Saturday, 26 May 2007

No rush to give up flying

Thirteen per cent of Britons say they have given up flying because of concerns about global warming, according to a report in today's Guardian which quotes an ICM poll. And it said 34% and 31% respectively had cut back on short and long haul air travel.

Although the report suggested 13% was surprisingly low it is so staggeringly high as to be wildly misleading.

If it were an accurate reflection of consumer behaviour, airlines would be dropping like flies. Latest figures from the Association of European Airlines show passenger numbers from January – April increased by 4.6% per cent. My guess is that ICM's 13% rarely fly in any case in which case their absence would have relatively little impact on overall passenger figures.

The report did not quantify the likely effect of the claimed reductions in flying. How many flights are you cutting out. One a year or one every now and then?

Whatever the detailed explanations, the same poll shows a higher proportion of think taxes on air travel should be reduced than that which believes they should rise.

This suggests that the green lobby's sustained assault on the consciences of air travellers has failed to have any meaningful effect on consumers who may feel flying makes a fairly small contribution to CO2 emissions and that that abandoning plans for a weekend break in Prague won't do a lot to save the planet.

If so they have a point. I calculate that if all flying from the UK were to cease tomorrow the increase in CO2 emissions from China alone would wipe out the benefit in just six weeks.

No sane observer would deny that the world must to cut carbon emissions – but we need a more sensible debate than that currently surrounding travel. Silly comparisons with guilt about smoking and daft gestures such as flying in economy rather than business (because cutting business class would enable airlines to fit more seats) or finding means to travel to Australia do nothing to stimulate such debate.

Let's look at the pluses of tourism - its contributions to international understanding and its ability to bring quick benefits to poor communities – and weight those against the damage caused by carbon production which remains a fraction of that from road transport.

And while I'm on this theme the constant stream of stories and features from the Guardian, rapping its readers over the knuckles for flying, might be more convincing were if it didn't carry an equally constant stream of advertisements by low cost airlines.


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