Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Welcome to Airstrip One

I was horrified to open the Guardian last week (I bet that sentence has some people falling of their chairs in laughter already) to discover yet another Ryanair advert... this time offering 1 million free flights. Is there nothing this company will stop at to fly in the face of accepted climate change consensus? Are they in denial? Do they just not care?

What is the point of such a cocky, swaggering publicity stunt, I find myself asking? Winning people over to the cause of poor bullied little Ryanair? Spiting those lefty greens? Hoping to convey the message that they're so successful that they can afford to do this? Convincing people that more flights are needed by giving them a taste of what they could be missing?

The answer it appears is twofold. Firstly, with all the hidden charges, free flights is a bit of a misnomer. For a company which portrays Gordon Brown as a money grabbing stealth green taxer in half its adverts, this is a little bit rich.

Secondly, they were worried that as a result of a faltering in consumer demand, they were not going to fill up enough seats in the period on offer. "We wouldn't want to see empty seat wasted" they said, or words to that effect. (They're not the first)

Now, as Wednesday marks the start of a public review into the expansion of Stanstead Airport, this begs the question - why on earth are we expanding all our airports when we can't even fill all the seats on the flights we are running without giving them away?

As the Guardian points out today
- air passenger numbers are predicted to more than double in the next 20 years to 465 million if current blueprints for airport expansion are to continue as planned. This is not compatible with the cuts which need to be made in emissions if we wish to avoid climate chaos. It is also incompatible with the government's own professed red/green agenda of reducing carbon emissions by 20%. You have to wonder really what kind of green they're really supporting.

Before I go any further though, I have to admit my own guilt. While I have been making an effort to cut down my own flight times in recent years (not once between 2002 and 2006), last year I flew 3 times in Europe. One business, two leisure. The trips were great, but I still feel bad about flying. Like everyone else my reasons for going by plane were limitations of money and time. It was a case of wanting to visit places and culture beyond the reach of a 16 hour coach journey. I had some money, but little time for longer journeys. You can't have your cake and eat it.

I have no plans to fly in the future, although I do not think that people need to stop flying altogether either. Travel is good and does not have to be for selfish reasons.

At the end of the day though, I think it comes down to this. Like so many other things we take for granted in the UK, air travel is a luxury. While it is one that more and more of us can afford in this country, the majority of the world cannot, either economically or environmentaly. And it is those people who cannot afford it least who will pay for it first.

Its something to think about before you decide to top up that tan in the sun, make that next cultural trip of personal enlightenment, or go searching for the perfect beach/wave/party - who's going to benefit and who's going to pick up the bill? Is it really nessecary? Is it really worth it? And who for?

If you don't want to see Britain become Airstrip One, click on the link below and lend your support. More info can be found at airportwatch. If you want to take matters into your own hands, the Camp for Climate Action takes places at Heathrow this year.

If you want to read the other side coin, try this. Personally, while I agree air travel needs to be more sustainable, I think it smacks of too much cake munching, and not enough thought for the consequences.

Guardian - Hope dries up for Nicaragua's Miskito
Guardian - Trees vs. Travel
Guardian - Greens angered by £1m flight giveaway
Guradian - Paridise Lost
Georges Monbiot - We are all killers

Conscious comment

'True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing. ' - Socrates

Like most people who start a blog, for some time now I've been meaning to write something down in order to organise and channel my thoughts on the world as I perceive it and the things I reflect on from day to day. This could be it.

Whether I have anything to add to the multitude of voices that already colonise the world wide web is extremeley doubtful (the first 10-15 ideas I had for a blog name were already taken). Whether I post regularily will probably be down to how much time I have to put aside for such things. Considering how long it's taken me to even get started, it will probably be an uphill struggle. Whether anyone else ever reads this remains to be seen.

Whatever form this takes though, I hope that I will be able to provide something readable and thought provoking. If you wish to comment yourself on any of the posts I make please do. The only comment I will moderate will be that which is abusive or unpleasant. I wish to encourage those with views other than or contradictory to my own to challenge or enlighten me as they see fit. The most important part of learning about life is being able not only to see something through anothers eyes but to be able to accept that you may be wrong and they may be right.