Gardens, waterfalls, parks… what is happening to our airports?

From Beijing to Istanbul, exotic new airports are symbols of prestige for strongman leaders. But the environmental cost is massive…

‘We have the confidence and ambition,” announced China’s president, Xi Jinping, to a rapt audience last September, “to forge ahead. The strong pass of the enemy is like a wall of iron, yet with firm strides we are conquering its summit. China can do it!” Patriotic, martial words, fitting for a march-past of tanks and missile launchers. They were, though, spoken at the opening of the vast, all-new civilian airport, Beijing Daxing, the most spectacular yet of a building type that keeps getting bigger and grander.

Flying, of course, is an energy-intensive, highly polluting form of travel. One person’s return flight from London to Edinburgh generates more carbon emissions than an average Somalian or Ugandan produces in a whole year. In Sweden, far away from Beijing, the term flygskam, or “flight-shame”, has been coined. It comes with a campaign to encourage people not to fly. In the world’s large and fast-growing economies, however, there is no sign that political leaders are paying any attention. National pride, as well as the convenience and prosperity of their citizens, is at stake.

Air travel is at once exciting and boring. It rearranges expectations of daylight, meal times and personal space

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