Campaigners focus on environmental impact of flights

Nick Kieboom has always believed in doing his bit for the environment: recycling rubbish and buying organic food, for example.

It is scarcely novel stuff. However, Nick has now found a new campaign to add to his list of concerns and actions. He has decided to restrict himself to one flight a year, a cutback in holidays that reflects his fears about aviation fuel’s impact on the environment.

Nor is Nick alone. He is one of a growing army of concerned individuals who have begun to turn away from international flights to exotic hot spots because of the global impact of the current boom in world air travel.

These people have decided that, although travel to Third World countries may bring unexpected boosts to local economies and even stimulate an increase in eco-friendly tourism, the environmental price can no longer be justified.

Alex Goodman, a barrister, has also decided to cut back on global travel and increase holidays at home. ‘With the government planning to triple aviation in the next 30 years, the only thing you can do is to take individual action,’ he said.

This point was backed by Alex’s girlfriend, Rowan Yapp. ‘Flights are now unrealistically cheap,’ she said. ‘It makes it so difficult for people to say no to them. The government should take that decision away from people.’

Such decisions obviously entail sacrifices. Kieboom loves travelling and discovering other cultures, but he feels the environmental issues are now too important to avoid and has already started planning alternatives.

When he goes to Germany this summer, he will avoid the plethora of budget flight offers plastered over the windows of the travel agents and instead opt to travel by train. Next time he wants to go further afield he says he will simply wait until he can: ‘I have made my choices and I have to stick to them.’

Most of these opponents of the nation’s cheap flight boom take their cue from the work of transport specialist Dr Meyer Hillman. He has shown that every passenger on a return flight to New York discharges the equivalent of 3 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

‘That might not seem much if you note that the average British person is responsible for pumping out 10 tonnes of carbon every year,’ added Hillman. ‘However, it is clear that we are going to have to cut our carbon footprints to about a 10th of their current value.

‘We are going to have to face the fact that we cannot go to Australia or Prague or Florida every year. It’s a luxury the planet cannot afford to sustain any longer if we are to have any hope in tackling our current climate change crisis.’

This point was backed by Dr Kevin Anderson, of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. ‘Carbon dioxide released by aircraft represents the equivalent of about 5 per cent of our total emissions,’ he said.

‘While other emitters of carbon dioxide are trying to cut back, the country’s airline industry is rising by more than 6 per cent a year. These emissions are set to double in the next 15 to 17 years.’

As well as the launch of a new Airbus last week, and the opening of Robin Hood airport, near Doncaster, which is scheduled to attract around 2.3 million air passengers by 2010, the British Airports Authority is to spend £6.8 billion improving capacity at London’s three main airports.

Anderson described such growth as unsustainable. ‘This kind of rise completely blows away any prospects we have of dealing with global warming.

‘There are aircraft being designed now that will be in service in more than 50 years’ time and which will therefore continue to pump out carbon dioxide in half a century’s time.

‘The recent White Paper on energy was at great pains to outline the government’s commitment to reducing global warming, but its White Paper on aviation, also published recently, drives a coach and horses through it.

‘The government has triggered a massive expansion of the aviation business without any thought of the consequences.’