Sunday 2 March 2008

Planes, planet and planning

On Wednesday morning, protesters from the environmental group Plane Stupid held a protest on the roof of the Houses of Parliament (BBC News: Inquiry into Commons roof protest) against plans to expand Heathrow airport. (After the earthquake that morning, for them to scale the Houses of Parliament, they're braver than me!) Predictably, they were arrested. Even more predictably, their protest was decried by the government, with comments that decisions should be taken inside parliament, not on its roof. But if you ask me, considering some of the decisions taken by MPs in parliament, maybe they should have been taken falling off the roof :-P

Seriously, climate change is a serious issue and does have to be dealt with. From sea level rises threatening coastal regions to worsening famines in Africa, from Hurricane Katrina to last June's floods in the UK, climate change threatens nothing less than the survival of this planet. And, even though it isn't the only cause, aircraft emissions are certainly one of the main causes of the greenhouse gases (such as CO2) which cause global warming.

Banning all plane travel would be rather draconian, as it would reduce people's ability to travel and explore the world. But there are many ways in which it can be significantly reduced, making its effects easier to offset.

For starters, it is crazy that plane travel within the UK is often cheaper than train travel. This is partly due to the privatisation of the rail network, leading to chaotic competition causing inefficiency on the one hand and fat profits for the rail companies on the other. The railways, a natural monopoly, should be re-nationalised (especially when one considers also the deterioration in rail safety since privatisation).

Then there's the needless transportation of goods which could just as easily be produced locally (and sometimes are!), due to unregulated competition between companies, even countries - rather than production and distribution according to need. This is aggravated by the tendency of companies to shift production abroad, where wages are cheaper - causing unemployment in the UK due to factory closures, and CO2 emissions as the goods then have to be transported huge distances to be sold here. This is yet another reason why factories threatened with closure should be nationalised - without compensation, as their owners have effectively abandoned them (and their workforce!)

And let's not forget the emissions from military aircraft - which are often supersonic, leading to greater CO2 emissions. All those bombing raids on Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as killing thousands and f**king up the local environments with the bombs (including Depleted Uranium), are also contributing to global warming which is damaging the environment globally - including the UK and US!

Finally, in many cases, people flying abroad has less to do with seeing the world, and more to do with escaping the British weather. (After last summer - again, due to climate change, who can blame them?) This could be reduced by the investment in British seaside resorts, to provide all-weather leisure and entertainment; I see no reason why Center Parcs-style resorts could not be built near the seaside, encouraging more people to holiday in Margate rather than Marguerita. As well as reducing the production of greenhouse gases, this would also provide employment and regeneration for run-down seaside resorts.

All this could be paid for by taxing air travel, especially first class and business class, and punitive taxes on private planes chartered by the rich. And taxing the fat cat profits of the air companies.

But for now, it seems the politicians' crocodile tears for the environment are unlikely to be matched by effective action, just hollow speeches. And I dread to think of the contribution to global warming caused by all that hot air :-(

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