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More good news for the Business Class: The Kent County Airport expansion announcement, however, is antithetical to Climate Justice

July 18, 2022

Last week, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg held a press conference at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport to announce, “an $8.68 million federal grant that will help fund Gerald R. Ford International Airport’s concourse expansion,” according to MLive.

The MLive article went on with the following comments from Buttigieg: 

“As part of the terminal gate expansion project here, this grant is going to help to fund eight new passenger boarding bridges so that this airport is able to handle more travelers and so that they can walk or roll more comfortably from their gate to their plane. It’s going to make traveling better. It’s going to allow Grand Rapids to accommodate that increasing passenger growth and support the economic opportunity that is emerging across West Michigan.”

Ok, so let me get this straight. Buttigieg was in town last week to announce that $8.68 million in public money was going to be used to expand the Kent County Airport, which somehow “supports economic opportunity.” After reading the rest of the MLive article I could not find anything to substantiate the claim that the airport expansion will support economic opportunity for people living in West Michigan. Not surprising, the Kent County Airport Authority makes the same claim in their mission statement:

Our mission is to create an exceptional travel experience for our passengers, and growth and prosperity for all of West Michigan.

The question still remains, how will airport expansion economically benefit people and create prosperity for all of West Michigan? The reality is that airport growth does not provide economic growth nor prosperity for everyone living in West Michigan, but it does provide economic opportunities to the business class in West Michigan. 

Let’s face it, while regular people use the airport for visiting family or for going on vacations, the primary use of any and all commercial airports are by the business class. This sector of society, which always is the primary beneficiary in a Capitalist economic system, uses air travel as a means to meet with other members of the business class to find ways to make more profits and the use more public money that will benefit the private sector. If you look at who sits on the Airport Authority Board of Directors, you can see how the business community and their interests are represented.

Air travel, airports and Climate Injustice

Then there is the issue of the environmental and climate impact of air travel. The Environmental and Energy Study Institute recently wrote:

Between 1970 and 2019 in the United States, engine and design technology advances, improvements in air traffic operations, denser seat configurations, and higher passenger loads together reduced the energy intensity of air travel, expressed as British Thermal Units (BTUs) per passenger mile, by 77 percent. In the last two decades, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from commercial aviation worldwide grew at a slower pace than the growth of the industry, but emissions from aviation have accelerated in recent years as increasing commercial air traffic continued to raise the industry’s contribution to global emissions. According to the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), global CO2 from commercial aviation was 707 million tons in 2013. In 2019 that value reached 920 million tons, having increased approximately 30 percent in six years. The United States, with the world’s largest commercial air traffic system, accounted for 202.5 million tons (23.5 percent) of the 2017 global CO2 total. EPA reports that commercial airplanes and large business jets contribute 10 percent of U.S. transportation emissions, and account for three percent of the nation’s total greenhouse gas production.

Globally, aviation produced 2.4 percent of total CO2 emissions in 2018. While this may seem like a relatively small amount, consider that if global commercial aviation were a country in the national CO2 emissions standings, the industry would rank number six in the world between Japan and Germany.

If we are serious about fight Climate Change and promoting Climate Justice, then celebrating the expansion of the Kent County International Airport is antithetical to Climate Justice. 

In addition to rejecting and exposing the notion that airport expansion and increased air travel will bring propensity to all of us, we need to come to terms with the fact that the US Airline Industry is a highly subsidized industry. The airline industry also is a major campaign contributing sector, according to The Center for Responsible Politics, which also does its own share of lobbying to Congress. Such lobby has paid off in recent years, resulting in the airline industry receiving a $54 Billion bailout during the global pandemic in 2021.

Unfortunately, the commercial news media won’t be discussing these issues, they just provide us with celebratory news coverage and lots of pictures of people who represent the ruling class, which are the same people who will primarily be benefiting from the Kent County Airport expansion. 

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