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. 

Hanscom Field / Credit: Lauren Feeney

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

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  1. Doesn’t the climate impact hinge on the empirical question of whether or not the hangars will primarily house existing users (and thereby reduce ferry flights and relieve congestion from Logan) or whether it will induce a bunch of new private jet demand? In the former scenario the hangers would be a positive development for climate change. I haven’t seen any good analysis.

    1. I think in this case common sense would tell me that no one will build a half-million feet of new hangar space in anticipation of no increase in business. Would that not be empirically idiotic of them?

    2. You miss the point. Commercial air, or (even better) a train, cause so much less pollution that it does not really matter how Mr. Average Joe gets to the airport or the train station.

  2. Global aviation emissions amount to around 5% of all global CO2 emissions so preventing the private jet flights will have a very negligible to insignificant effect on reducing global CO2 emissions. Perhaps all the global elites like Al Gore, who jet around on private jets to their conferences should consider flying commercial. But they won’t. A better question to ask is what is the economic benefit of the hangers and the jets and people they will be bringing to the area. Seems to me that this would be a good economic decision

  3. I personally have had enough of the constant noise day and well into the night. Every week, there is at least one day that these planes come in every 3-7 MINUTES apart for HOURS! The constant noise year round has to stop. My ceilings are cracked and the smell of jet fuel on my property is outrageous. There are several huge planes with no markings coming in often. They barely clear the huge pines across from my house. Hanscom and Massport must not be allowed to expand.

    Someone please tell me how I can help stop this expansion!

  4. Planes and copters fly over my head to land at the base regularly. But if I had to hear double or triple the amount of air traffic, I’d be pretty ticked off…I’m sure that anyone in this position wouldn’t be happy.

  5. I completely agree with and share the same issues as Nancy Gresham and so many others. The jet traffic over our house every single morning, evening and night has become unbearable. Some so low we can read the markings. The noise and pollution has become unbearable and unhealthy for us and nature and they want to add more to the problem!!! We moved here 50 years ago for the peace, quiet and clean air. What they have done to the environment is pitiful. We can no longer enjoy our environment. This must stop! Is there a petition started?

  6. On behalf of the birds and other animal who are forced to live at The Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge, because their natural habitat has been encroached upon, I implore you to not allow any more jet air traffic to Hanscom. The jets come in so low, right over the animals heads and it must be awful for them. During Covid, when there was no air traffic, when I walked at Great Meadows, and the animals were so relaxed and confident they came out and were not even bothered by my presence. Now, they remain more hidden. No more jet air travel is needed. Wealthy people can drive their fancy cars, be chauffeured or take commercial flights. No more carbon emissions are needed just so the super wealthy can get to Aspen or Nantucket with greater ease.

  7. A good place to start is with public comment on pending FAA noise policy affecting Hanscom.

    From the Town of Concord:

    FAA seeks public comment on aviation noise – Deadline 9/29/23
    Airplanes and helicopters flying over a town streetscape
    FAA seeks public comment
    The FAA invites public comments from interested individuals, entities, and other parties to review four key considerations of its civil aviation noise policy, in the context of noise metrics and noise thresholds. The civil aviation noise policy sets forth how the FAA analyzes, explains, and publicly presents changes in noise exposure from aviation activity: recreational and commercial fixed wing airplanes, helicopters, commercial space transportation vehicles, unmanned aircraft systems, as well as emerging technology vehicles (newer types of vehicles that will operate in U.S. airspace).

    The FAA has clearly stated that it will use the information it receives through public comments to inform its updated noise policy and metrics for determining “significant impact” and appropriate land use going forward.

    · Submit online:

    · Details on submitting by fax and mail are below.

    · Deadline: September 29, 2023 at 11:59 PM ET, but we strongly encourage submitting well before the deadline

    Here are some components to consider including:

    Provide detailed, information-rich comments. The FAA states that “a constructive, information-rich comment that clearly communicates and supports its claims is more likely to have an impact on regulatory decision making.”

    Characterize the problem

    Types and number of flights (general aviation, commercial jets, helicopters, private jets, etc.)
    Proximity to airport
    Times of day of flights (day, night)
    Frequency of flights (how many per day & how many per hour, esp. during the busiest times)
    Altitude of flights (provide a range if known)
    Experience of noise inside the home as well as outdoors
    Concerns about emerging aircraft (e.g., drones, air taxis)
    Describe the Impacts on you, your family, your neighborhood – PROVIDE SPECIFIC DETAILS

    Sleep interruption and/or disruption
    Physical and mental health and well-being
    Emotional impacts
    Work, learning, concentrating
    Effects on children – their ability to learn, concentrate, play
    Optional: Is the average annual sound level of 65 decibels (DNL 65) sufficient to protect you from the impacts you experience?
    If you have tried to complain or get help:

    What has been the response?
    Was the response helpful
    How did it make you feel?
    What would you like to see done to mitigate the problem?

    EXTREMELY IMPORTANT: Conclude by stating that you hope and expect the FAA will adopt a new noise policy and new metrics that protect overflown communities and near-airport communities from harm based on the lived experience of people like you!

    The DEADLINE to send your comment is September 29, 2023 at 11:59 PM ET.

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