A blog written for the Guardian’s Travel website about NatureAir’s bold new claims…

I didn’t know it at the time, but I have flown with the “world’s first and only zero emissions airline”. But don’t get too excited: I’m not talking about a new paradigm in jet propulsion, or the revival of the airship. This airline still uses fossil fuels just like every other.

In the summer of 2006, while conducting interviews for my book The Final Call: In Search of the True Cost of Our Holidays, I took a short flight from Punta Islita on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast to the capital San Jose. I joined a dozen or so other passengers aboard one of NatureAir‘s de Havilland Twin Otters, thereby avoiding the best part of a day’s travel on Costa Rica’s notoriously bad roads. The flight was memorable for me because it carried us over some stunning rainforests and mangroves at a low enough altitude that you could appreciate some of the detail below.

What I didn’t know at the time – most other airlines would be ramming such marketing gold dust down your throat at any given opportunity – was that the airline supports a range of local projects in Costa Rica aimed at reducing emissions. The most notable of which is a scheme whereby 200 hectares of rainforest on the Osa Peninsula have been protected from loggers. This, the airline calculates, compensates for roughly 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide that it has emitted into the atmosphere since 2004.

I’m highly sceptical about carbon offset schemes – and NatureAir’s actions are no different really from those of any firm offering offsetting – principally because they often make decidedly dubious claims, they don’t encourage us to address our polluting ways but only disguise them, they lack independent verification, and rarely can they demonstrate “additionality” (that these actions wouldn’t have been undertaken without the offset scheme). But I am in favour of remedial environment projects that are located close to the problem. It makes sense for a Costa Rican airline seeking to atone for its carbon sins to fund and nurture environmental projects in its own backyard – even if I don’t buy the claim that the airline’s emissions can be said to be “zero” as a result. Nonetheless, the projects still appear to be worthwhile in their own right.

When I watch the tourism industry racing to paint itself green, I do wonder why more within the industry don’t try to play the “local” card, as you see happening so much within the food industry. I’m sure it would lead to a lot less cynicism about the true motivations and usefulness of offsetting. Rather than pay a sum to a faceless offset scheme, as most airlines now offer their customers the chance to do, I’m sure passengers would much rather know that this money was being spent on projects at the destination, thereby helping to improve the often strained relationship between the visitor and the visited. Perhaps a visit to such projects could be part of the trip?

The fundamental point is that we like to know where our money is being spent – and that it is being spent well. For example, there are very few fans of Advanced Passenger Duty (APD), the departure tax levied on the UK’s outbound passengers, outside of the Treasury, even though it claims to be an environmentally motivated tax. But if the £2bn revenue it raises each year was ring-fenced for certifiable and visible environmental projects, then it would instantly achieve much more support from travellers.

A fast-growing number of us appreciate that we must start paying the true environmental cost of our travel, but we are only ever likely to support the necessary green taxes that would curb the current runaway growth in emissions if we know and can see they are directly funding projects that also reduce or mitigate these rising emissions.

In Costa Rica, NatureAir is able to achieve a lot of “buy in” in relation to its offsetting initiative with its customers because passengers can look down and see the very thing that is worth saving below them. Just how you achieve that on, say, a mundane transatlantic flight is certainly a challenge, but the fundamental point remains: travellers must see that the tax hikes that will inevitably affect air travel in the coming years are truly benefiting the environment they have been introduced to protect.

A blog written for the Guardian’s Comment is Free website in the week tourism ministers met in London to discuss climate change…

Thousands of representatives from the world’s tourism industry descended on east London this week to attend the World Travel Market, a giant trade fair held each November in the cavernous ExCel centre in Docklands. As someone who has attended WTM in the two previous years, I can report that it is quite a spectacle. Pretty much every country on the planet – 202 countries this year – sends a delegation to staff a stand in order to try to court the industry’s key decision-makers to persuade them to send as many tourists as possible their way over the next 12 months. It’s like speed dating – but on a grand scale.

For anyone wanting to see where the power lies in what some claim to be the world’s largest industry, they only need to stand on one of the balconies overlooking the main floor and look at how the countries are spaced out. In the centre of the room, boasting stands that have probably cost tens of thousands of pounds to construct, are the industry’s most important destinations – the US, France, the UK, Spain, Dubai etc. On the fringes are those looking, hoping, to join the party. And countries such as Burundi quite literally have little more than a trestle table holding a few leaflets and are positioned far away from the main thoroughfares.

As I walked among the stands last year, listening in and watching deals being struck, I couldn’t help but wonder what WTM would look like in a few decades’ time. Would the same countries be dominating proceedings? Would WTM still even be operating? The trigger for these thoughts was that the Great Issue of Our Age (TM) – climate change – was a concept that had evidently been blocked from entering the hall by security. If one industry has dragged its heels over confronting climate change it is the tourism industry. This is a very strange response given that it, arguably, has the most to lose.

But that was last year. I was pleased to learn earlier this year that up to 100 tourism ministers from across the globe would be meeting at this year’s event to discuss how the tourism industry should address climate change. The UN’s World Tourism Organisation was to meet formally at WTM and discuss how it should approach the forthcoming UN climate summit being held in Bali in December. (Back in October it had drafted the “Davos Declaration“, which sets out the industry’s stance on climate change.) At last, I thought, sleeves are being rolled up. The industry is finally going to work out how to square the fact that it is a significant and fast-growing emitter of greenhouses gases, as well as also being extremely vulnerable to climate change.

Sadly, though, all the reports coming out of WTM this week suggest that while there’s been a lot of talk about the issue, there has been very little commitment to act in any meaningful way. For example, this is what Margaret Hodge, the UK’s tourism minister had to say:

“It is not for the government to deny people the right to travel. Or to deny the industry the right to respond to the demand for travel. It is a difficult task to try to square the circle of the desire to travel and the use of aviation and its growth… The tourism industry fuels around 5% of global CO2 emissions. But for every negative there should be a positive. There is a lot being done by tourism and aviation industries to reduce greenhouse emissions. There are strong grounds for us to be optimistic.”

This is little more than a rubber stamp for the industry’s “business as usual” stance, as far as I can tell. One of the major problems, I feel, is that tourism is so poorly represented, if at all, at cabinet level in most of the world’s governments. For example, Margaret Hodge is hardly what we might call at the heart of government, despite the fact that tourism is acknowledged as the capital city’s second largest industry. Just when the tourism industry needs a big prod by governments to move it in the right direction on this issue – yes, I mean far tighter regulation – it knows it will be treated with kid gloves.

There were some dissenting voices, however. To his credit, the ebullient and high-pitched CNN business travel reporter and anchor Richard Quest stood up and slammed the attendees for their inaction and mealy words:

“How many of you have a car waiting for you? How many have requested your hotel not to change your sheets and towels tonight? How many of you travelled here economy class? The business class seat is the most environmentally unfriendly on the aircraft. It takes more space, has greater weight and higher fuel burn… I have read the Davos Declaration in detail. I am none the wiser about what’s going to be done. I suggest and respectfully submit that more work needs to be done on changing the mindset rather than producing pamphlets of fine-sounding language… Ultimately, we have to change the mindset of the tourist, whether it is the business traveller or the vacationer. We are in this sinking boat together and we need to offer them realistic possibilities and procedures to help bale us out of it.”

Such an intervention is welcome, but I do wonder how long it will take for this industry to shake off this paralysis. Last week, Greenpeace in Spain released some mocked-up images of how some of the countries most popular resorts might look if sea levels rise as some predict. Each year, ski resorts report ever reduced snow levels. And just this week, the world’s small island states met in the Maldives – one of the UK’s most popular “winter sun” destinations – to discuss the impact of climate change.

When will this mighty industry properly face up to this ever-looming challenge?

To comment, click through to the Guardian’s website here…

A blog written for the Guardian’s Travel website on the day the A380 took off on its first commercial flight…

So the big bird has finally flown. The first commercial flight of the new A380 took off from Singapore this morning headed for Sydney, with a belly full of eager-eyed passengers, some donating up to $10,000 to charity for their place in aviation history. There has been so much fanfare accompanying this new superjumbo from Airbus that, to be honest, it’s a relief that she has at last pulled away from the departure gate with her first paying passengers. If this really was a paradigm shift in flying then it might warrant all this attention, but in reality it illustrates to me just how little we’ve travelled in terms of aviation innovation since 1970 when the Boeing 747 “Jumbo Jet” first took to the air. It hardly compares to the “leap forward” made by Concorde’s first commercial flight just a few years later. I’m sure there will be many who marvel at this new plane’s engineering prowess, but the thing that really counts today is can this plane get as many people from A to B using as little fuel as possible? Much has been made about the A380’s green credentials and most of it, sadly, has been vastly overblown. The plane’s basic principle is sound – if something is going to take to the air it might as well have as many people on board as possible to maximise the fuel used. But on closer inspection the Airbus claims lose a lot of their lustre. Airbus’s website says that the plane will burn 2.9 litres of fuel per passenger for every 100km travelled, or, put another way, it will emit 75 grammes of carbon dioxide per passenger kilometre. This, says Airbus, is a better fuel efficiency than a hybrid car. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? But how did it arrive at that figure? Well, I couldn’t find an explanation on the website, and I called the UK office but no one returned my call. So I’m reliant on the National Center for Public Policy Research in the US, who did manage to extract the details from Airbus. Airbus told them that the measurements were based on the A380 carrying 555 passengers at a cruising speed of 900km – but with no luggage or cargo on board. Singapore Airlines has said that its A380s will be set up in the traditional three-class configuration, but will be carrying “less than 480 passengers”. This is because it wants to give passengers more space – including those paying big bucks to travel in its much-heralded “12 ultra-luxurious suites”. (The A380 can, in theory, carry 853 passengers, but it is highly unlikely that any airline will utilise this, except perhaps on some short-range internal routes in, say, China and Japan.) Given that most of these passengers will have hand luggage and a suitcase or two, you can safely assume that the quoted fuel efficiency is going to be less impressive than it first appears. And don’t forget that it is rare for a passenger flight to take off without cramming commercial cargo on board too – or that carrying capacity among the so-called legacy carriers who are ordering up these planes (not in the quantity that Airbus had hoped for) is lucky to ever break through the 80% barrier. This could seem to be unnecessary nitpicking, but the far bigger concern for me is that Airbus predicts these planes will be in service for 40-50 years. With other airlines also investing heavily in Boeing’s rival Dreamliner, which has its own much-puffed “eco” claims, we can safely assume that these two planes will be the principal workhorses of the skies for the next several decades. These are the planes that will serve the huge growth that is predicted for the aviation industry over this period – and is what has triggered the huge concern about aviation’s fast-increasing environmental impact. This goes a long way to quashing any realistic talk of some huge techno fix laying just around the corner – blended-wing designs, hydrogen fuel cells etc – that would mean we would be able fly without a thought for the atmosphere that our plane carves through. Are airlines which have just spent billions of dollars on new planes really going to be in the market for experimental planes in the near future? Also, look just how long it has taken for the A380 to come to market. Aviation innovation takes decades to literally get off the ground – and so does fuel design – for the simple reason that regulators don’t like to take risks when hundreds of people are being flown at 30,000ft. Therefore, all this talk of biofuels for planes is fanciful in the short- to medium-term – and just look at all the hubbub that biofuels are already causing when it comes to verifying their true environmental credentials. The plain truth is that while these tweaks in efficiency are obviously welcome don’t believe the hype that they are anything more than just tweaks. That flight from London-Sydney, or wherever, will still come at a considerable carbon cost, whichever plane you are travelling in. Somehow getting fewer people into the skies is the key, not beckoning people onboard with inflated eco claims.

To comment, click through to the Guardian’s website here …

This Saturday (October 13) I’m taking part in a debate at Tourism Concern‘s AGM entitled, ‘Is it the Final Call for Tourism?’ It is taking place inside the Graduate Centre at the Tower Building, London Metropolitan University. Yes, I know it clashes with some important football match or other, but it promises to be an interesting and lively afternoon. The debate ‘kicks off’ at 2.45pm. Here’s how Travelmole is billing it (although I would add that I have never said that “tourism will indeed ruin the world!”, but we can certainly debate that notion on Saturday)…

Leo Hickman, author of the Final Call meets with Frances Tuke of ABTA to discuss whether it really is the final call for tourism – Tourism Concern, Saturday 13 October at London Metropolitan University.
Leo Hickman, journalist and author of the recent controversial book “The Final Call”, ABTA’s Press Officer, Frances Tuke, Lamin Bojan from Gambia Tourism Concern and Peter DeBrine, Deputy Director of the International Tourism Partnership will be discussing whether it really is the final call for tourism. The discussion is hosted by Tourism Concern and will be chaired by journalist and broadcaster Alison Rice
The discussion, which is bound to be lively, will focus on the impact of travel, and whether, as Leo Hickman claims in his book, tourism will indeed ruin the world!
Focusing on the excesses of tourism and its unsustainable growth, Hickman covers Dubai and its ultimate homage to consumerism, Thailand and sex tourism, climate change, China’s phenomenal tourism growth, the receding glaciers in Switzerland, countries that greenwash their tourism as a marketing tool, developers that pay no heed to the rights of their workforce and the fact that there are no checks and balances and no moves towards any regulation.
Tourism Concern would welcome the presence of those working in the tourism industry to contribute to the discussion. The audience will be encouraged to have its say. There has already been some strong debate between Hickman and Jeremy Skidmore in Travel Mole. Saturday, 13th October is the opportunity for others to join in.

I’m not too sure where to start really about what happened this week, following our interview with Victoria Derbyshire on BBC Radio Five Live (Victoria’s reaction here and here, and her editor’s reaction here). It was very strange being at the centre of a perfect media storm – the Mail, Sun, Evening Standard, GMTV, BBC News 24, BBC 10 O’Clock News, BBC Six O’Clock News, the Cornish Guardian etc – but wonderful to get the chance to meet and personally thank Katie Vallis, the operator who handled the 999 call during Jacob’s birth. I’m so pleased that she got the public praise she really deserved – that’s what it was all about. And thanks again for all the continuing messages of congratulations.

I have had such an amazing response – thank you – from people who read the transcript that appeared in the Guardian’s Family section last Saturday of the 999 emergency call I made during the birth of my baby son Jacob earlier this year. So many people have said it left them in tears (my writing doesn’t normally have that affect!). A thread about it has even appeared on Mumsnet.com (best to read the link from the bottom up). And since the article was published, the London Ambulance Service has contacted me to arrange a reunion with the operator which is taking place in a couple of weeks.

To see PDFs of the article, as it appeared in the newspaper (including pictures), click jacobbirthpiece1.pdf, then jacobbirthpiece2.pdf.

Here’s a blog I wrote for the Guardian’s Travel website yesterday. To add a comment, click on this link…

Breaking news: Butlins are replacing their red coats with green coats. No, not really, but the British holiday camp operator has come up with a novel way to try and drum up more business – it is trying to convince us that to do our bit for the environment we should give up our foreign flights and holiday at one of its camps instead. (And there I was thinking that its line up of round-the-clock family entertainment was enough to pull in the punters.)

Butlins is puffing out its chest this week as its visitor figures for this year are up 5% on last year, despite the bad weather. It has commissioned a survey by Tickbox.net to find out why some of us are shunning foreign flights and choosing to holiday at home instead – but is a little surprised to see that the reasons given rarely include “to save the planet”. In fact, only 1% of the 1,500 respondents gave this as their reason. Much more popular were airport delays (39%), luggage restrictions (27%), driving on the wrong side of the road (11%), foreign food (9%) and fear of flying (7%).

“Given current concerns over climate change, it’s a surprise that people are so much more deterred from going abroad by everyday things like driving on the wrong side of the road and not liking foreign food,” says Richard Bates, managing director of Butlins. “But the good news is that the overall net effect will be a reduction in people’s carbon footprints.” (I totally get the hatred of airport delays, but is “driving on the wrong side of the road” really worth giving up a trip abroad for? Irrationality, evidently knows no bounds.)

Butlins’ top brass may be scratching their heads, but it comes as no surprise to me that people don’t cite “climate change'” as a reason for giving up flying. I have never bought this idea that enough people are voluntarily going to raise their hands in the check-in queue and forego their flight just because you’ve made a convincing argument about aviation’s environmental impact. No one dares take a bone from a dog once it is in its mouth.

The people who do volunteer are always going to remain a single-percentage-figure phenomenon. That’s precisely why there is so much political discussion about green taxes for aviation.

Flying quite simply has to be much more expensive than it is now before a significant number of people start making greener holiday choices. Remember that the large majority of people who fly in the UK are the affluent middle class – there is little, if any, evidence that cheap flights have suddenly filled the skies with “the poor” enjoying multiple trips abroad each year, as the aviation lobby’s argument says. And even if that were true, it still isn’t a strong enough argument against price hikes as an effective way of deterring people from flying.

Some form of demand management is desperately required to slow down the runaway growth that aviation is experiencing due to artificially low pricing. Green taxation seems to be the best short-term answer, bar not building any more runaways.

Groups such as Aviation Environment Federation say that surveys show that green taxes would have to reach as much as £75 per flight before they start to have a serious impact on demand. The bottom line in this – as with any polluting act – is that the cost of flying should represent its cost to the environment, something it clearly does not do at the moment.

If, for argument’s sake, you accept Sir Nicholas Stern’s estimate that the environmental cost of each tonne of CO2 we emit should be priced at $85 (£45), then you can start to put a sensible environmental price on aviation. Therefore, one London-Miami return flight emitting broadly two tonnes of CO2 per passenger would need to add £90 to the current price – a hike that would surely make many passengers rethink the need to do that journey. (And this is ignoring the so-called “uplift multiplier”, which accounts for the additional climate change impact of emitting the pollution at 30,000ft – according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we would need to multiply the CO2 impact of aviation by a factor of 2.7.)

Crucially, I think that any revenue raised should be ring-fenced for environmentally positive initiatives such as grants for improving the energy efficiency of your home, or simply lead to tax cuts elsewhere so that green taxes are seen as “revenue neutral”. This way you at least have a chance of bringing some of the electorate with you. A huge mistake was made with the recent rise in Air Passenger Duty (APD) in that it convinced no one – not even environmentalists – that it was anything other than a cynical act of revenue raising by the chancellor.

It amuses me that today easyJet is trying to argue in its new report called Towards Greener Skies: The Surprising Truth About Flying And The Environment that the no-frills airlines such as itself already pay the full environmental costs of their flights more than four times over, due to being disproportionately hit by APD. It is instead arguing for a tax that reflects that some airlines – including easyJet, just in case you were wondering – operate less emitting fleets than others.

“The time has come to scrap APD and replace it with a ‘polluter tax’ that has at its heart a very simple notion – those that fly on airlines that pollute less, like easyJet, should pay less,” says easyJet’s chief executive Andy Harrison.

I don’t disagree with this sentiment at all, but we are talking about a saving of probably no more than a few pounds, pence even, due to the marginal differences in fuel efficiency between the different fleets. It is simply nonsense to say that easyJet passengers already pay more than four times the environmental cost of their flight. No matter how much you want to cook the figures, the simple truth is that we all need to start flying less – and 66% of flying by UK passengers is for discretionary leisure purposes – than we do now if we are ever to be serious about trying to reduce our carbon emissions.

But if you’re not sold on the idea of green taxes being applied to aviation, what else would you propose to reduce demand? Or will you not let anything – not even climate-change concerns – get in the way of your next holiday flight?

Here’s an interesting article in the Seattle Times about current thinking within the aviation industry regarding the prospects of biofuels ever replacing kerosene as the fuel of choice for powering planes. The message, as ever, is don’t get your hopes up…

A Seattle-Washington, D.C., flight consumes 29 gallons of jet fuel per passenger, says Boeing. That would require a half-acre of soybeans.

“You would have to plant an area the size of Florida with soybeans to provide a 15 percent blend of jet fuel” for the whole U.S. aircraft fleet, said Dave Daggett, who heads energy and emissions research at Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ product-development unit. “Clearly that’s not going to be appropriate.”

In the immediate aftermath of the Climate Camp protest at Heathrow, I was asked to participate in a debate on BBC2’s Newsnight. I’m not too sure why someone would want to put this on Youtube, but they have…

The Guardian published a comment piece by me on Saturday to tie in with the Climate Camp protests taking place this week at Heathrow. The piece looks at how much of the money we spend on holiday actually ‘sticks’ to the destination.

It will be a case of “heads down and don’t look up” for holidaymakers flying from Heathrow next week, if they want to avoid catching the disapproving eye of climate camp protesters gathered at the perimeter fence. But expect some of the tourists to reject the niggling twinge of eco-guilt – a twinge 93% of us now experience when travelling by plane, according to a survey by Lonely Planet this week – as they pass along this most modern walk of shame by offering the following soundbite to TV news crews: “If we all stopped flying abroad, it would destroy their economies, wouldn’t it?” It’s a popular refrain among those defending aviation’s right to unrestricted growth, but do we really sprinkle gold dust on each destination we visit?… continues

The Irish Times website is subscription only so I can’t provide a simple click-through link, but the paper recently wrote very positively about The Final Call. Here’s just a taster…

[Hickman’s] latest book, The Final Call: In Search of the True Cost of Our Holidays, is an excellent and thoroughly compelling analysis of flight-related tourism…[It] deserves to be read by those of us lucky enough to be able to fly on a regular basis. As Hickman points out, flying is not a necessity; it’s a luxury. Only five per cent of the world’s population have ever travelled by plane. Being an international tourist is a rare privilege, and Hickman’s book is a sobering, thoughtful and intelligent reminder that it is a privilege we need to be forcefully reminded not to take for granted.

As a result of the article, I’ve been asked to speak about the book on RTE Radio 1’s Today with Tom McGurk on the morning of Wednesday, August 1.

If your Spanish is up to it, the Spanish edition of Foreign Policy magazine currently has an extract of the conclusion from The Final Call as this month’s cover story.

I’m taking part in an on-going Q&A on the forum at Planeta.com. Please post any questions you have and I will try my best to answer them…

Thanks to Graham McKenzie, the MD of Travelmole, for asking me to respond to Jeremy Skidmore’s recent comment piece on the site. I take back my earlier comment about Travelmole not being open to alternative viewpoints. In case you’re not a registered Travelmole user, here’s my response in full…


“If, like me, you will not give a second thought about the impact on the environment of your holiday…” Give him his dues, Jeremy Skidmore certainly knows how to kick off a polemic. It got my attention, anyway, and judging by some of the reaction from Travelmole readers it ruffled the feathers of others, too.
But while it’s always fun to play the contrarian, I have to say – and I do actually agree with some of his points about APD and LiveEarth – that Jeremy’s comment piece left me stone cold.
Is his take on climate change really a representative view of the travel industry? After all, Jeremy is a former editor of Travel Weekly and a prominent industry spokesperson.
I speak as an outsider to this industry, but someone who has spent the past year observing it and investigating the various environmental, social and economics impacts – both good and bad – of the global tourism industry for my book The Final Call.
I have interviewed many dozens of representatives from your industry around the world, from chambermaids to CEOs, to gauge their views on not just tourism’s impacts on climate change, but also a range of other important but often muffled issues such as exploitative low pay, natural resource depletion, ecological degradation and sex tourism.
It saddens me to say that I was not greatly encouraged by my findings – I came across a lot of Jeremys on my travels. In truth, I think the travel and tourism industry is a long, long way from truly grasping the scale of the problems that lay before it – in some ways it reminds me of where the tobacco industry was about 40 years ago.
The scent of denial is thick in the air. I can’t think of any other global industry – you work for the world’s largest service industry, no less – which seemingly plays such a dangerous game with its key assets – the mountains, the coral reefs, the tropical islands, the rainforests etc. Once they’re gone, or at least tarnished beyond repair, then so is your industry.
Just from a position of self-interest, you would assume everyone in the industry would be doubling over backwards to protect and nurture these assets, if only to secure long-term business. Where exactly are you going to be sending today’s children on holiday once they reach adulthood?
And don’t forget just how much more pressurised the resources of each destinations will be once the tens of millions of tourists start arriving from places such as China and India, as the World Tourism Organisation is predicting.
Your industry should be leading on these issues, not be dragged kicking and screaming into this debate like a spoilt child which is used to getting its own way.
After all, it could be argued that you have the most to lose in the long term. Anyone who carries on with a business-as-usual attitude will surely be out of business in the not-too-distant future, not least because consumer attitudes – despite questionable surveys that suggest otherwise – are surely moving in only one direction when it comes to these issues.
I would love for your industry to prove me wrong – and some of the reaction to Jeremy’s comment piece gives me hope that his kind of viewpoint could soon become isolated – but I fear that too many of you are simply dancing around these issues.
For example, please don’t keep saying that carbon offsetting is the way to mitigate your industry’s climate-change impacts – it is a nothing less than a sticky plaster shielding a festering wound.
Easy answers are rarely the right answers. Sun-drenched beaches are wonderful places to stick your head in the sand, aren’t they?

Leo Hickman is a features journalist and editor at the Guardian. His latest book ‘The Final Call: In Search of the True Cost of Our Holidays’ is published by Transworld. http://www.leohickman.co.uk

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…

A chat I recently had with Frank Bures via email about The Final Call has just been published on World Hum.

Congratulations to St Ives in west Cornwall for being voted the best seaside town in Great Britain and Ireland by a panel of judges convened by the Guardian. For me, it was the obvious choice from the shortlist below, but it’s still nice to see the much-maligned British seaside being celebrated.

It strikes me that the airlines might be on to a sticky wicket with their new attempts to prove their ‘green’ credentials. The latest tactic is to use the boast of ‘our fleet is greener than their fleet’ and urge travellers to fly with them because their planes offer marginally superior fuel efficiency. Just look at Flybe’s attempt to reappropriate the EU’s energy efficiency chart found on most white goods and cars. The Telegraph also has easyJet’s chief executive Andy Harrison pushing a similar line today in an interview on its business pages

There are 700 aircraft built before 1990 and they are 20pc less efficient than today’s aircraft,” he says, naming “semi-bankrupt national airlines” such as Alitalia and flag-carriers such as British Airways and Iberia as major culprits.

Sure, every little helps – as could be argued with the launch over the weekend of Boeing’s Dreamliner – but these ‘per passenger kilometre’ efficiency savings are completely blown out of the water (or should that be air?)  by the growth predictions for the industry. It’s a bit like trying to argue that it’s better to empty a bath with a thimble instead of just pulling the plug – the ‘plug’ being fewer passengers and planes in the skies.

A review by Josh Lacey in the Review section of the Guardian, July 7

And a review by George Pendle in the Weekend magazine of the Financial Times, July 7