousands of new jobs when work began on Terminal 5 back in 2008. The airport today employs three thousand fewer people than it did then. Because “job creation” ideologies never take account of the normal capitalist propensity to cut labour costs over time. And, as with “jobs and growth” arguments for Trident, they never take account of opportunity-costs, viz., how else might such resources be taken control of, harnessed and invested the better to ensure the public good. They are, as such, politically conservative, sectional and married to the status quo.

At the same time, it is important to situate these sorts of decisions historically. It seems outrageous that people would vote for the death trap economy, when we now know that it is a death trap economy. But of course, this is the whole point: those with the means to make such decisions always knew. The French historians, Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, have documented that man-made climate change — our favourite euphemism for mass extinction —is not the news that we’re supposed to believe it is. From the beginnings of industrial capitalism, the effects of such relentless accumulation on the environment were well understood. The earth scientists Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin have recently documented, in a similar vein, that the “anthropocene” is at least as old as the profession of geology.

There is nothing inevitable about man-made catastrophe. The very species attributes that make us the top global predator and have turned us into a geological force, capable of permanently changing the face of the planet, are those of collective, cumulative cultural intelligence which enable us to take control of our situation. The imperatives of capital accumulation, however, have enjoined us to a certain nihilism about the future. The eternal present, is all that matters. The next move in a perpetual war of all against all, is all that matters.

Of course, there are mechanisms of ideological disavowal. Of course, Heathrow managers tell us that their new runway,with 260,000new flights per year, will be carbon neutral. And if you’ll buy “hundreds of thousands of new jobs”, you’ll buy that. You’ll buy “carbon offsetting”. You’ll buy growth without consequences. You’ll buy anything.

But if you are minded to buy this argument for cost-free growth, consider the letter that The UK’s Committee on Climate Change has written to the government. In their letter, they point out that, for the UK to meet its climate targets, and keep aviation emissions static (ie “at 2005 levels”), this would mean “other sectors must reduce emissions by more than 80%, and in many cases will likely need to reach zero”. To increase emissions would mean, either destroying other industries, or giving up on doing anything about climate change, and marching cheerfully to our species-extinction.

And anyway, no one really believes this bullshit, and no one has to. As the PR industry knows very well, it’s not a matter, strictly speaking, of what you believe. It’s often a matter of how you perceive the consequences of said belief. In Westminster, it’s important to be able to talk the talk on climate change and similar “very serious issues”, but a politician who actually takes this shit too seriously is beyond the pale, not serious, not a dealer in real power, not a practical reformer, not someone who can run a capitalist economy, but a utopian dreamer. And so we get what we get. Until we do something to change the perceived consequences of beliefs and actions, we get the death trap economy.