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St Helena ‘will disappear’ as seas rise, warns Guardian reader

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James Valley, as it might be if sea levels rose 300 metres
James Valley as it might look if sea levels rose. Picture: Johnny Clingham

Boots on, everyone: it’s approaching high tide in Half Tree Hollow. Or so one reader of The Guardian website thinks.

An article praising St Helena’s airport has triggered a bewildering online debate, with one troubled contributor claiming it could make the island sink beneath the waves.

The brief opinion piece on suggests that Napoleon could have done with an airport during his exile on the island.

It’s not clear what the Emperor of Longwood might have done with it, given that aeroplanes hadn’t been invented in 1815.

But several readers complain that air travel to St Helena will add to global pollution – with dire consequences for Jamestown. A reader called bytzer warns:

“With even more emissions of greenhouse gasses, islands like St Helena will disappear as the polar ice melts and sea levels rise.”

Another reader, PetetheTree – who’s actually been to St Helena – points out that this is unlikely to happen. Most of Europe would be swallowed up before the water lapped at the top step of Jacob’s Ladder.

Reader comment: If we have many more airports( Pay attention Boz) and a subsequent increase in air transport with even more emissions of greenhouse gasses, islands like St Helena will disappear as the polar ice melts and sea levels rise.

Response to bytzer, 17 August 2012 12:44PM Are the sea levels going to rise over 800m?The Guardian piece does acknowledge environment issues: “It must at least be possible,” it says, “to have modern communications without concreting over the flora and fauna whose diversity astonished Darwin.”

Millions of tonnes of concrete are to be poured all over the last known refuge of the St Helena earwig – which may or may not be extinct – but it isn’t the threat to a host of unique invertebrates that has got Guardian readers fired up.

Some worry about the US Air Force taking over the island. And Sludge asks, “Does this mean Argentina will claim it?”.

Others see the airport as a sop to Lord Ashcroft, who once flew over St Helena in his private jet and promised to support the case for air access. A writer calling himself theonionmurders says:

“Surely the Tories are building this simply to allow Ashcroft’s private jet to refuel on its way to the UK so he can vote in crucial Lords debates.

“Why no mention of this obvious bondoogle simply to satisfy the whims of a Tory grandee?”

A bondoogle is a card trick, but the writer may actually have meant to write “boondoggle”, which is “a scheme that wastes time and money”.

Note: The airport is costing around £250 million in its first ten years. Lord Ashcroft’s donation to the Conservative Party was £10 million.

Screen grab of reader comment that reads: The St Helena budget is heavily supported by the UK's Department for International Development. Every year they send someone there to check the books and that they are getting value for money. Staff compete to get the assignment as it takes so long to get there and equally long to get back but the actual task in hand is very straightforward and easy so it's just like a long holiday. It will all change when the airport opens. No-one will want the long flight in economy class.

Thumbjack asks:

“I wonder if this will spell doom for the weekly Cape-Town-St Helena-Ascension-Falmouth run of RMS St Helena, a relic of a once-healthy mail boat industry. But I’ve just checked and I see they no longer include Falmouth (when did that happen?).”

Er, never. Avonmouth, Cardiff or Portland, maybe – but even the legendary Falmouth Packet mail boats couldn’t have done the Cape-to-Cornwall run in a week.

One writer voices concern that aircraft could affect migrating birds on St Helena, possibly confusing it with another St Helena off Australia – or maybe muddling migratory birds with migratory workers.

Michael Moore, who once wrote a poem for the BBC about St Helena, called No Island Is An Island, doesn’t give a flying wotsit.

“Migrating birds? All they ever do is come over here, take the jobs of indigenous birds and live off state benefits.

“Besides, the only flying things of importance in a modern, thrusting, global economy are the ones whose fossil fuel consumption is helping destroy the planet.”

Another writer also criticises the Guardian for ignoring environmental concerns.

MiskatonicUniversity – for it is he – says it shows that “tackling global warming is as live an issue as witches blighting crops by stirring their tea backwards.”

Screen grab of reader comment: Mental image: the first flight touches down at St. Helena airport in 2016. It is a British Airways 747-800, the "Pride of the Skies". Local people are gathered around to witness their island's leap into modernity. The rear door opens. Who will be the first guest to tread on St Helena soil after arriving by air? The Queen? Prince William? A sporting personality? No its ... it's ... is that singing? Yes, folks, the entire plane of corpsy-grey Brits is conga-ing down the steps going "Let's all 'ave a disco, ra ra ra ra!"

  • An article on the BBC News website reports that Saints are divided over whether St Helena should have an airport. An unnamed islander doubts whether Saints will reap the rewards: “We will probably end up cleaning toilets.” Read it here.

Touchdown on St Helena… hang on, who’s flying this plane?

In praise of… St Helena’s Airport –
Island ‘at risk’ without an airport – BBC News, by Simon Pipe

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