This Airport Protest Flies in the Face of Logic; the Writing Is on the Wall: Camp for Climate Action Protesters Take Part in 24 Hours of "Direct Action" against Heathrow Operator BAA

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Byline: NEIL COLLINS

AT THE weekend I found myself at the Eastbourne Airshowa homage to air travel at the very time Heathrow protesters are complainingabout it. It was overwhelming: thousands of cheerful souls sitting on theshingle to see planes showing off, burning the earth's resources for sheerentertainment.

There were stunt planes, Spitfires and jet fighters galore: but the highlight,on Saturday afternoon, was the arrival of the biggest bird in the show; as aBoeing 747 lumbered round Beachy Head at Dambusters' height, thousands ofpeople leapt from their deckchairs for a better view.

This plane, which everyone there had seen every time they went to an airport,eclipsed everything else. The response to the spectacle would have broken thehearts of the much smaller numbers who also spent their weekend watching planesat our main airport to protest about our addiction to air travel.

Despite the attempts to paint them as the usual rent-a-mob of weirdos,troublemakers and general misfits, most are measured and sincereand the vast majority have shown considerable forbearance in the face ofattempts by the police to treat them as potential terrorists..

There's no point in denying that the protesters strike a chord with millionswho wouldn't dream of joining them.

We're deeply uneasy about the possibilities of climate change, and we don'tlike the prospect of yet more of the remaining green bits of the South- Eastgetting a concrete coating in the development of another Heathrow terminal.

Can't we sacrifice a little of the potential economic growth in return forstopping further development and doing our bit to save the planet? It's abeguiling thought, but it is highly dangerous. Our prosperity is built on ourability as a trading nation, and globalisation has made trading much morecompetitive.

It's no longer good enough to be the most efficient maker of widgets in thecountry when there's a more efficient producer in China. As with goods, so withservices. It's no longer enough to be the best bank in Frankfurt, because thefinancial innovators in London can offer your customers better solutions totheir problems.

Even the most blinkered protester will have seen the benefits that globalfinancial services have brought to Britain. The City of London is not only amassive generator of jobs, it's also scooping up a growing share of the worldmarket in finance. Globalisation means the winner takes all, and financialservices is this country's only world-class industry that has any scale.

The crowds on the other side of the fence from the Heathrow camp, seeking toescape a miserable summer weatherwise, are a reflection of the prosperity thateconomic progress has brought, and their miserable journey through the airportis a consequence of the failure to build enough capacity to meet the demand forflights.

Their motto might not quite be "sod it, let's fly", but they've earned themoney and have the right to spend it in any legal way they choose.

They are, of course, only holidaymakers, and the rest of us would be no worseoff if they were forced to take their holidays in Bognor or Blackpool, althoughit would be hard to argue that they were really better off than their parentsif they had to. …