Internationally acclaimed author, activist and environmentalist Bill McKibben grew up in Lexington and attended Lexington High School. Next week, he’ll be joining a discussion about the proposed private jet expansion at Hanscom Field — and what you can do to help stop it. This letter is adapted from a post that appeared on McKibben’s Substack site “The Crucial Years,” with permission from the author.
It is 2023. Chances are growing that the air temperature will set a new record this year; if not, then almost certainly next. The temperature of the oceans is at an all-time high, even before a widely forecast El Nino begins. Fitfully, the world seems to be finally rousing itself to build clean energy — but that won’t matter if we can’t turn off the supply of hydrocarbons. And we’re not: the zombie projects of an earlier age lurch forward still, running on momentum and vested interest. Logic and economics alone won’t stop them: that requires organizing.
One issue people in Lexington can get to work on is fighting the proposed private jet expansion at Hanscom Field, which, if it comes to fruition, would basically cancel out all the other good work Lexington has done to combat climate change.
Massachusetts is a liberal Democratic state, home to Ed Markey, Senate father of the Green New Deal. The mayor of its largest city, Michelle Wu, divested the city from fossil fuels within days of taking office. The new governor, Maura Healey, has been a long-time friend of the climate movement, with an ambitious green agenda.
And yet, in the belt of particularly liberal suburbs outside Boston, there’s now a plan for an expanded private jetport. The Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) wants to build 27 new hangars for parking private jets at Hanscom Field, which borders the national park commemorating the beginning of the American Revolution. I feel like an idiot explaining why this is a bad idea, but here goes: private jets, as the Boston Globe pointed out, emit about ten times more carbon per mile traveled than commercial aviation, and on shorter hauls that number is even higher: Flights from New York to Washington, D.C. on private jets are responsible for about 45 times the emissions per passenger of commercial planes flying the same route, and more than 1,100 times the emissions per passenger of train travel to those cities. In our wretchedly unequal society, the number of these flights is growing rapidly, up 11 percent last year.
We have to, you know, stop this kind of thing, not build it an extra half million square feet of hangar space. That’s why, in Switzerland this week, activists closed down Geneva’s airport by blocking the private jet area, and it’s why Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport said this month it would shut down private jet flights entirely in 2026. (As Time reported, “around 30% to 50% of private jet flights from Schiphol are to holiday spots like Ibiza, Cannes and Innsbruck, the airport said — all destinations that are also served by commercial flights.) France went one step farther this week, shutting down air routes to and from cities where trains could make the trip in less than 2 1/2 hours, thought the Times reports the effect of this step may be largely symbolic.
But in the case of Massachusetts, stopping the expansion of private jetports is so clearly the right thing to do that I think it might actually happen. Governor Healey — again, a first-rate climate champion — has ultimate control over Massport. Here’s a petition you can sign to let her know what a bad idea this is. And if you want to get more involved, you can join the new group “Stop Private Jet Expansion at Hanscom or Anywhere,” a coalition of 22 organizations including the local chapter of Third Act, spearheaded by Concord’s Save our Heritage.