Saturday, March 01, 2008

Time to deal with Britain's addiction to cheap flights

Is it too much to ask that this limp-wristed Prime Minister of ours grows a backbone and starts to show some real leadership? According to today's Independent (click here), we're flying more than ever - despite the fact we're pumping yet more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by doing so (and remember, carbon dioxide spewed into the atmosphere from a plane is four times as bad as that spewed into the atmosphere from the ground).

What's depressing about this is the fact that you shouldn't have to give up flying, full stop. But you should have the decency to accept you can't keep hopping on a plane every few weeks because you don't have the imagination and intelligence to explore the world closer to home.

I've sat here and felt guilty for all that flying I did between the years 2002 and 2006, and yet in my entire life I have flown 20 times. And by 20 times, I mean every single time I boarded a plane to fly somewhere, whether it was from Heathrow to Nariobi on my honeymoon in 1998, or from Chicago to Las Vegas during our American holiday in 2005. It appears an increasing number of Britons are capable of doing that much flying in the space of a single year, without batting an eyelid and without giving a toss for the wider consequences.

Let me be clear on this: I'm utterly selfish. I want everyone else to start doing what's right so that my daughter has a fighting chance of growing up in a world that isn't that far removed from this one in terms of climate stability. I don't know what my excuse was before she was born, but perhaps I was being selfish for everyone else's children too.

As Michael McCarthy has indicated (click here), it's not going to improve while cheap flights exist and business is left to regulate itself. Of course the airlines will do all they can to swamp us with flights if they think there's a profit to be made. It's like the makers of Huggies and Pampers attempting to flood the far east with billions more disposable nappies, despite the obvious environmental damage they do (and please don't try and quote the seriously flawed government report that claimed buying disposables is no worse for the planet than washing and drying 25 cotton nappies over the course of 2.5 years). And it appears our current generation of politicians are too busy trying to be business-friendly to care a jot about what's best (as opposed to what's popular) for the long-term future of their countries. But can we blame them? After all, we elected them in the first place, seduced by promises that don't put others first, but put ourselves first, every single time.

Let's start imagining the future, shall we. What is better for the environment? Everyone buying 25 real nappies and putting a few hundred extra kilograms of CO2 into the atmosphere over a 2.5 year period (assuming they're not - like me - on a green tariff already), while using a completely recyclable product called water? Or Britons continuing to dispense with eight million disposable nappies each day in a country where landfill space is rapidly running out?

Also - who is honestly hamstrung by finding themselves limited to flying twice a year for "pleasure"? If you want a city break, visit Edinburgh, London or Birmingham by train. If you want to travel to Europe, get on the Eurostar or cross the Channel by ferry. Yes, it'll take you longer, but make the journey part of the experience. Build in extra time, then you won't be rushing from 'A' to 'B', and I bet the view from a train is more pleasant than the view from an airport terminal.

Watching Ashes to Ashes the other night, I was reminded about just how pathetic we've become. Even in the 80s, people still stood up for what they believed in; now it seems we're all too blinded by the latest bling to give a flying f**k about anything else. What a sad, pathetic parody of human beings we've become...

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