BAA greenwash goes into tailspin

Traffic jam

Sometimes things happen for a reason; other times, it's just coincidence. The day after Leo's post about the methods the aviation industry use to fudge their emissions, BAA puts out a press release claiming that cars arriving at Edinburgh airport pollute more than the planes. It's a classic example of greenwash.

In a slight of hand so unsubtle that even the Edinburgh Evening News mentioned it, BAA set up NOx readers at 20 locations around the airport to measure pollution levels. They showed that NOx levels were higher in the car park and on the approach roads than on the airfield - although, crucially, the readers do not measure gases emitted at altitude. BAA is comparing thousands of cars driving in and parking with the NOx emissions of aircraft taking off or landing while discarding those in flight.

It's no surprise that the NOx emissions are higher by the side of the approach roads than by the side of the runway. Firstly, cars tend to drive a few inches above the ground, leaving their gases behind them. Planes, on the other hand, have a tendency to get airborne and remain there, thousands of feet above earth, where their gases are dispersed by the winds and left to wreak havoc with the delicate atmosphere. Of course, NOx meters at ground level are not very good at picking up stratospheric emissions...

But let's not forget why those cars are going there in the first place. No one is pretending that the only way airports affect the environment is their planes; it's inherent that thousands of people trundling along motorways on their way to the airport are also contributing. It's why Heathrow airport is breaching the legal limit for NOx emissions, and one of the reasons the government plans to sink the M4 into a tunnel - just as soon as someone invents NOx scrubbers.

Greenwash like this sounds believable, but you have to look closer. BAA are doing everything they can to muddy the waters and confuse the public - and if that means publishing rigged reports, then so be it. There's one other glaring omission from BAA's report: CO2 levels, which they absent-mindedly forgot to touch upon. I'm sure this was just an oversight, and in no way indicative of the industry's single-minded determination to make the science of aviation emissions so confusing that most people shrug their shoulders and keep on flying.