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Now the pilots are having their say about the environmental impact of flying. “Pilots have long felt aggrieved that their industry is being used as a scapegoat for global warming”, says a new report commissioned by the British Air Line Pilots’ Association. “They have been particularly annoyed about two serious misconceptions – that air transport is the biggest polluter (which it is not) and that the industry is highly subsidised (again,which it is not).”
I agree on the first point, of course, but the second point is a little disingenuous to say the very least, but we’ll let that go as there’s a much better point the report makes that’s worth zooming in on.
“Modest reductions in road transport, electricity usage from power stations and improvements in the home would allow for aviation emissions…There are other measures which could and should be taken to reduce CO2 emissions and allow for continued air travel.”
So we’re back once again to the old “we’re a more important part of the economy than anyone else and should be allowed unrestricted growth regardless of the negative impacts” chestnut. It would be interesting to see just this question put to the vote, but until that time we should at least make the cost of flying represent its cost to the environment. Personally, I don’t think there should ever be any escaping the “polluter pays” principle. Even if you as self-important as the aviation industry.
A rant has been posted on Travelmole against travellers concerned about the environmental impact of their trips. The author, Jeremy Skidmore, has form for this kind of contrarian outburst – and he can say whatever he likes, of course – but it is a little worrying that a widely read industry website such as Travelmole should choose to post such comment pieces without at least balancing things up a little with alternative viewpoints. It says a lot to me about just how far the industry has yet got to go before “getting” this whole subject, let alone starting to tackle it. Here’s a little taster…
If, like me, you will not give a second thought about the impact on the environment of your holiday, you are not alone. Despite all the hype to the contrary, a new survey has shown that two thirds of Britons do not care about their carbon footprint. Indeed, people aspire to long haul holidays to relax from their stressed lives and worry most about their accommodation not living up to scratch or that their luggage will go missing. I recycle and use energy saving light bulbs (and would advise everyone to do so), but I’m certainly not going to stop flying to all parts of the world on business and pleasure. Most people feel the same way, partly because we’re selfish and partly because we are unconvinced about the impact of aviation on the environment, or indeed ‘climate change’ in general…
Following closely on the heels of the Forbes article mentioned below, the World Monuments Fund has just published its biennial list of the most “endangered architectural and cultural sites around the world”. For the first time it has included sites threatened by climate change…
- Herschel Island, Canada, home to ancient Inuit sites and a historic whaling town at the edge of the Yukon that are being lost to the rising sea and melting permafrost in this fastest-warming part of the world.
- Scott’s Hut, Antarctica, a time-capsule of early twentieth-century exploration. Ironically, it is being engulfed by vastly increased snowfall thought to be a result of changes in the weather, changes the station was built to monitor.
- Chinguetti Mosque, Mauritania, located in one of Islam’s seven holy cities and one of many sites in West Africa endangered by the encroaching desert.
- Sonargaon-Panam City, Bangladesh, a former medieval trading hub and crossroads of culture, whose long-neglected and deteriorating architecture is increasingly threatened by flooding in this low-lying country, one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of global warming.
- Leh Old Town, Ladakh, India, a rare intact medieval city in the Himalayan region, now trying to balance development and modernization with sustainability as its traditional architecture faces changing weather patterns, including heavy rains, that it was not built to withstand.
- New Orleans, Louisiana, United States, whose historic neighborhoods, already pummeled by Hurricane Katrina, are now struggling to restore homes while also preparing for future challenges posed by rising sea levels and the likelihood of stronger storms.
Are the “eco loonies” Ryanair has spoken of in the past finally taking over the asylum? This report in the Guardian suggests that, despite its earlier denials, Ryanair is now ready to accept that some of the decline in ticket sales is being driven by growing concern among travellers about aviation’s impact on the environment.
Howard Millar, Ryanair deputy chief executive, said he was “concerned” about the negative publicity gathering around the airline sector and admitted demand for flights was being impacted “at the edges”.
“I am concerned that there is a continuing media campaign and the concern is that people might say ‘maybe I will not fly on holiday and maybe I will make a different choice,’” he said.
What happens in Britain affects us in the north. You may say that the expansion of London Stansted airport will play only a small part in increasing climate change, but everyone can say that about almost everything they do. It is an excuse for doing nothing. The result of that attitude would be catastrophic. The serious consequences affecting my people today will affect your people tomorrow. Most flights from Stansted are not for an important purpose. They are mostly for holidays and leisure. Is it too much to ask for some moderation for the sake of my people today and your people tomorrow? For the sake also of our wildlife and everything else in the world’s precious and fragile environment that is more important than holiday flights.
“There are thousands of places in the world that are endangered,” says Kecia Fong, a conservator at the Getty Conservation Institute, a Los Angeles-based organization that works internationally to advance the field of conservation through initiatives like scientific research and field projects. “The kinds of sites that are most endangered have rapid development like building roads or hotels to deal with an influx of tourists.”
Many of the usual suspects are referred to – the Galapagos Islands, Mount Kilimanjaro, Kathmandu Valley, Tibet – but the report let’s itself down somewhat with the rather self-centred tone of the final sentence…
Visit these places while they’re still around.
Full marks to the Financial Times for putting this story on its front page yesterday. Almost too much to digest here, but here are some of the stand-out sentences from Roger Blitz’s take on the WTTC summit in Lisbon over the weekend which suggest that some within the industry are still firmly in denial about the challenges they face.
The industry is expected to expand by 4.3 per cent a year over the next decade and managers are fretting over climate change. They worry that flying is seen as the most polluting activity and are falling over themselves to champion schemes that allow the travelling public to go on clocking up air miles…
“We look at climate change as an image issue,” said Armin Meier, chief executive of Kuoni Travel, the luxury tour operator…
Maurice Flanagan, vice-chairman of Emirates Airline, was quite happy to share his trenchant view that global warming was “an argument”. He said he was taken aback at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year at the way that airlines were being “demonised as the cause of all this”. Mr Flanagan said more worrying than the apparent threat to the planet was the real threat to the existence of low-cost carriers such as EasyJet and Ryanair. “If extremists get their way, thousands and thousands of jobs in travel and tourism will be lost…”
But it’s the end of the report that sticks in my memory…
For all the talk, practical meaningful solutions were little in evidence. It fell to James Russell of the Clinton Global Initiative to tell the industry what was expected of it. “Don’t be an Exxon,” he told the airlines, “Work out what you can do to drive down energy consumption. Travel agents should push hotels for carbon disclosure.” He added: “The message to chief executives is that perceptions are changing and you’ve got between 12 and 24 months to get on that route.” Exactly how much and for how long is arguable. “It’s flavour of the month,” said Charles Petruccelli, the president of global travel services at American Express. “The problem will realise its way beyond the industry soon.”
Mark Ellingham has been a lot more outspoken that I originally thought. Travelmole is reporting his outburst in much more detail…
“Climate change is an issue that dwarfs all others and the impact of flying is key to this. All of us involved have a responsibility to inform travellers as clearly and honestly as possible about the environmental cost of their journeys. Balancing all the positives and negatives, I’m not convinced there is such a thing as a ‘responsible’ or ‘ethical’ holiday…If there was just one thing I could change, it would be this new British obsession for binge flying. We now live in a society where, if people have nothing to do on a Saturday night, they go to Budapest for 48 hours. We fly anywhere at the slightest opportunity, 10 times and upwards a year. This needs to be addressed with the greatest urgency.”
I’m not hugely impressed with his new goal for cutting back on flying, though. It’s actually more than most people would ever dream of. But at least he is pledging to making a reduction, which is a start…
“As a ‘recovering travel writer’, I fly less than I would like to, but more than I know that ethically I should. The deal I have made with myself is to limit the number of flights I take to one long-haul and two or three shorter flights each year. I very much respect the purist attitudes of those who say they will never fly again, but it’s totally unrealistic to expect the majority to do the same.”
Environmentalists have been making such comparisions for years, but now some within the travel industry are also suggesting that their sector could be accused of being in the same state of denial – or worse, being as willfully obstructive – as the tobacco industry was 30 years ago in facing up to its negative impacts. Here’s Mark Ellingham, founder of Rough Guides, quoted in a Guardian report today which led on how a record will be set this month for the highest number of flights worldwide – 2.5bn – a 5% rise on the same period last year.
“The tobacco industry fouled up the world while denying it as much as possible for as long as they could. If the travel industry rosily goes ahead as it is doing, ignoring the effect that carbon emissions from flying are having on climate change, we are putting ourselves in a very similar position to the tobacco industry.”
You wait an age for a bus, then three show up at once…
The following industry get-togethers have all promised to place the environmental and social impact of tourism at their heart.
- The WTTC summit in Lisbon, May 10-12
- Global Ecotourism Conference in Oslo, May 14-16
- UN World Tourism Conference in Kuala Lumpur, June 4-6
Travelmole has opened a month-long forum to discuss all the fallout from the conferences.
I suspected this might happen. Those Virgin Train ads just seem that little bit too provocative for one of the airlines not to take the bait and challenge the green claims being made by reporting them to the Advertising Standards Authority.
I’m pleased that it looks like we might also get to the bottom of just how much Network Rail relies on nuclear power – something that is often over looked.