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Letter to my MP

Dear Alan Brown MP,

When historians 500 years from now come to write a short summary of the early 21st Century, Scottish independence will not be mentioned. Those future historians, if they exist, will skip straight over Brexit. Trump? He may warrant a brief mention as an exemplar of the insanity that gripped humanity in those far-off days.

I write as your constituent in Kilmarnock and an SNP member.

My putative historians will primarily focus on the astonishing inventions and remarkable enterprises of the 2020s and 2030s that saved the world. I cannot of course tell you exactly what they will be, although some of the outlines are becoming clear. But this is scientific certainty: if there are historians in 2518, they will owe their careers and their very lives to the creation of large-scale BECCS systems by us and our children. (“Bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is a future greenhouse gas mitigation technology which produces negative carbon dioxide emissions” says Wikipedia — the vital word there being “future”.)

I understand that you will be voting in the Commons on Monday on the government's Airports National Policy Statement (NPS). I know SNP party policy supports the third runway at Heathrow, in the belief that it will benefit the Scottish economy. There are two compelling reasons why I urge you to vote against the government.

The first is the current constitutional crisis. With the Conservatives ripping up the Sewel convention, how can you give them succour? It will not be well received in Scotland if you troop into the lobbies with the same Conservative MPs who only last week were pouring scorn and derision on you, our country, and the Scottish Parliament.

Abstaining does not go far enough — I expect you've seen the recent jokes about the Labour Party. I understand that opposition parties do more than just oppose but I've been astonished recently that this weak minority government still seems to be able to do anything they damn well please.

The second reason you must oppose Heathrow expansion I alluded to at the start of this letter. Global warming poses an urgent existential threat to civilization itself. We are now in the extraordinary position that while science tells us what we need to do, our body politic has belatedly accepted the science, but is intrinsically unable to act on it.

As you know, the Paris Accord sets an aspiration of keeping global warming to 1.5℃ by the end of the century. To achieve that, without postulating BECCS or similar mitigation technologies which do not yet exist, we need to reach zero carbon by about 2026.

Zero carbon in less than a decade is politically ludicrous. Instead, governments (including the UK's) have drawn up plans and carbon budgets predicated on the assumption that BECCS can save us. By 2050, we are expecting BECCS to remove 2Gt of CO₂ per annum. Two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, essentially sucked out of the air then stuffed in a hole in the ground. Quite apart from the technological and financial challenges, we are expecting our children — around 9 billion by 2050 — to devote good arable land with an area the size of India to growing biofuels.

The section on carbon emissions in the Airports NPS is woefully inadequate. Section 5.82 states that Heathrow can go ahead provided it does not blow the country's entire carbon budget. Contemplating any increase in carbon emissions is irresponsible, particularly in the aviation sector which has no credible plan for getting to zero carbon apart from bio-energy. To accept increases provided they stay within budget, yet with no plan or even suggestion of where the corresponding savings will come from is altogether reckless.

I urge you to vote against the Airports NPS.

Yours sincerely,

Toby Goodwin.