An unfeasible expansion
The two main strategies for coping with climate change are, broadly speaking, adaptation and mitigation. Adaptation to a changing climate is, in fact, part of human history. It involves, in its most extreme version, major population displacements. But also changes to crops and food, to adapt to a changing context. It also implies changes in the way houses are built, in the design of cities and in the construction of infrastructures resistant to the expected changes, and others that can protect the population from extreme climatic phenomena, such as floods, major fires, heat waves, rising sea levels, etc. It is a strategy aimed at preventing the negative consequences of climate change.
Climate change mitigation, on the other hand, addresses the causes of climate change to try to limit global warming. In our world, mitigation basically involves reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. The extent of mitigation needed to achieve certain global warming targets is very well quantified by scientists, and we are far from achieving them.
A key difference between mitigation and adaptation, among other things, is that the former has to be a global-scale effort, while the latter, to a large extent, has to be primarily local. The global scale needed for mitigation, however, is one of its main Achilles' heels, since it requires a level of coordination between countries that is very difficult to achieve.
In any case, the airport expansion project goes in the opposite direction of both climate change mitigation and adaptation. Encouraging the growth of air traffic necessarily implies an increase in emissions, no matter how much pseudo-literature those who are shamelessly promising us the greenest airport in the world want to use these days.
On the other hand, it is quite clear that investing 1,600 million euros in an infrastructure located on the seashore, and therefore extremely vulnerable to any small oscillation of the sea level, is not exactly in line with the adaptation to climate change. These days, curiously, there is no talk of the cost of protecting airport infrastructure from the expected rise in sea level.
The fact that, in a context of climate emergency, operations such as this one are being proposed is very symptomatic of the political difficulties posed by climate change. Basically, because it is still perceived as an uncertain and long-term threat. Despite scientific reports insisting that the threat is certain and immediate, the general perception is still that of a distant risk. We should not be surprised by this collective inability to understand intertemporal dilemmas: we only have to remember the slowness of the collective reaction to the pandemic: even when it was already seriously affecting a territory as close as northern Italy, it took us a long time to react.
In any case, it is essential that the alliance between science and organized civil society continues to push to make people understand the magnitude of the problem and the need to respond decisively to the short-termism of the economic and political sectors that are at the forefront of the new developmentalism.
In the case of the expansion of El Prat, Catalan civil society has the capacity to stop it. It is very unlikely that the project involving the destruction of the La Ricarda lagoon will be carried out. In this case, the European Commission can be a fundamental ally, but it is necessary that the civil society raises the legal, mobilization and public opinion battle to shield the Llobregat delta as much as possible. The great battles for the defence of the territory that have been won have always been won with many collective efforts, and now will be no different.
The more collective strength is demonstrated, the more evident it will become that the project proposed by Aena is unfeasible. And this will force policy makers to look beyond and analyse the alternatives to a proposal that has no future, because it has no logic. After the shock of the pandemic it is even more difficult to anticipate what will be the evolution of air traffic, both business and tourism. It is therefore bordering on the ridiculous to raise the debate with a logic of urgency that makes no sense at all. This is a case in which common sense should eventually prevail. Unfortunately, we have many recent experiences, in the planning of airport infrastructures, in which unclear interests, short-term vision and a misunderstood electoral logic have led to the construction of terminals and airports that made no sense. This is why it is necessary to activate counterweights, both from within and outside the institutions.
Jordi Muñoz is a political scientist.