Is Airport Expansion Racist?

Racial Equality, Climate change and the fight against airport expansion

Why are communities of colour disproportionately targeted by the aviation industry? How are communities of colour challenging this?

The expansion of Heathrow and London City Airport affects one of the most diverse communities in London, including the Borough of Hounslow and Newham, and will have a significant environmental and social impact. The negative effects do not necessarily affect all groups equally. In November 2007, however, when the Government began consultation on the expansion, it failed to address the effects of the airport in terms of race, disability, age or gender. Some of these groups were already suffering from environmental injustice due to the existing airport such as noise and air pollution which can compound existing social deprivation.

Racial assessments like this are important to show the links between social and environmental conditions and which demographics of British society bear the costs of carbon-intensive industry. It is only when the links are known that something can be done to make sure that development does not have a disproportionate negative impact on BAME groups, children, older people, disabled people or women

A photo project is being carried out of the next two months with pioneers of environmental justice in the UK to expose the situation and generate stories with the wider public. The intention is to follow a story by preparing for an action (rather than passive reflection on disempowering situation), this could be anything that the contacts we have made so far decide. The idea is for something to be visible which will highlight the issue at hand and that a significant demographic of society are being outrightly ignored in the climate change debate.

We are getting in contact as we have been made aware of your involvement in issues of environmental justice and are asking for your thoughts and collaboration on the project (either in a small or big way). However, time is of the essence. This project has the potential to empower more communities to get involved to take action on their concerns, on environmental injustice and runaway climate change.

What is the purpose of the project?

There is increasing evidence in the UK which highlights that ethnic minority groups and economically communities disproportionately bear the costs of the social impacts of climate change. This often manifests through these communities living by high emission communities (such as airports and coal fired power stations) who not only live with higher levels of bad health records and economic instability but are also dependent upon the industry for work. This results in the community having less political clout to challenge the social and environmental impacts of the industries development.

This is an example of Environmental Racism. Environmental racism refers to intentional or unintentional racial discrimination in the enforcement of environmental rules and regulations, the intentional or unintentional targeting of minority communities[1] for the siting of polluting industries, or the exclusion of minority groups from public and private boards, commissions, and regulatory bodies. The term was coined and defined by the former Reverend Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. [2] Environmental justice is the movement to reverse environmental racism.[3] [4]

Who is involved?

DIY Education Collective ( in collaboration with Capacity Global ( and photographer Harmit Kambo ( be documenting the relationship between the aviation industry and communities of colour/ ethnic minority communities who the industry affects. Capacity Global (pioneers in environmental justice) have recently released reports on the communities that carbon heavy industry affects and how this relates to equalities impact assessment (please see attachment). DIY Education Collective exists to support communities living in high emissions areas and other areas of environmental injustice linked to greenhouse gas emissions in organising their own education and action plans. and are other organisations working in the same field to highlight the community impacts of the growing aviation industry.

What do we want to know?

The main areas of discussion that we need to address are:

  • What are the barriers and opportunities involved in speaking out?

  •         What actions do the communities want to take to challenge the impacts on their communities?