When the going gets tough, the tough get picnicking

Protests certainly are hardcore these days. Last night I was obliged to do without any dressing on my helping of salad. Thankfully the music of the string quartet soothed my shattered nerves. As you can probably guess, I was attending Dinner At Domestic Departures, a peaceful protest against the building of a third runway at Heathrow airport. The event was organised by Climate Rush, who take inspiration (sartorial and otherwise) from the suffragettes.

Dressed in Edwardian costume (or creative approximations thereof), we spread picnic blankets on the floor of the Terminal 1 departure lounge. As well as the food and the string quartet there was singing, dancing, balloons (courtesy of Dave Hampton) and a conga line chanting "we don't want no runway". But despite the light-hearted atmosphere, the message was serious.

The decision on whether or not to approve a third runway is reported to be just days away. If the Government decides to ignore opposition and press ahead with building a third runway, the village of Sipson will be destroyed to make way for it. The inhabitants will be given a choice: move out or face the bulldozers.

But the forced displacement of Sipson's 700-odd households is just a tiny fraction of the misery that will be unleashed if the third runway goes ahead. A new Greenpeace report suggests that if the third runway is built and used at full capacity, Heathrow would emit 26.84 million tons of CO2 a year, making it the biggest single source of CO2 emissions in the country.

The report cites research from the Tyndall Centre indicating that a third runway would make it impossible for the UK Government to meet its own climate change targets of an 80% emissions cut by 2050: "[I]f the industry is allowed to expand as predicted, aviation alone would destroy any hope of hitting this target."

Climate change is a global problem, and it's impossible to calculate the exact damage caused by the emissions from any given source. Nevertheless, various organisations have tried to quantify the damage in an attempt to crystallise the problem; for example, the World Development Movement (WDM) calculate that around 30,000 people will be driven out of their homes by the effects of climate change before 2050 if a new coal-fired power station is built at Kingsnorth in Kent.

If a third runway is built, Heathrow's carbon emissions will be more than double those calculated for a new power station at Kingsnorth. A new runway could mean thousands of new climate refugees, thousands of people driven out of their homes with nowhere to go. Crazy as it may seem, the residents of Sipson are comparatively lucky.