Sunday, August 05, 2007

The End of Life as We Know It?

There's an article in today's Observer entitled 'Heathrow devalues the price of happiness.' It discusses how people's lives are 'blighted' by airport noise, and specifically aircraft noise.

Dutch economists looked at people living on the flight paths into Amsterdam airport. They found that they weren’t compensated for the noise by cheaper house prices, because Amsterdam, like most British cities, doesn’t have an efficient property market that allows its residents to make neat trade-offs. They calculated that the cost in misery from aircraft noise was about £1.60 per flight. Start a meter running in every house on an urban flight path and you quickly reach enormous figures.

In other words, people living near British airports could sue. Going to the courts may seem a fanciful prospect. But no one has ever accused lawyers of being slow to find new ways of drumming up business, and last week Chicago University's Law School held the world's first conference on the legal implications of the new research on happiness. Everyone agreed they were enormous.

BAA and the airlines seem like over mighty subjects beyond the control of government and customers. But if the happiness economists are right, they may soon be cut down to size by colossal claims for compensation. It couldn't happen to nicer people.

There's a huge numbers of issues at play here, not least the continuation of life as we know it. Clearly the lawyers can see a payday looming, the likes of which they've not had wind of since Human Rights Legislation was first mooted.

But two things strike me. Is it just people who live near Heathrow, or any other airport, that moved there after it was established that will be in line for a pay out? Failing that is there a cut off time - you have had to live there since say 1980? I also love the way that the writer just sees the BAA and the airlines as the problem - the villain in the piece. Is it not us that want to travel? Does he travel? Does his family travel? Is his food flown here so that he can eat? Does his iPod or whatever other gizmo or consumer electronic or FedEx packet magic itself to Britain like a 'beam me up Scotty' moment from Star Trek?

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