Even when one doesn’t buy the crackpot science of so-called “climate skeptics”, one has to concede that the real culprits for greenhouse gas emissions are the coal-blazing Chinese (and to a lesser but growing extent Germans – yeah, getting out of nuclear without Plan B was a great idea, wasn’t it) and the shameless and wicked oil barons that push the black gunk on the world and fund the above-mentioned crackpot science. Apparently also the forecasts are being revised since while the planet is indeed warming, it has recently not been warming at quite the rate as expected. So the future generations might yet survive, hooray! Or wait, has the rate in fact been quickening?
All this confusion notwithstanding, I’m a firm believer in everyone doing their bit. If for no other reason, then at least for the license it gives us to wave a fist at them Chinese (and Germans) and oil barons – not to mention the snootiness we can display towards less environmentally conscious friends at dinner parties and over drinks.
I fly a lot. I fly for business and I fly for personal reasons. I don’t fly for “pleasure”, because I hate flying, but it gets me to places I need to go such as Berlin to see F, Helsinki to see everyone or Malaga to see mum and dad (and, ok yes, lounge by the pool, you got me).
I feel constant guilt about my flying. In terms of personal contributions to carbon emissions, flying is as bad as it gets. I can munch all the locally grown carrots I want and walk to work, but the fact is that all of that is dwarfed by the ecological disaster that is my flying habits. On an individual level, my flying probably puts me in the top 5% of worldwide contributors to climate change. Hence there has not been much snootiness displayed recently on my part.
Simply put: I should fly less. So should you, even if you don’t fly as much as me.
The reality is, however, that as long as flying is as cheap as it is, neither you nor I will cut down on it.
Do you remember what it was like when we oldies were growing up, or at uni/college? We did NOT hop over to Vienna or Lisbon or Istanbul for a weekend, because we had no money for it. The flights would have cost several hundred pounds (no Euros back then!), which was well beyond our budgets. The 20-something kids nowadays have it different. Even on a student budget they take mini-breaks to other countries and fly off to Mexico or Vietnam to backpack between terms, because they can.
I think that the subsidies to air travel should stop and the cost of jet fuel should actually include a huge tax to cover for the environmental externalities of flying. If a carbon tax is ever implemented anywhere, it could take care of this. The EU emission trading scheme obviously includes flying, but the whole system is a total dud. If a working one is ever conceived (ideally a world-wide one), it should definitely include flying at its actual cost and impact.
I think what I’m making here is a very sensible proposal. Yet, when I’ve made it in conversation, it has been immediately rejected. F, for example, has told me that I’m elitist and pointed out that if my idea was reality only I could afford to do the bi-weekly visits that are the lifeline of a long-distance relationship, since I have a job and he is still a student.
Obviously if flying was made more expensive it would mean that less people could afford to do it. I don’t see a problem with that – in fact it would be the whole point: reduce flying. There have always been activities that are beyond the means of most people. I don’t own a private jet or a mansion or a Lamborghini, all of which pollute and contribute to climate change, but I don’t get called an elitist for being OK with this state of affairs and not demanding that we should all be able to afford all that. The reason I get called an elitist for advocating more expensive flying to discourage it and cover the actual costs of it is because we have somehow come to think in recent years that being able to afford to fly (“hyper-mobility” as it is called in the green lingo) is some kind of a basic human right that should be available to everyone, regardless of their financial situation. Well it ain’t. It’s an expensive and polluting activity and it should be discouraged.
So I say hike up the prices, ban Easyjet and get the proles off planes!