Tuesday, 3 July 2007

A Flight Of Fancy

(Note: I updated the passenger statistics in this post and put in proper references on 07/07/07. Instead of watching Live Earth. I feel I made the right choice.)

Slightly teeth-grinding article in the Observer Travel supplement this week. After a great start (two opening paragraphs about the Camp for Climate Action) the article meanders with cheerful incoherence through a mish-mash of statistics and quotes from the Indian government, Airbus, a Kenyan health and conservation project, the British Airline Pilots Association, an engineering professor from Lancaster University, the Tyndall Centre and Greenpeace, before concluding:

"So should we stop flying? If no one set foot on a plane again, it would undoubtedly help to stop climate change - though at the expense of killing off the tourism-based economies of many of the world's poorest countries. But in the real world, with the US and the developing world demanding thousands of new planes, surely we have to take a more sophisticated approach: to choose airlines with greener, newer fleets, and thus encourage plane makers to prioritise environmental performance; to travel to destinations that help local communities rather than destroy them; to take the train where possible; to reduce carbon emissions at home; and, above all, lobby politicians to tackle deforestation and to switch to green forms of energy.

"Do all this, and we can start to cancel flights in the knowledge that it really will make a difference"

Sigh. Once again a well-meaning journalist tries desperately to prove that we can tackle climate change without a drastic reduction in flights. I have some sympathy - it must be a really, really tough thing to come to terms with if you're used to flying off to all kinds of wonderful places as a travel reporter - but the unpalatable truth is that it's a highly destructive activity and if left unchecked will wreck all our efforts to reduce emissions in other sectors. Flying is a luxury - most of the population of the planet have never done it, and never will. There is no sustainable alternative, so we need to do much, much less of it.

For a more clear-eyed viewpoint - and a fantastic example of the self-contradictory nature of the mainstream press - you might want to check out the article about Plane Stupid from the same edition of the paper. Or, if you've got a few minutes to kill, you could join me on a merry journey through rant-land as I make myself feel better by pointing out the main things that are stupid or wrong in this article. Hurrah!

"Some ferries emit more CO2 than planes"

This is true for the high-speed ones with the inbuilt shopping centres which come out worse than planes even when you include radiative forcing (the extra impact from other greenhouse gases that planes emit, and the fact that they're emitted in the upper atmosphere). However, just because some ferries are highly polluting doesn't magically stop planes from being highly polluting. The same goes for inefficient cars and badly-designed trains. We shouldn't be using any of these things. Stupid argument. Next!

"Even if we cut our flights, the rest of the world's flights will still grow massively - India, China, blah blah blah"

Cutting flights in Britain would send a hugely significant signal to the rest of the world. It's hard to think of many things that could send a stronger message about the unsustainability of air travel. More generally, action on climate change must begin with the biggest polluters, and if we want to have any credibility in talking about global emissions cuts with the rest of the world we have to get our own house in order first. The Government's plans on aviation expansion would make it impossible to hit even their own inadequate targets, even using their favoured wacky measuring system of only including UK citizens' outgoing flights (even though, you know, most people do fly back as well). So this argument is pretty weak as well.

"People talk about taking fewer flights but no-one's really doing it, or if they are Ryanair haven't noticed, and it wouldn't make much difference if they did, except that we only need to take a couple fewer flights each per year to hit the Government targets"

Huh? OK, I'm going to ignore all the weird self-contradictory stuff in this article and just respond to the points raised. Clearly, the fact that people have started realising that flying everywhere is bad for the climate is a positive step, and shows the message is getting through. However, any individual action people are taking seems to be being lost amidst the overall growth of aviation. The author of the Observer article enjoys some GCSE maths fun by working out that, on average, five flights are taken per person in the UK per year, and so
to make a 60% cut in emissions "we simply need to slowly wean ourselves down to two annual flights - one return trip". This is misleading in three ways. Firstly, it misrepresents the reality of the IPCC's carbon emissions reduction target: to hit a global reduction of 60% by 2050 will require larger cuts in the most polluting activities like flying in order to allow developing nations some room to develop – unless being able to fly out to one’s Spanish cottage every year is just as important as powering a Tanzanian hospital or an Indian school (this is what Contraction & Convergence is all about). Secondly, it pretends that all flights are the same length. Thirdly, it ignores the fact that UK citizens are not really taking five flights each per year - it is a minority of wealthy people who are taking the majority of these flights. Here are some statistics you might find interesting (with thanks to Airport Watch):

* The richest 18 per cent of the UK population are responsible for 54 percent of flights, whilst the poorest 18 per cent are responsible for just 5 percent (calculated by WDM based on 2006 data from the Office of National Statistics).

* In 2005, 86% of the passengers who used Heathrow were from the better-off socio-economic categories A, B and C1 (my calculations, using data from the Civil Aviation Authority 2005 Passenger Survey)

* The average annual income of people using Stansted (where low cost carriers account for nearly all the flights) is more than £50,000 (
Civil Aviation Authority 2005 Passenger Survey)

* Each year, 60% of UK residents do not step onto a plane (MORI poll 2001).

The article claims that 3% of people have stopped flying and 10% have cut down because of "environmental concerns". If this is true, fantastic - but this will have little impact on the overall flight numbers if it doesn't include the people who are actually taking all those flights. The continuing boom in airline ticket sales suggests that it probably doesn't.

This is why campaigners like me aren't just asking people to stop flying - we're demanding that the Government halt, and then reverse, airport expansion. The only thing absolutely guaranteed to reduce the number of flights in the UK is a reduction in airport capacity. If we don't seriously reduce our flying, we are absolutely guaranteed to miss all our CO2 reduction targets, destabilise the climate and turn the planet into a floods-droughts-storms-and-resource-wars lucky dip of disaster. It's that simple.

“Flying is only 1.7% of global emissions – deforestation is much more important”

There's actually a good point hiding in here somewhere - deforestation is a massive problem, and we don't just contribute to it by purchasing forest-unfriendly products (burgers, palm oil, Government office refurbishments); the UK Government's role in the
WTO, IMF and World Bank helps to encourage, finance and defend disastrously destructive projects all over the world. We do need to take action on this. However, there are some excellent reasons for the current campaign focus on flights:

Flying is growing rapidly, and we have the opportunity to stop it before it gets completely out of control. Flying is done by the wealthy, which puts the onus firmly onto us. Flying is an activity that produces benefit for a tiny minority but has a proportionally huge impact on the climate. When we try to figure out what a sustainable, low-carbon lifestyle would look like, flying is too polluting to fit into it as more that a once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime luxury. In addition, one of the major technological solutions being suggested to reduce the impacts of flights – biofuels – would massively increase deforestation. The UK Government is proposing a huge airport expansion that would wipe out all of its own climate change targets. If we don't win this one, everything else becomes much, much more difficult.

“Stopping flying is less important than insulating your roof”

Clearly, this depends on how much you fly! But more importantly, we know that there is a limit to how much greenhouse gas we can put into the atmosphere. This means there is a limit to how much we can each emit per year (somewhere between 1 and 2 tonnes of CO2e per capita by 2030, depending on whose analysis you go with). This means a massive, across-the-board cut in the UK’s emissions – we have to cut our energy use AND our flights. We can’t choose between them. The only difference is that no-one in the UK needs to fly, whereas everyone needs a warm home.

"Techno! Techno! Techno! Technofix!"

The absolute best case airline industry scenario is that aeroplane fuel efficiency might increase by 1-2% per year.
Planes have a lifespan of about 20 years and so are replaced too slowly for efficiency gains to take effect at even this slow rate. Air journeys from the UK are currently increasing by 4% per year. No-one has any feasible plans for running planes on anything except kerosene, or kerosene with a splash of biofuel (bye bye rainforests).

“Flying isn’t a luxury activity – it’s vital for tourism in countries like Kenya”

This argument is fairly awful for three reasons. Firstly, unchecked climate change will do far worse damage to countries like Kenya than the loss of tourist revenue, and the fossil fuel industries that fuel the planes are already destroying the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in the Global South. Secondly, the only way to cut global emissions whilst still allowing poor countries to develop is for the wealthy countries to make deeper, earlier cuts – with flights being top of the list of luxuries we can afford to lose. Thirdly, the equitable solutions to climate change that social movements in the South are demanding – renewable energy transfer, local and regional food and energy networks, the halting of extractive industries, community control of land and resources, a moratorium on biofuels and destructive offsetting projects – have the potential to provide far greater benefits to the people of the South than tourism ever has.

OK. Enough ranting. I'm going to try to condense some of this into a probably-doomed-but-worth-a-go letter to the Observer.

D xXx


Anonymous said...

Ergh, Danny, I think your blog makes my head hurt with guilt. Unfortunately, there's only one real way to get back to America in any reasonable period of time, and we have our plane tickets booked for home already.

Also, what would you recommend when the only ferries available are those high speed ones? Chris and I are planning on going to Ireland in August, and as the train/ferry combo is doubly good in that it's actually less expensive than flying, we were going to take that. But the only ferries available are the big car ones. I guess the ideal would be not to travel at all, but as Chris and I aren't planning to come back to Europe any time soon, it seems like a shame not to get it in while we can.

Danny said...

Hey Shannon,

Actually, the big slow car ferries are much more efficient than the high-speed passenger ferries (which work out worse than flying) so you're taking the best option available in terms of getting to Ireland.

As for flying to America - the obvious alternative is to stay here with us for ever and ever - don't leave us, Shannon! We need you! Actually, thinking about it, America probably needs you more. Go sort them out. But don't forget us...

Don't feel guilty. Feel angry instead - angry at the incredibly polluting and economically backward (plane tickets cheaper than train fares?) nature of our travel infrastructure. Feel angry about the crazy self-contradictory neo-liberal capitalist system that demands more and faster transport of everything and everyone even as it wipes out millions of people's lives and livelihoods. Use that anger to fuel your campaigning and change things for the better.

We all still have to stop flying, though, so we should start doing different kinds of travel from now on - getting to know all of the amazing places that we can reach from our homes by train and bus, and planning for longer, slower more meaningful and experiential overseas trips by ship. My friend Ed is currently going round the world by ocean and overland public transport, and writing about it here: http://www.lowcarbontravel.com.

Enjoy Ireland - it's beautiful over there, and Guinness is now 100% vegan. Hurrah!

Danny x

io said...

hey danny,

i saw your name linked to the Climate campaign on Indymedia...and i automatically thought "chivers delivers" Yep! your man uni election slogan was indeed catchy!

Anyway, thought to pop in and say hello and to join your rant - why the hell are train tickets more expensive than planes? It really makes me angry cos it sees they make everything impossible for greener transport. Also i run my car on biofuel but now i got deforrestation guilt. Any advice?

xx io

Good luck with your campaigns

Danny said...

Yup, that's one slogan I'm stuck with for life. Thanks for stopping by to say hello.

How bad your biofuel is obviously depends on where it's from. I'm sure there's a recycled chip fat collective in Manchester, supplying the most climate-and-forest-friendly biofuel around - even if there'll never be enough to power everyone's cars (unless we turn every shop into a chippy and all become too obese to fit into cars anyway), it's still a good option if you can get your hands on enough of the stuff.

See you at the Climate Camp?


io said...

yeah, makes sense but biofuel is not big in manchester - i only know of one biofuel pump, and when i asked the guy behind the counter he did not have much info. Green Gold is closed now, which i think they used to use rapeseed oil rather than recycled chippy oil - but i am not sure - i might be wrong bout that. Anyway, it'll be great to have recycled oil.

Anyway, yep im planning to come to the Camp so if i spot you i'll come and say hi


Anonymous said...

Um you are aware that Tesla invented an electric car that could run for days at 90 mph without having to be recharged? Oh yea he did this in 1905 or something. You should be aware that our lives are dominated by a small group of rich people. One of their most powerfull means of control is the control over the energy industry. The oil is all monoplized by I believe 7 companies that work together. These same oil companies are supporting this man made global warming idea. I mean, seeing Al Gore make a movie on this subject should have been a big red flag for you. Although you aren't american so maybe you don't know how heartless and evil Al Gore is. Look Danny, this planet has been going through changes before people, and it will after we are gone. For humans to think that they can contribute to significant climate change models that have domineered the planet for eons before human civilization existed betrays a supreme level of arrogance and self-importance. To think that making people stop flying or changing to bio fuel will change things is laughable and you are ignoring real problems that you could actually help people. Why don't you go after criminals like the Rothschilds instead of normal people who want to fly on a plane? Give me a break.

Anonymous said...

Stablize the climate? When is our climate ever stable? It's not natural to have a stable climate. Our climate is always changing, it's not a bad thing. Weatherpeople can't accuratly predict the weather in a given week, but you want me to worry about temperatures 100 years from now when we have no way of knowing what will happen? 100 years ago people probably worried about where we would put all the horse crap, not realizing that horses would be replaced with cars.

The modern Enviromental movement is just the new face of eugenics. Just wait for the one child policies for the enviroment, killing old people for the enviroment, and killing handicapped people for the enviroment. This looks like the direction the enviromental movement is headed in if you care to study reality. You think the Nazi's just went away after world war 2? Yea right. I'm from the USA, and I know that our country funded hitler, Bush's grandaddy prescott bush and rockefeller funded that lunitic. America is run by Nazi's and it's easily provable if you educate yourself and stop worrying about issues that don't matter like global warming. When Bush starts talking about global warming, this should be a red flag to you. When the superbowl talks about global warming this should be another red flag. Obviously big oil is behind global warming. 80 years ago people were worried about global cooling, this is lunacy and nonesense.

Anonymous said...

dude, the enviromental movement has done just as much damagae to the lives of millions in kenya as has the oil industry. I don't think you are a bad person at all , but what you are doing with your life is evil.

Anonymous said...

Look thinking climate denial is all sponsored by Exxon is wrong. Do you know that David Mayer de Rothschild is campaigning to help with the global warming problem? You know that the Rothschilds are ridiculously rich and have oil connections? Not everyone who is against propaganda like global warming is making money of oil Danny. Newsflash, there are such a thing as conspiracies, lone gunmen do not execute presidents. Don't listen to me though, it would destroy your wonderfull world. Just go back to your LIEfe.

Anonymous said...

Polar bears won't go extinct either as their have been higher temperatures in the past and the polar bears still lived through it, but don't let that change your mind about the polar bear propaganda. Oh no, I suppose propaganda was a thing of the past that went away? yea right. It worked in the past and it is working now.

Danny said...


Thank you for filling my blog page with your angry, rambling, bewildering words. It makes me feel all warm and special inside.

You've written so many things that I'd love to respond to - I honestly don't know where to start. However, I rather suspect I'd be wasting both my time and yours, as you seem to be coming from a different place to me, a fascinating place where:

* Global warming is a myth invented by oil companies, presumably because they were bored of being so powerful and wealthy and wanted a bit more of a challenge ("Hey, why don't we pretend that our core product is destroying the basic conditions required for life on Earth?" "Brilliant - I'll get on the phone to failed presidential candidate Al Gore, he's clearly the spokesperson of a generation");

* Accepting that we, as a species, are utterly reliant on complex natural systems and meddle with them at our peril is the height of "arrogance and self-importance";

* Climate change as a global threat is COMPLETELY COMPARABLE to having too much horse dung in the streets of nineteenth-century cities;

* All climate change activists are really granny-killing Nazis with secret eugenics labs in their basements;

* The environmental movement has done as much damage to African people as the oil industry (especially that terrible, heartless Wangaari Mathai - can you believe all the damage that she's done to Kenya?);

* Polar bears are getting out the sun cream and bikini wax in gleeful anticipation of the HOT HOT weather to come.

Although I am grateful to you for letting me know that I'm not a bad person (even though my LIEfe is totally evil) I have a feeling that we're not going to find much common ground on these issues.

Please don't be offended if I don't reply to your posts in future - I feel my time is probably better spent getting out there in my "wonderfull world" of impending climate disaster and pursuing my "evil" plans to do whatever I can to minimise the damage.

By the way, you are right that "climate stability" isn't a very accurate term (which is why I try not to use it) and that we should be very suspicious of the motives of oil companies and big financiers when they talk about global warming (they're usually trying to salvage their legitimacy - and thus maximise their profits - in the face of disaster). I've never denied these things. However, I'm not talking about "the weather 100 years from now". Climate change is happening right now, people across the world are dying right now, and we need to take action right now. Which is why I don't have any more time to respond to your increasingly bizarre (though entertaining) comments.


Anonymous said...

Well George Bush gave a speech about climate change. He has oil connections. Maybe it's possible that oil companies have goals aside from money, hard to believe from ordinary people like us, but certainly not impossible.

Yes I think it's kinda arrogant to think that we can have an effect on the temperature of the earth when you consider the immense size of the sun.

The horse dung analogy was made to show you that we can't anticipate the technology 100 years from now or what life will be like.

I'm not the only person to link global warming to eugenics. Michael Crichton think the same thing. I never said all, I think people at the bottom of the enviromental movement have good intentions, but the people at the top do not.

Polar Bear propaganda is real. Polar Bear SOS has a video of youtube with children talking about Polar bears. One of the kids claims that polar bears have to swim too far cause of melting ice and drown. If you look at wikipedia it says "Polar bears are excellent swimmers and have been seen in open Arctic waters as far as 60 miles from land" 60 miles? are you kidding me they will drown? That's a bald faced lie.

It's shouldn't be called global warming. It should be called solar system warming, as Mars ice caps are melting as well. The sun looks like it's heating up as all the other planets are heating up. Now are you really gonna tell people to change their lifestyles when it's entirely possible that the sun is the cause. If the sun is the cause people can't do anything about this. I don't want to have to change my life based on a theory. I'm not gonna live my life based on fears.

You are right I am angry and I won't be offended if you don't respond, thanks for listening.

Anonymous said...


I have rambled a bit. Not like me ;)

I would dearly llke to reposnd to some of the above points but this is your blog and I will leave it for you to deal with. I will be restrained. :D

I was wondering if you had seen the latest Royal Society Proceedings A report? Interesting stuff and CERN are testing Svensmark's theory apparently? Should put a nail in the coffin of the "it's the sun stupid" argument that seems to have gripped the public and popular press of late. Though it won't.

I think we need to play up technology a bit more. Radical technology though. Not a cleaner type of plane, an entirely new form of travel or rather information exchange. *shudders* dare I say it... Paradigm Shift? Oohh buzz word nasty nasty lol But for example, communication technology improvemnts and mass marketing of them to eliminate the need for alot of business trips as a really simple starter. And I am still hearing that IBM keep transporting particles around. OK we might be a bit more complex piece of information than protons and so on, however I predict that by 2050 IBM TELEPORT will go on the market. It will of course by superceded totally by Microsoft Teleport 2050 which will never send you to the right place and completely erase you from existence about once a week and you face the constant dilema of whether to defrag yourself in public or not but hey!

Seriously, radical new ideas that have an environmental philosophy at their inception and R&D stages would surely be better than trying to patch up systems that just don't work? I know there are fears about it but nanotech offers a huge number of environmental benefits and throughout its development has had environmental concerns thrown at it which it has had to address, as an example? They can produce solar cells using nanomaterials that are (I think and can't be bothered to check but Google the all knowning God will tell you) about 6 times more efficient or something like that. So I am not agreeing with George Bush's argument of "it's OK there's technology going to be developed that will stop climate change" but that investment in new technologies can work hand in hand with efforts to well abandon these old technologies and give a really credible option in exchange.

On a more downbeat note I know it does raise profile and so on but the concert thing made me cringe a bit. Even though Metallica played. The fact they probably flew in by private jet (each) is the bit that makes me shudder a bit. Do you agree the public are becoming put off by celebrity endorsement of what is really a bloody complex scientific issue? Or am I being a grumpy old man?

Anyway groovy poetry cat how's life in the sunny (is it sunny down there I dunno) south? How was poetry things?

Speak soon :)


Anonymous said...

Brilliant Greg.

I love Francis Galton too.

We should clone Adolf Hitler to save us from global warming and then he can also solve overpopulation with eugenics. I can't wait for the super race, it will be a glorious day for all.

If this plan doesn't work maybe Prince Phillip will be able to reincarnate as a virus to kill us and solve overpopulation, as he said he wanted to do.

Nature rules! Humans can suck it!@

Anonymous said...

Maybe the Moon is the cause of global warming.

As far as Earth’s climate is concerned, the lunar movement is a major influence. To understand it better, imagine a settling pot-lid as it is spun on its flat side on a table top. It wobbles around and around. Imagine a point on the rim. As the lid settles, the point will wobble around in an ever-flattening sine curve. That’s what the Moon does around the Earth’s ecliptic (plane of orbit around the Sun). As it moves it drags more or less of the atmosphere with it, spreading the atmosphere further over the Earth’s surface at the high end of the cycle and confining the atmosphere to a narrow band within the tropics at the lower end. The warming effect is that of milder summers and warmer winters, and at the moment we are well past the midpoint. Global-warmingists will point to the higher temperatures and claim that they were right all along. But up till now they haven't wanted to look to the Moon. After the last high end in 1987, temperatures did start descending especially around 1991/2, but most failed to notice.

Through its considerable gravitational force the Moon moves the atmosphere two and a half times more than does the Sun. Scientists agree that the Moon's gravity is greater on us than is that coming from the Sun, to the extent that the Moon moves seatides with very small contribution from the Sun, but a dwindling few still claim that the Sun causes the weather. Whatever the Sun does, the Moon does two and a half times as much.

Like CO and N2O, CO2 is heavier than air. By how much? The molecular weight of air is 29, that of CO2 is 44, nearly double. CFCs have a MW of 100. It is therefore utterly impossible for these super-heavy gases to rise to form a 'greenhouse cover.' Wind and diffusion can transport gases but that is to do with mother nature, not man, and the warmers are claiming a rising of gases is taking place due purely to humans and quite apart from wind, thermals, tornadoes and whatever else the processes of nature will do. Our question is, what can possibly make heavier than air gases rise 20 miles to get above 99% of the atmosphere and significantly increase the constant water-vapor-dominated greenhouse cover that enables life to continue to thrive at an average temperature of 13-15degC on the surface of this planet?

Anonymous said...

J’Accuse BAA Speech

Whether or not BAA win their injunction today, the Camp for Climate Action and direct action against BAA will go ahead.

We accuse BAA of abusing these people’s right to freedom of expression.

We accuse BAA of pushing for the expansion of airports in the full knowledge that it will lead directly to climate change and indirectly to the deaths of millions.

We accuse BAA of lying to local people, having first promised an end to the expansion of Heathrow in 1978.

We accuse BAA of being climate criminals. A crime for which they cannot be punished under UK law and which the government is actively supporting them in committing.

Today we are sending out a call to anyone that believes that BAA are the real criminals in this case, that knows that governments and corporations will not solve the problem of climate change but that it is down to ordinary people to find the solution, that sees that we are living beyond what the earth’s resources can sustain and need to create major social change to live sustainably.

We call on anyone who wants to find a way back from the brink of climate catastrophe to come to the Camp for Climate Action near Heathrow Airport from the 14th to the 21st August. To join a day of mass action against BAA and the corporate climate criminals on the 19th, and to learn together how we can turn this situation around.

The responsibility to tackle climate change lies with us all.


The injunction's under the Protection from Harrassment Act 1997, intended to protect vulnerable women from dangerous stalker ex-boyfriends. It's insane that one of the best protected sites in the UK could feel harrassed by peaceful protesters outside its perimeter, let alone a member of the RSPB with a balloon - one of the named prohibited items - standing on a Finsbury Park tube platform.

Aviation really is that extreme - to be in favour of expansion pits you against such radicals as the RSPB and the National Trust.

but it's not just about expansion. The science is clear that we have to drastically reduce the number of flights from present levels. Until BAA show how they can operate without actively and knowingly contributing to the deaths of millions, they can and should be a target for protest.

Anonymous said...

Sir the science is not clear.

These same governments and corporations created this problem so they could stir up your emotions and manipulate you. They created this problem so they can offer their solution.