Climate Change & The Holidaymaker

So, as you wizz across the sky to your destination, do you think about the 'chemical' effect on the earth's atmosphere?

This blog post is tagged with:

Climate Change Environment Travel Flights Cruising

Do you give Climate Change & Travel a second thought? Is it your responsibility?

There is nothing like walking down that ramp to the aircraft and finding your chosen seat.

The sense that within a few short hours you will arrive at your holiday destination, free of all of life’s stresses, is the reward for saving hard for that precious 2 weeks in the sun!

As you whizz across the wide blue yonder, the earth below looks tranquil and the sky above radiates with different hues of blue.

As you contemplate life below, your view is peppered with the sight of aircraft flying above and below, leaving behind them a smoke & vapour trail from each of its jet engines. 

Even as you cross over the oceans, you may be able to see similar plumes of smoke locked in stasis from the ships below.

When you walk along the ramp at your final destination, you may smell the scent of aviation fuel and oils; you may even notice how the aprons at the airport are pock-marked with oily stains.

Even in your resort you may notice the smell of exhaust fumes from the many tourist buses that ferry holidaymakers to and from from their hotels and the airport; it may even remind you of the fumes and smoke you experience on the roads around your home or city centre.

I know, I get it, you were attracted by the shining sun, blue skies and pristine beaches, but just as everything you do in your daily life at home, your footprint also has a similar consequence even when you are on holiday. There’s nothing scientific about that; it’s a fact.

I think its fair to say that if most people were asked, they would be horrified if they dropped litter or accidentally spilt petrol or oil that would affect their neighbours or indeed polluted the water table. 

At work, people comply with rules and regulations about their handling of chemicals or toxins necessary for their work. 

They would not expect their children to be constantly subjected to fumes from cars in the street; but they are.

There is much debate about the rights and wrongs of Climate Change with industrial and some political interests, as is typical in all calls for action, to label the science as questionable, the tactics as wrong or calling people names, such as “uncooperative crusties”, as our Prime Minister has done.

Into the mix of this debate, not often discussed, is the question of choice. With the question of choice comes affordability.

So for example, do Consumers have a choice when it comes to the type of aircraft they fly on, well no! 

Aircraft are what they are; generically designed and as the Aviation Environment Federation states, environmental technology within aircraft has not been able to keep pace with the growth in air travel and they point to government forecasts that annual fleet efficiency improvements are set to grow at less than 1% between now and 2050.

So can Consumers choose an airline or aircraft that uses a different fuel; well potentially yes, but aircraft using bio-fuels are only at the stage of testing and such a wide-scale implementation appears a long way off. 

Of course there is the promise of electrification, but again, that’s only in the development stages and is again some way off; so Consumers would appear to have little choice.

The second question of affordability doesn’t even come into consideration because the initial question produces the answer of limited or no choice. 

Even in the area of cruising, whilst great regulatory strides have been made to clean up ship engine emissions, we now see that some shipping companies are allegedly side-stepping the rules and in some cases apparently dumping toxins into the sea; again, how could a Consumer know the right choice to make when on the one hand they are presented with information that satisfies their desire to use cleaner transport and then on the other hand there is an industry practice which apparently flouts the rules?

This conflict for Consumers is never discussed or debated by politicians, yet politicians words expect a higher standard from us all.

In light of these issues I decided to meet some of the so-called “uncooperative crusties” to ask them what they thought about Consumers and holidays.

You cannot have escaped the news about the widespread protests being carried out by the members and supporters of Extinction Rebellion, so I took myself to London to see what their views might be about holidaymakers and climate change.

As I walked along Whitehall, I spoke to a number of people. some of whom didn’t wish to be interviewed. But I discovered with some that they had already made important decisions about how they travel and the climate footprint they leave behind. One lady told me about her journey from Japan to Milton Keynes. She didn’t fly, she took the whole journey by train, listing all the countries that she travelled through; an exotic journey. I couldn’t help thinking that for many holidaymakers they would probably love to be able to take such a journey but they have jobs and a limited time off work, so for them it would not be practical.

I was fortunate to be able to meet one of Extinction Rebellion’s spokespersons, Tom Sinclair [Please listen to the Podcast to hear Tom - the link is at the end of this article]. I began by asking him about what he thought about Consumers and their choice to fly; what would he say to them? We talked about the nature of flying, the technology, what is needed, Consumer responsibility but the greater responsibility on governments!

My discussion with Tom brought me back to my initial point: Consumer choice and affordability.

Tom made a valid set of points, particularly that the focus on Consumer behaviour is the wrong focus on Climate Change, if you like, our Consumer activity should be reversed back to those who produce the goods we consume; the producers of products that emit toxins either through their extraction or subsequent creation into that consumer product or service and along with governments, they should be the centre of action on Climate Change. 

The imperative and urgency on Climate Change has been demonstrated clearly by the protestors with one standing up in an aircraft and warning his fellow passengers that we only have 2 generations before a Climate disaster, unless action is taken.

The Aviation Environment Federation state that emissions from air traffic will rise from its current share in the UK of 6% to 25% by 2050; globally it is expected to grow to between 4% & 15%. Importantly they consider that the effect of aviation’s ‘Non- CO2 effect’, that is water vapour and nitrous oxides also ejected by aircraft engines, could double the warming impact of aviation.

Consider also Airbus’s predictions that global air traffic is set to grow by 4.3% each year, requiring an extra 39,200 aircraft, by 2038.

And we should have regard to the expose this week in The Guardian about the polluters, that is the oil companies, industry and those who it is claimed to be working against the science of climate change. Remarkable isn’t it that Industries like oil knew back in 1965, of the likely impact on the earth’s climate from an increased production and use of oil products. Their tactics of private reports, commissioning their own science and a dominating commentary reminds me of another scandal that greatly affected Consumers, that of smoking and the Tobacco Industry.

So where does this leave Holidaymakers?

Well, I think that at this moment in time, we are where we are. I understand that it is confusing for Consumers with the competing voices and strands of information.

I take the view, because of my experience in other areas, that Tom is correct. 

The action of governments, both national and trans-national is needed urgently to address this already beckoning crisis. It is exactly the same problem, in less-critical but nonetheless important consumer areas where similar non-governmental action can be found.

If and when they do take the requisite action on Climate Change, they will do so no doubt with regard to various industries calls to slow the pace, but they should simply point to the fact that industry have played cards to their advantage and to the advantage of economic systems, but the time has come for a reset.

A reset will not happen overnight but it will have to happen quickly and I suspect that some of the solutions that have been advocated will suddenly and miraculously appear, but in isolation, they will not be the panacea to the broader issues of pollution and climate change.

Where I slightly disagree with Tom, is that I do believe that we all have a responsibility, 

It would as you will hear, take a massive change in Consumer habits, by not flying or travelling, to begin to reverse climate change, but that’s not what is needed right now. 

Where I particularly disagree is that I’ve always said that each and every one of us has an individual responsibility. 

I believe that we should play our part, even if we don’t want to join a protest

We should off-set our flights and make our footprint carbon neutral; we should consider whether a train journey is better to take than travelling by car or on a plane; we should ask difficult questions of cruise companies, for example, ‘do you dump toxic waste from your ship’s engine’s into the sea?’.

These are all small steps, but equally important.

Perhaps by even taking these actions we too can join the ever growing number of protestors out there, right now on the streets; isn’t it time that you a Consumer who is in fact a Citizen, be heard by government and industry, about the kind of world you’d like to live in and how you consume in that world?

(The link to this Podcast can be found here).