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A flight that almost cost me my marriage

Justin Rowlatt | 20:44 UK time, Friday, 4 December 2009

Here's the challenge: how do you illustrate, in a television report, the impact of flying on the environment?

It isn't as easy as you might think.

Three years ago, I pondered the problem with the Ethical Man producer, Sara, for a couple of days before we had a moment of genius.

Our solution infuriated my wife, enraged my colleagues and alienated a large section of our audience but I still stand by it.

So what was this brilliant idea?

We decided that I should illustrate the impact of flying by jetting off for a weekend in Jamaica.

I know. That's what my wife thought too.

And to make matters worse I filmed the moment I revealed our plans to her. You can watch my marriage disintegrate here.

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Please tell me if you think our approach was misguided.

For the record, here's my defence. We reasoned that if you watched our film and thought the idea of a man calling himself "ethical" flying off to Jamaica for the weekend smacked of hypocrisy, it might make you reflect on your own behaviour and consider flying less.

And, because we were keeping a tally of my carbon footprint, we reckoned the record of my flight would serve as a reminder of just how carbon-intensive flying is.

I did say this at the time but, judging by the avalanche of outraged emails we received, it fell on deaf ears.

The truth is, flying is the single most intractable climate change issue.

There is a solution to most of the other stuff - we can cut our energy use, change how we generate power, drive electric cars, eat less meat etc... but there is no alternative to flying.

fish226.jpgAnd how we love to fly. A least one foreign holiday a year now seems to be regarded as pretty much a right of citizenship. Which is why politicians are so worried about stopping us doing it.

Why is flying such a problem?

Let's start with the good news: a couple of years ago I looked into the numbers and found that modern jet aeroplanes are actually a very efficient form of transport .

The jet engine is actually one of the most effective ways to convert the energy from fuel into thrust. The best jets are 37% efficient. By contrast modern petrol engines are around 25% efficient while a finely tuned diesel will achieve, at best, 32% efficiency.

How does that translate into actual fuel consumption?

Take a look at some figures: my old car - a two litre petrol Saab 9-5 estate - uses 8.6 litres per 100km.The most efficient cars do better than that. The Toyota Prius, for example, is much more frugal. It uses 4.3l/100km.

So what about aircraft? The average jet plane now uses around 4.8l/100km per passenger - just a little worse than a Prius with no passengers. But the manufacturers say modern jets are much more efficient.

Airbus claims it makes the most efficient aeroplane currently flying, the A380. It says this behemoth uses just 2.9l/100km per passenger. (Here's the dull bit: that's the fuel consumption when you assume a three class configuration operating at capacity with 525 passengers.)

So far as I can tell, the latest jumbos are similarly efficient - it is hard to be certain because the manufacturers do not publish comparable figures - but Boeing's 747-8 uses 3.7l/100km per passenger when operating at 70% capacity. (Assuming it is configured to hold 470 passengers in three classes.)

engines_afp226.jpgSo, if jet engines are more efficient than car engines why do they get such a bad rap?

The anwer is pretty obvious - we use planes to travel extremely long distances. That weekend in Jamaica racked up just over 15,000km. That's pretty much what the average British driver would do in an entire year.

The other problem is that planes release their pollutants high up in the atmosphere where they have an even stronger greenhouse effect. The process is known as radiative forcing and means aircraft emissions are reckoned to be almost twice as damaging as emissions at ground level.

So, combine the distance you fly with the effect of radiative forcing and you can see why our appetite for air travel is so worrying.

You can do as I did - get rid of your car , switch to energy efficient bulbs , eat locally grown food - but take one holiday flight and you will erase all your careful carbon cuts.

So what are the alternatives?

Here's the rub. As my figures show, even if you did take the car instead of the plane you would still emit huge amounts of carbon, because of the vast distances covered in most journeys by air.

I've already done the maths on trains and buses. If you pack them full of passengers they will offer some carbon savings but, like cars, they leave the tricky little challenge of crossing oceans. Boats will do that job but there's a hefty carbon price to pay there too.

jumbomoon_afp226.jpgAnd these alternatives ignoring perhaps the most important feature of flying: it is extremely fast.

Lots of environmentalists regard speed as some kind of crime but much (not all) time spent travelling is time not spent doing something else - often a productive activity. So there is an economic cost to slow travel.

So what's the answer?

It's a tough one isn't it? Do write in if you've got any good ideas.

In the meantime how about this: establish a price system that accurately reflects the impact that carbon emissions have on the environment? That way the price of a plane ticket would include all the costs of our holiday.

It would mean we would all fly less, of course. But, given the problems my weekend in Jamaica caused me, maybe that would not be such a bad thing.


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  • Comment number 1.

    For the short term (until the tech improves), you are correct, the only way around it, is to fly less. (preferably not at all)

    There are actually be many ways existing technology could be implemented to provide trans-oceanic travel, carbon-free. But traveling half as often (but for twice as long), could make moving at half the speed easier.

    A lifting-body wing-shaped plane, could get extra lift from a small lighter than air chamber, or super slippery top. That extra boost would mean that the wing (plane really) would be smaller and thus easier to push though the air. Still current batteries and capacitors will need a lot of improvement, before they can power a 100 person jet up to 500 KM/hr.

    Or we could just build two (3 or 4) long launching tunnels and ramps (for every major city), and use magnets to get electric planes airborne.

    Or if you have loads of time and energy, you could sail (in a boat) carbon-free across the ocean.

    Or we could just finish the job (that was interrupted by the failure 80 years ago to ban private motor vehicles) of building an interconnected rail transportation for all the people of this planet.

    Only the will is missing.

  • Comment number 2.

    Given the amount of concern over carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft why do our international climate debate groups insist on flying from one freebie conference to another in city after city? Flying the President of the USA to Copenhagen, for example, involves much more than even one plane - Airforce 1 - as the extra security personnel etc must also be flown to the destination city. Crass hypocrisy when we have quite capable and efficient video conferencing so that the respective individuals can stay at home and still talk to each other. Like everything in life it appears that 'cuts', 'savings', 'economising' etc will be done by us - the ordinary people who are already over-taxed, poorly represented and collectively ignored - and will not affect the 'important' people.

  • Comment number 3.

    I'm getting married in two weeks in Penang, Malaysia. My fiance is from the USA so his mum and dad, sisters, and some family friends are coming over. I'm going to soothe my conscience by putting an appropriate amount of carbon credits on our wedding gift wish list and if nobody buys them for us, we're going to buy them out of our cash gifts (I love being Chinese, people just give you cold hard cash).

  • Comment number 4.

    Like so many other articles on "climate change" (the new politically correct label for global warming) and carbon footprints, you talk primarily about the downside of jetting around the planet, that it is somehow about Western greed and waste, putting lifestyle ahead of the environment. But what about the economic BENEFITS of travel to the Caribbean or Pacific islands, or to Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, or even to the former Soviet bloc. If everyone were to stop flying there, it would be catastrophic as they rely on tourism so greatly.
    My house has double-glazing, loft and cavity-wall insulation, I turn off lights and electronic gadgets when not in use, my gas and electric consumption has been reducing year on year for 20 years (although not the cost), I have a small garden full of plants and huge trees that consume CO2, I cycle rather than drive where practicable, and yes I like to enjoy a holiday or two now I am retired. I have no plans to change things.

  • Comment number 5.

    Happy to give up foreign holidays if everyone else does. Takers?

    We don't need fewer aircraft, just fewer people wanting to fly.

  • Comment number 6.

    What nonsense.

    As detailed in a recent BBC report, climate change sceptic scientists have asserted that 98% of greenhouse gas is... water vapour. Nothing else, but water vapour. Other scientific reports suggest that anything between 66% and 85% of supposed greenhouse gas is nothing more than vapourised water. Not exactly the big nasty of CO2 - but rather, something that forms a natural part of our environment, and something (H2O) that simply cannot be 'increased' by human factors.

    Couple this, with other scientific suggestions - and this appears to form a greater consensus among scientists - that our global output of CO2 from oil sources combined, including all vehicles, does not even come close to the level of methane output just from cows.

    I am not a scientist, and therefore I cannot say for certain precisely what is going on. All I can do is examine the wealth of scientific understanding that seems to suggest that global warming is definitely not man-made.

    Unlike something as culturally contentious as evolution, the scientific community simply has not reached a consensus about this. And that, you must acknowledge, has serious impact on the credibility of global understanding and sympathy over global warming, as well as the total fecklessness of international governments when forming a decision based on part-truths and unverified understandings.

    Until there is a consensus, consider me a happy, sound and peaceful man when flying to South Africa from Glasgow later this month. 10,000km there and back, here I come!!

  • Comment number 7.

    As you point out, flying is currently a very low percentage of total emissions, about 3%. There is at least a 50% improvement in fuel efficiency over the next thirty years, it comes from improved operations (more direct routing, less time on the ground etc.), improved airframes and improved engines. Those curvy bits on the wingtips are not just there to make the new aeroplanes look pretty nor are the fancy curves on the fans of the new engines. Add to that the fact that flight testing of second generation biofuels is well advanced and the green flying-phobia looks to have less of a case. 50% improvement combined wiht 50% biofuels means that we could have four times as much flying without any increased impact or the same amount with a quarter the impact or anything in between.

    BTW if you accept that the various climate models are reasonable, you will have a problem with the higher estimates of additional forcing from high level emissions. The models work pretty well without including them. You could join the climate sceptics and reject the models, otherwise you could cool off on aviation and go and insulate your loft!

  • Comment number 8.

    I do not feel guilty about flying, as I do it at most once a year, and everyone deserves a break. Those trying to oppress us should instead concentrate on the huge number of unnecessary business trips made. I suspect the majority of these 'important' meetings could be conducted using the excellent communication technology we have at our disposal.

    Also in the UK, much of the domestic flying could be reduced by having direct long haul flights from Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. Why have 10+ flights a day from LHR to Japan, when there are none from these airports? I know the stock answer to this is that LHR sells more business and first class seats, so we then have to decide whether money or carbon emissions are most important to us. I think I know what the answer will be,

  • Comment number 9. could stay home. Global travel is responsible for all sorts of nasty things from pollution to spread of disease to contamination of eco-systems with invasive, non-native species, etc. Humans are disgusting creatures really. No wonder the planet is trying to get rid of us. Unless you are a diplomat or your job absolutely requires you to travel (because of technology, many jobs no longer do), flying is about the single most irresponsible activity you can do.

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 11.

    The worlds population is only going to grow, and with it, the need for flying.
    Perhaps we could all encourage the major (and not so major) airline companies to implement carbon offsets for all flights?
    Raising ticket costs might also help dissuade the "unnecessary" flights ... heck, why not put a hefty price increase on flights that aren't of upmost importance and leave the 'meaningful' flights as they are (expensive enough!).

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 13.

    As with most things the effects of us flying less are highly complex.
    Take eating local food for example, sounds good in theory, but what about all those people in Africa/S America counting oun you buying their food who now can't afford to make a living, the only way Africa can become less dependent on aid is to sell more stuff to the "1st world", remove this opportunity and we'll have a whole continent of people accusing us of ruining them. quite justifiably too.

    The same with air travel. Cut it and you will destroy an awful lot of cities, and even countries who rely on tourism, not just that but if all those Brits stay home instead can our road infrastructure really cope with us all going to Cornwall for 2 weeks instead? Then think of the impact building all the extra hotels would have on our country to house the extra people, the impact of the holiday activity places, the extra restaurants to feed the holiday makers and soon this "simple" cut means we could actually cause more problems than we solve in this country, never mind ruining the places we can't go.

    As shown yesterday by climate protestors in Wales asking for more to be done after objecting to an off shore windfarm, if environmentals can't agree amongst themselves what's to be done, what hope for the rest of us!

  • Comment number 14.

    All these eco-warriors make me seethe with anger. Usually middle class jobworths who can afford the new fares while feeling smug in their angora cardigans. I'M NOT giving up my foreign WARM / HOT holidays - do YOU hear ME? If you want to, please do so - I will not stop you. I live in a modestly deprived area of south London called Croydon, as I don't drive, and as I don't do the countryside, and no more will I try to exchange the "pleasures" of central Croydon for the "pleasures" of central Manchester, Bristol, York or Bath. I've tried all of them, and would happily swop these "pleasures" for somewhere hot and somewhere less expensive for more enjoyment.

    Perhaps some of the problem is the constant harping by these eco-warriors that we are all doomed to die which is switching me off, and also the Government's insistence to tackle all climate change with ever more taxes which convinces me that this is one massive con-trick. I convince myself my contribution is to have the remote by my side and switch the TV off anytime the BBC or ITV do the "doomsday" effect of global warming.

    Mind you, eco-warriors, there is one plus point you might care to consider - no travel, less immigration. Sell that one to the people - it just might just work...

  • Comment number 15.

    Why not sail there in a sailing ship or float there in an airship?

    This weekend trip was just a journalistic stunt and your article is a stunted argument. And really why not stop all passenger flights and we'll see if the world stops turning? I'll bet it keeps on turning and I'll bet a lot of business actually gets done on the internet with video conferencing like it promised it would do and encourage local industry and local initiatives instead of relying on all the financial eggs in one rotten basket in the City Of London.

    And really .... NOW it is now time to treat man made climate change deniers with the same law as holocaust denial. There's no time for their military industrial complex, building industry, and agro chem industry sponsored bigotry any longer.

  • Comment number 16.

    Climate Change isn't that hard to understand. It's about sustainability.

    Millions of years of solar energy were stored as carbon in the form of oil, gas, coal etc. In just a few years we humans have used loads of this energy allowing some of us to do things that would have been impossible without it, like travel all over the place at increasingly fast speeds. We've got 'rich'. All this energy has also meant that loads more people can stay alive longer, burning ever more carbon. Great in the short term, but when carbon is burnt some of it is released as carbon dioxide, which is adding an extra tog or two to the duvet that is the Earth's atmosphere. Add too many togs and we (and all the other life we share the planet with) start sweating.
    So we have to find other ways than by burning carbon, if it's not already too late, so that we can continue to live the 'rich' lives we enjoy without adding yet more togs to the duvet. And/or we have to get used to the idea of doing less (becoming 'poorer'), and/or we have to learn not to make so many new people.

  • Comment number 17.

    I cannot understand why flying, which contributes 2% of so-called 'greenhouse gases', is such an easy target while other activities which have a far greater impact ion the environment never attract any criticism at all. The rainforests are being destroyed at an ever increasing rate; deforestation is a far bigger cause of CO2 emissions than aircraft and if the forests vanished that really WILL wreck the climate. Not only that, because of deforestation and human overpopulation, we are also losing other animal and plant species which is absolutely tragic. Why are the so-called climate experts and eco-worriers, such as 'Ethical Man', not addressing deforestation?

    While I have no doubt the earth is warming (of which human activities are but one cause) what makes me so annoyed is the fact the Government is quick to slap taxes on us in the name of climate change, but are these taxes going towards green power generation and alternative ways of powering aircraft, cars, ships and so on? I wouldn't object if they were, but to read, a few weeks ago, that the Chancellor admitted that airline taxes weren't, after all, intended as a green measure, despite the public having been told they were, but were instead used to bail out the banks then people have every right to question it and be angry about it.

    I have no children, not do I intend having children - overpopulation is the greatest threat to both other species and to us. I don't eat meat and I don't drive as much as I used to. However, I have no intention of giving up travelling and that includes long-haul flying. I have to get out of the increasingly depressing UK once in a while.

  • Comment number 18.

    Personally, I'm about to purchase a part-share in a private jet because a). I hate airports and b). unlike the BBC (or at least the majority of it) I consider AGW to be the biggest con of all time and I will not participate in this hysterical "we only have 17 days to save the planet" fervour.

    I expect this comment will be 'moderated' out of existence because the good old BBC can't be seen releasing too many of these sceptic comments for fear that it might show that the MAJOROTY of people in this country are sick to death of having this rubbish thrown down their throats.

    Get some real (rather than ficticious) scientific evidence first.

    Yours (as a fully paid up member of the flat-earth society),


  • Comment number 19.

    "Like so many other articles on "climate change" (the new politically correct label for global warming)"

    No, that would be more scientifically accurate.

  • Comment number 20.

    Flying less is important. We can also offset the impact when we do fly. How about including in your travel budget a donation to protect an acre of rainforest? Or incorporate travel with volunteering in a country you are interested in?

  • Comment number 21.

    Haven't been abroad for 20 years so preach it to me! hypocrisy is saying you shouldn't do what we did it's wrong! Or conversly saying you should do what we did. Maybe I don't want to! To me ethics and morality is about whether you harm or heal. What we know is wrong is deliberate harm to others.

    Some people might say that christianity is a fallen idol, when it says do to others as you wish others would do to you. The end result of wrongdoing is death and the end result of well doing is life.

    I do not see how that is wrong or an erroneous way describing life in action. The murderers go to jail because they killed someone and so lose their lives when the doctor who saves a life is appreciated and thanked and so he is encouraged. He is happy.

    It is impossible for the word of God, Jesus himself to be wrong.

    The problem with calculating emissions anyway is the same as the problem in the wider economy. what you do doesn't count unless it's measured but lots of people do work that is unpaid. So you might be offsetting small amounts of carbon that you measured but missing emissions from elsewhere.

    The end result is that you have not achieved the goal of actually reducing the total amount of carbon dioxide, and 'other' greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

    It's another way of saying we can have everything we want but passing the cost to others. That is what the basic problem in the economy has been and is and will be.

    If you say that if you do x,y and z then you will be doing better than we did, then that is not hypocrisy.

  • Comment number 22.

    Dare I mention biofuels? Some experiments with biofuel powered engines have been carried out, and with promising results. Sure, producing the biofuels is not carbon free, and the net effect would not be zero, but it'd be an improvement on the status quo. At least, in the short term, there is a lot of promise in biofuels reducing the impact of aviation: the modifications to jet engines would be comparably small.

    In the long term, the answer may well have to be hydrogen powered aircraft engines. Hydrogen which, in turn, would have to be produced on the ground, probably through nuclear energy.

    There are a number of ways in which governments could accelerate the development of such propulsion systems. There could be competitions with financial prizes for engine manufacturers (the Ansari X-Prize did, after all, lead to privately funded rocket vehicles capable of reaching the border of space / leave the atmosphere), or there could be a heavily subsidised promise of free hydrogen fuel for 10 years (say, 2018 to 2028) for any passenger aircraft fueled purely with hydrogen. Believe me, if airlines could rely on ten years of free fuel, there'd be a noticeable demand for aircraft manufacturers to give them planes that could capitalise on that offer - and they'd be willing to pay a hefty price tag on those planes. One single, medium sized government (eg the UK) could probably have a massive influence with such a promise: It would be worthwhile for an airline to replace all its planes based in that country with hydrogen ones, and the replaced ones could be used for growth and expansion elsewhere, or sold.

  • Comment number 23.

    I was worried you would suggest including the 'environmental' damages to the cost of the travel the moment I read the title of the blog. We live in a very ambitious planet and people's travel-affordabilities vary from 'never-left-my-town-in-my-life' to 'seen-the-whole-planet' to 'vacationed-in-the-moon'! How about costing the airline tickets higher for customers with a Bentley, and moderately for customers who drive Toyotas and Hondas, and 'dirt-cheap' for souls who ride bicycles to work?

    The concept of making sacrifices for future generations is totally reversed here. We are making sacrifices for both the well-being of our future generations and for the careless, perverse treatment of the planet by the generations we are taking over from. And taking orders from. While they still drive around in their Bentleys and Rolls-Royces, flying private jets for birthday parties, and wearing fuzzy animals around their necks!

    If its not a unified, self-motivated effort, its not a fair and productive effort.

    P.S. I belong to a region somewhere between the Bentley and the Toyotas, and these comments are not to be disregarded as 'just another lament by someone complaining about the unfair division of wealth in the world'.

  • Comment number 24.

    Do climatologists really walk around in the real world in white coats? You guys were so fake they didn't bother to send anyone down.

    Let's pretend to be scientist. How do we do that? We wear white lab coats. That'll fool them.

    They're called lab coats for a reason. Scientists don't wear them to meetings.


  • Comment number 25.

    When the politicians stop taking hundreds of staff on rich junkets to talk about a myth, I will stop taking modest holidays in the sun, and experiencing foreign locations and the real friends you can make in other countries.
    The "Greens" are the modern version of Luddites.
    Since the innovative Wright brothers invention changed the world, politicians may like to overtax us, (and what an opportunity global warming myths give them), but as people have modern aids, like instant communication,and access to the real truth of things, control by any politicians becomes the "last refuge of scoundrels", (which is what a lot of them are anyway).
    And if a disagreement about the alleged "climate change" can break up a marriage, perhaps there wasn`t much love in the arrangement in the first place.
    Suggest, as a simple start you sit down and watch the documentary series about the origins of the world by Aubrey Manning.This explains, step by step how the earth was formed, how the climate works, and how little effect man`s activities have.
    Rather than just listen to idiots like Johnathan Porritt, who calls people who do not agree with his point of view "liars", suggest that, if the aforesaid programme does not convince you, try reading "Theoram on Climate Forcing" by Malenkovitch.
    Get yourself more educated on our planet, and less embroiled in political dogma, put about for reasons of tax, and possibly control.
    Consider that, in 1902,manned flight was by baloon or kite only.
    Consider how far we have travelled in science since then, and the strides civilisation has made.
    In only 1936, Imperial Airlines catered for only the rich, and but for massive development of aircraft, would still only cater for the rich and influential.
    The aircraft therefore is an instrument of democracy. As may be noted, this concept does not exist in the "global warming/Green movement", which, using religious zeal, condemns those who hold opposite views, and, as the article implied, also comes between man and wife!
    Well, this is not new. Facist men & women betrayed their neighbours to secret police for similar motives in the last century, (for their beliefs.)So what else is new??
    So don`t worry about having holidays or flying to see relatives across the world. Leave her (or him) behind if she/he really cannot agree with flight as a transport system. For this system is fuel efficient and democratic, unlike the undemocratic antics of the climate change mob!
    And if you live to see 2050, ring me as you realise that your 2009 ideas were wrong all along!!

  • Comment number 26.

    I think a few points need emphasising.

    Firstly, there is no practical alternative to long haul flights. However it would do no harm to encourage passengers to find out how to reduce their footprint by avoiding low occupancy flights, first class seats, inefficient planes etc.

    Secondly, the most damaging journeys are journeys to work. Many people take their cars to work, park them in the car park and drive them home. If they were to take the bus / train they could use this time efficiently and make a significant contribution not only to CO2 reduction, but reduced use of non-renewables, safety, noise pollution and traffic congestion. So there are many reasons to take action - not just CO2. But, as with air travel, if you own a car it is cheaper to take it to work than to leave it at home and take the bus. The falling cost of car travel has also encouraged people to live further away from their work places, so it is a double whammy! Again, government has to be brave and sort out the economics. One way would be to encourage companies to charge employees for parking in the office car park and use the proceeds to subsidise green transport, improve energy efficiency or install renewable generation like wind and solar.

    Thirdly, I am surprised that sea travel is inefficient. I would love to see the economics behind this. I have looked at using ferries to get to the continent and Ireland but the prices for foot passengers are astronomical.

  • Comment number 27.

    My take as a failed Mechanical Engineer from Birmingham University....

    What causes inefficient fuel consumption is friction. Ther's lots of friction in cars between rubber tyre and road, much less on the railway train with shiny steel wheel on shiny steel rail, and virtually none at all on aircraft. OK some friction if the winds not blowing exactly behind you but not very much.

    So why are planes bad ? Well if they fly at say 100' they would be a very efficient means of getting around the country, - problems stopping I agree, but they would use less fuel than any other means of transport except foot or pedal bike.

    But of course the lower the height the more the turbulence, which is why planes try to fly as high as possible.

    Mind you the big waste of fuel concerned with flying is all those drivers zipping round the country returning luggage lost by your airline (over 100 such vehicles at Heathrow alone)!! Maybe thats what we should concentrate on.

  • Comment number 28.

    Future technology is the answer. Or modified old technology, that is.

    Turtle Airships, that is rigid airships with an outer shell that is a lightweight polymer, are the future of sustainable air travel.

    Basically, they're airships with loss-proof helium air bags (no Hindenburg incidents as they don't make use of explosive hydrogen) that use a hybrid drive:

    The top of the airship is covered with solar cells, they can achieve the altitude to get above the clouds, and they have a system of fuel-cells that store energy for night travel, and a diesel back up for emergency purposes.

    They'd be much more spacious and comfortable than traditional airplanes. Travel would take slightly longer, but because of their shape and construction, they would be faster than the airships of old.

    And who wouldn't mind an airplane where one could walk around without being crammed into those awful seats constantly?

    And they'd be much safer than airplanes. Because the vessels are lighter-than-air, an accident means that they float slowly to the ground rather than crashing into it catastrophically. Terrorist attacks would be ineffective. A bomb-blast would damage part of the vessel, but would be hard pressed to bring the entire vehicle down. Again, the "crash" would be a slow drift, followed by the passengers being put on life boats or the ground in an orderly fashion. The vital parts of the craft could be secured in order

    This is why the US military has been experimenting with rigid airship technology. Toying with the idea, really. It is theoretically possible to build a rigid airship that could take multiple hits from enemy fire and remain undamaged. Theoretically, of course, this would cost more than 500 black hawk helicopters. The concept of a lighter-than-air floating fortress will probably never occur: the armor would weigh the craft down too much for it to be effective, and the vehicle is *huge* and therefor hard to miss when you're shooting it.

    But for passenger applications (faster than ocean travel, ecologically sustainable, more comfortable) "turtle airships" seem to be the best bet.

    Theoretically, that is. Because none of the companies prepared to build them have received the right amount of investment yet.

  • Comment number 29.

    1) I wonder whether your comparison is correct: you quote flight fuel consumption in l/100km/passenger whereas you use l/100 km for cars. Therefore, an average car carrying 2 passengers with a fuel consumption of (say) 7 l/100km uses 3.5l/100km/passenger - very similar to a plane. But those fuel consumptions are measured under optimal conditions, ignoring, e.g., standing in a traffic jam for 4 hours on your way to France, with the A/C on full power.

    2)The solution for now is: Don't go far but spend your holidays in France/Italy/Spain and fly instead of driving.

  • Comment number 30.

    I'm very green concious, but, travelling by plane is sometimes something we have to do. For instance, I wanted to go see my partner, who currently lives far abroad from England. I had no alternate method of getting to this country without driving through Iraq. Or passing the Horn of Africa, or Suez Canal.

    I decided to fly, for fairly obvious reasons. I just can't "stop flying". I can stop taking holidays though, not that I ever started!

  • Comment number 31.

    With World Wide Web, why bother to go to another Country ?
    Google Earth allows me to see into most back yards in the World.

    Never needed a Passport, nor do I have a Driving Licence. Plenty to see in the UK. But how about fewer aircraft, but those still in service carry more, like the Airbus A380.

  • Comment number 32.

    I enjoy my holiday abroad, how many world leaders, polticians and hangers on are flying to Copenhagen, any where else in the world?

  • Comment number 33.

    Who really cares?? its a tax con

  • Comment number 34.

    This obsession with flying shows that underneath it all the eco-worriers real problem is with modern life - modernity.

    Flying is great. Fly to a business meeting - to a family occasion or to a well-deserved holiday. A great way to get around quickly and cheaply.

    Yum yum.

  • Comment number 35.

    The article has a very eye-catching sub-title for me. Maybe this is because you actually wanted the attention.
    I have to say that I find it exagerating to talk only and always about the holiday-flyers. Why never mention the business people (I'm sure you know a few of them) who get off a plane only to get onto another - not once or twice in a year but monthly, weekly, daily! How can we ever forget that this is work for some people and business is a key driver in the flying industry? Or why not even question Stephen Fry who goes and makes pathetic programs like 'Last Chance to See' flying all around the world to film endangered animals, as if that would save them! How about having some perspective?

  • Comment number 36.


    An important chapter in the Green-Bible describes personal exemption. So it's OK to fly to - say Denmark if you are doing The Gaia's Work.

    Or fly to the Arctic if you want to film some ice melting.

  • Comment number 37.

    If you agree that the richer you are the more resources and energy you consume, how do you reconcile this with ethics which should be like laws and applicable to everyone regardless of wealth?

  • Comment number 38.

    Can I suggest that you focus on what really makes a difference. Airplanes contribute between 2 - 3% of total CO2 emmissions globally. Take the flight to Jamica, in fact take 3 of them and whilst you are there consider eating a lot less meat. Close to 50% of all green house gases are produced in the farming of animals for consumption.

  • Comment number 39.

    Flying creates a very small proportion of CO2 emissions, but attracts a very large proportion of human envy. It certainly should be in the list of priorities for action, probably somewhere near the very bottom.

  • Comment number 40.

    Expand your sample base and come visit "Clean, Green New Zealand", and while you're here plant a pretty pahutakawa tree, then everything will be peachy, right? (What’s a few tonnes of soot between friends?) As enjoyable as your essay is, and it is, I still can't swallow the claim that those noodle-bulbs actually save so much energy. On the rule that "If it sounds too good to be true..." Even the construction of the device is so complicate and they don’t last like the old Edison bulb, not by half. Still, your scientific method is enviable.

  • Comment number 41.

    Ah, I get it now.

    I don't have to reduce my carbon emissions I just have to spend three hundred quid a year to offset. woot.

    Thanks for letting me know this.

  • Comment number 42.

    As far as the green house gas emission math goes, if you don't eat meat for six months, you earn the right to circumnavigate the earth once on a jet plane.

  • Comment number 43.

    I fly once a week from Leeds to Southampton and back again in the same day and you know what ? i don't feel guilty i don't actually think it matters what we do or what effect we have . . . This planets been around a lot longer than we have and will be around a lot longer after we have gone.

  • Comment number 44.

    We all already know options that will help us to reduce our footprint on the world, we all seem to be opposed to doing it though. Most people would agree that people use their cars too much, yet no one is willing to cycle to work or god forbid, walk. The other issue that seems to get brushed aside is the fact the world is quite clearly overpopulated, the optimum human population was predicted to be around 4 billion worldwide and we are fast approaching 7 billion. Even if we half our footprint now, as the population increases we will find the same problems as we are now, no matter how efficient our engines become.

  • Comment number 45.

    How much carbon does a single Eurofighter kick out and for that matter how many gallons to the mile does a Challenger II. spew out?
    There again how much methane is 6 billion humans emmiting into the atmosphere each year? The list could go on and on. Goverments and activists should take stock before throwing out their "papist" claptrap.

  • Comment number 46.

    Interesting choice of destination, Jamaica.

    As are those selected for most eco jamborees.

    I once mentioned to an American friend in a conversation on crime rates that California seemed to 'enjoy' a high % of odd murders.

    His reply? 'They may be crazy, but at least they know enough to be that way where the weather's nice'.

    I guess dumps don't have nice conference centres. Or the delegate wives.. er.. spouses... might not fancy coming along for the duty frees. 35 from here, 20,000 from there.

    Quite a lot of credibility of some behaviour change advocates with their public might hinge on folk doing what they say others should do. Or not.

    I, for one, don't get in a plane for fun, even if it's to visit the in-laws in Singapore. But next time we do, I'll be sure to explain that it's actually to illustrate a point. Or something.

  • Comment number 47.

    What a load of rubbish. All based on the assumption (backed up by dodgy CRU so called science) that CO2 causes Global Warming.

  • Comment number 48.

    Unfortunately, what takes priority now, is sharing one's views that manmade climate change is real. One might choose a vacation spot specifically based on international tourist presence to do this. (Miami comes to mind) If one can educate others, maybe even convert (especially an American) skeptic, THAT would count for more savings than the flight itself. Staying home and sharing ideas with a little group of like-minded conservationists, will not work, because this is a global problem. If the degree of skepticism remains the same any one person's conservation efforts will be for nothing.

  • Comment number 49.

    Have I missed something? When did God (or whoever/whatever you all believe in)give us the right to fly whenever and wherever we like? Was it at the same time as we were given the right to get in our cars on a Saturday night, go to the pub, drink six pints and then drive home again? Yes, sadly I am old enough to remember the fierce arguments put up against the introduction of the breathalyser when it was introduced back when cars had square wooden wheels and petrol cost 30pence a gallon (Yes I did mean 30p a gallon). We all now accept(well, most of us) that this is about the most antisocial thing you can do.

    So, it is about time we all got used to the notion that flying anywhere is also pretty antisocial. One longhaul flight(for no reason other than "I can so I will go there") produces pretty much the same amount of carbon per passenger as you will use in the rest of your activities in a year and, because that carbon and all the other greenhouse gases (including water vapour) are released at 35,000 feet their effect is doubled - so that's two years of doing nothing else to make up for one trip to Jamaica.

    So don't tell me you can't give it up, tell the person in Bangladesh who has just lost his home and livelihood to yet another hurricane or, better still, tell it to the people in the Maldives next time you are there, because the islands won't be around for much longer if you don't stop and THINK about what you are doing to the planet. Yes, the Maldives are disappearing below the rising waters of the Pacific Ocean.

    It's really quite simple. If you have the slightest feeling for the future of this planet and all who live on it, flying for pleasure is unsustainable and the sooner governments stand up and say so the better.

  • Comment number 50.

    On the issue of carbon offsetting it really is a very daft proposal as outlined by using 'cheat offsetting'. Effectively paying somebody else to stay faithful to a partner to counteract your unfaithfulness... daft right?

    Youtube clip explaining just that, and how seriously some people took it.

  • Comment number 51.

    The thing that makes flight the most difficult to remove the CO2 from is that the mass of the plane is a critical factor, meaning high-energy-density fuels like kerosene are favoured.

    There is however one fuel combination that is capable of much higher speeds and emits zero CO2. It's been tested hundreds of times and is compatible with a hydrogen economy (hydrogen produced from nuclear/renewables etc.). I'm talking about rocket fuel (2H2 + O2 -> 2H2O)!

    In the nearer term, before we travel on space planes, I'd just suggest tackling the CO2 emissions *as we can*. There is a finite about of biofuel that can be produced, so reserve that firstly for powering planes, while cars and trains can go electric. [All the above assumes electricity production has already been dealt with.]

  • Comment number 52.

    I think you should all go to the mountains and go take a look at the impact that the subject of this debate has on the environment. In the name of research of course!!!

    In my 14 years for frequenting Chamonix in the French Alps, I've seen glaciers that once stood within touching distance, retreat at least a hundred metres back.

    Very sad, but true!!!

    This is one of the reasons amongst many that I have been working on and recently launched a website called Mountain Rideshare.

    Do yourself a favour n take a trip to the mountains! Get married there if you like. Take a look at some of the beauty in all its snowy glory before you can't.

    Oh and don't bother flying if you can help it. Try

  • Comment number 53.

    I find it interesting that in the climate debate the item that takes the most criticism is air travel, air travel contributes 2% of global carbon emissions. Why aren't people focussing on much higher contributors which make up the other 98% like energy production/shipping etc.

    Flying is an easy target but I think people really need to start focussing on issues that can really make a change rather than making a form of transportation that contributes so much to global GDP a scapegoat.

  • Comment number 54.

    I’m repeating information I’ve posted before, with some changes to reflect new information:

    At noon on an average clear day at mid-latitudes, solar radiation is 1000 watts per square meter.

    If a North American homeowner uses 1 megawatt-hour per month at 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, their monthly power bill is $100. This would be typical for an apartment dweller, a bit low for a single family home.

    Combining the population of the US (300 million) and the UK (60 million) and dividing by an average of 2.5 people per home is 144 million homes, which rounds up to 150 million nicely.

    American motorists drive about 40 miles per day, and there is one car per adult. Britain is probably less, but using the American number yields about 270 million cars times 360 days times 40 miles or 4 trillion miles per year.

    A house using 1 megawatt-hour per year uses 32 kilowatt-hours per day. Divided by the 16 hours people are up and around, this is 2 kilowatts continuously. When electricity is used for air conditioning and heating, this is divided by 24, and comes out to a bit more than 1.25 kilowatts.

    150 million homes times 2 kilowatts is 300 gigawatts of power demand. US power generation capacity is closer to 1 trillion watts, or 1 terawatt.

    1 trillion watts divided by 1000 watts per square meter is 1 billion square meters. 1 billion square meters divided by 1 million square meters per square kilometer is 1000 square kilometers. The square root of 1000 is 31 kilometers or so, times .6 is less than 20 miles. So at 100% conversion efficiency, daily peak demand could be met with a surface area one fourth the size of an average American county.

    Since total solar exposure over a day is equivalent to about 5 hours of peak, one has to multiply this number by 4.8 to meet day to day demand, or at this point 1.25 counties.

    ‘Cheap’ solar cells made with thin-film printing technology are about 11% efficient. Therefore we multiply the 1.25 counties by 9 to get the surface area needed to convert at existing yields, or 12 counties.

    Another way of looking at this is that an average American house is about 1800 square feet, and with 2.5 people living in it each person uses less than 750 square feet (75 square meters). 32 kilowatt-hours per day divided by 5 hours exposure is 6+ kilowatts, and at 11% conversion efficiency this requires 60 square meters or 600 square feet of surface area to power the house.

    Keyword search ‘$1 per watt solar panel’. At least two companies claim they have passed this cost barrier.

    A car driven 40 miles per day is using the equivalent of about 12 kilowatt-hours of electricity. In a two working adult family, this would be 24 kilowatt-hours per day. So on top of the 600 square feet required to gather energy for the house, this couple would need another 500 square feet to ‘recharge’ the cars, if they were electric. Only 700 square feet of roof area is left after that for other purposes.

    In areas with electrically powered mass transit, the extra rooftop solar could simply power the streetcars and subways.

    A car driven 40 miles per day is 15,000 miles per year, or 750 gallons of fuel at 20 miles per gallon. A trip to Jamaica is 15,000 miles round trip. Using another 250 square feet of rooftop to gather the energy for the vacation is sufficient for one person. To bring the spouse and kids, however, one will need correspondingly more. On a family/homeowner basis, we’re now at a total of 1750 square feet. However, making a hydrocarbon fuel from electricity results in about 30% efficiency, so instead of adding 625 square feet, it is necessary to add 1875 square feet, or more area than the average house covers. The overspill would have to either cover patios and driveways; or parking lots, warehouses, schools, or supermarkets.

    Keyword search ‘transform carbon dioxide into methanol’.

    Various methods have been proposed to do this since the mid 1970s. The significance of methanol is that it breaks down into 2xH2 and CO (hydrogen and carbon monoxide), otherwise known as synthesis gas, at about 600 degrees. Synthesis gas is used to make long chain hydrocarbons, including jet fuel, using FT synthesis. This is the technology Germany and South Africa used at various times to make oil from coal.

    While the energy gathered from rooftops is the ‘net’ consumed by the vehicle, the synthesis costs are several times that of the resulting fuel. Thus making jet fuel would require 3x the energy actually consumed by the jet on it’s round trip.

    At $1 per watt, a 6Kw house would need $6000 invested in solar panels, which would take 60 months or five years to pay back at $100 per month. A car using 12Kwh per day would need 3Kwh of recharging capacity, or $3000, divided by 1200 miles per month divided by 20 miles per gallon at $2.50 per gallon is $150 per month. Payback on the recharging component of an electric car is 20 months, if everything works out perfectly.

    A family of three would need 2250 gallons (times six pounds) of jet fuel to make the trip to Jamaica, or 13500 pounds. Jet fuel is a mix of c6, c12, and c16 hydrocarbons, so it’s safe to say the average is a 26 hydrogen, 12 carbon molecule, with a molecular weight of 170.

    The weight of the CO2 that has to be converted is therefore 12 molecules times a molecular weight of 44, or 524. At a ratio of 144 (the carbon component) to 524 (the CO2), we need 39,300 pounds (or roughly 20 tons) of CO2 to make the corresponding jet fuel. If it is necessary to use three times as much energy to synthesize the fuel as it is to use it, then the 20 month payback on the electric car now expands to 60 months, or $9000. Dividing the $9000 by five years is $1800 per vacation in fuel costs, which wouldn’t surprise anyone, but a lot of people would probably settle for a hop across the Channel instead.

  • Comment number 55.

    Firstly, thank you to the moderators for allowing my comments through and apologies for the appalling spelling of "MAJORITY". However, reading other comments here I would say that I have perhaps understated the point.

    It would appear that the VAST MAJORITY of people think the whole thing is a con.

    But I guess when a politician sees a tax-raising band-wagon there is no way on this God's earth he/she is not going to jump on board with both feet.


    Mr. Carbon.

    ps: Anyone else read about the total number of limos and private jets on display in Copenhagen this week ? Laugh - I nearly wet myself....!!

  • Comment number 56.

    I saw a very interesting documentary the other day saying how man-made global warming is all a LIE. And it was very convincing.

    I urge all of you to see it, it's called The Great Global Warming Swindle.

    The real scientific data has been surpressed!! See the documentary! And before you think it's just another "crazy nutty conspiracy theory", actually it's not, the documentary comes from a respectable source. Go check it out on Google or YouTube.

    The upshot of all this is that you dont have to worry about climate change or greenhouse gas emissions anymore! Fly wherever you want to go and dont feel guilty!

  • Comment number 57.

    I am so angry that my license fee goes to paying for this kind of subliterate feature that contains a mix of poor science and unbalanced politics - and is dull with it. FFS BBC, this is supposed to be a news feature.

  • Comment number 58.

    I would then encourage people to watch 'the great global warming swindle' swindle which was shown on Australian tv. Unfortunately the only place I have found to watch this is by downloading it from thepriatebay. It reveals some of the misquotations in the original film as well as other interesting snippets. You do need to have watched the great global; warming swindle first though.

  • Comment number 59.

    there is an aspect to this issue of 'carbon footprints' that i've not seen discussed anywhere. regardless of 'climate change', it is relatively simple math that, for every molecule of CO2 which is formed, there is one less molecule of O2 free in the atmosphere. atmospheric CO2 has clearly been shown to be increasing. this would necessarily be at the expense of O2. biology 101 has it that most creatures, including humans, require O2 for their existence.

    every time you burn something, be it wood in your fireplace, gasoline in your automobile or jet fuel, that's just so much oxygen which is no longer available for your own body's use.

    even a slight diminishing of available O2 can have a significant adverse impact on human physical and psychological vitality.

    something to think about it.


  • Comment number 60.

    Most desire is mere illusion

  • Comment number 61.

    How refreshing to hear the skeptical view expounded in these pages! I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where such comments would get one bounced from any arty cafe, pronto. To question Global Warming in these parts is heresy, akin to questioning the divinity of Jesus in front of a Southern Baptist.

    I would be completely on-board with the green crowd if only they kept the argument simple: getting our energy by burning fossil fuels is crazy. It can't continue forever. Efficiency is good. Less is more.

    But no, the argument has to take on a quasi-religious pomposity that makes everything we do wrong. Driving, flying, eating meat, shopping at WalMart - all heretical activities. In earlier days we used to burn people at the stake for such non-compliance.

    My advice to the greens: Tone it down. Cut the hubris. And play the cards that you have, because we're calling your bluff.

  • Comment number 62.

    A quick youtube video which picks apart some of the problems with 'the great global warming swindle'

  • Comment number 63.

    All this is rather academic considering that oil is going to become scarce and expensive in the not to distant future

  • Comment number 64.

    Its never just that simple. The world infrastructure has been built around the fact we do fly. Think of all the third world places and islands who rely 100% on tourism. Business still needs flying. We can do so much on the internet but its not a substitute for being there. The future lies in developing technologies, more efficient fuels and maybe alternative means of powering jet engines. Hysterical " we all must stop flying" is not the answer. Many 100,000 of jobs will be lost. Airlines will cease to exist. Economies will suffer and more people will lose their livelyhoods.

    We need to get away from this panic mongering and sit down and invest in development in a level headed manner. Nothing going to change overnight,. This is about a gradual changer from fossil fuels ( which will run out anyway) to alternative energy, more efficient and lower emission engines.

    Everyone calm down. ( From one one very annoyed airline pilot).

  • Comment number 65.

    Not exactly the big nasty of CO2 - but rather, something that forms a natural part of our environment, and something (H2O) that simply cannot be 'increased' by human factors.

    Not sure if here is a hint of irony in your comment; but in actual fact if you remove all CO2 from the atmosphere we'd all be dead, virtually everything would be dead. Life, in its current form, cannot survive without CO2. The definition of organic chemistry is:- a discipline within chemistry that involves the scientific study of the structure, properties, composition, reactions, and preparation (by synthesis or by other means) of hydrocarbons and their derivatives. Hydrocarbons are compounds which contain Hydrogen and Carbon (and sometimes other elements).

    By the way you breathe out air containing 40000ppm (parts per million), currently the accepted figure for "normal" atmospheric content is about 380ppm. If CO2 is declared a polutant (as in the USA) we'd all better watch out.

  • Comment number 66.

    Carbon offsetting is such a scam. It's the papal indulgence of the 21st century...

  • Comment number 67.

    There is only one way in which we will be able to continue the happily self-centred, competitive, way of life that we have evolved over many hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Reduce our population as fast as humanly possible. 2 billion would be a nice target.

    Any population scientists like to put some numbers on how long we would need to settle for one child per person to get there?

    No amount of tinkering with carbon levels, alternative energy sources, or genetically modified foods will get us past the problems we face in the next 50 years. They will all prove to be impossible to apply justly, counter-productive, or threaten our well-being in some way (the human attention span is way too short for nuclear power; and are we really smart enough to genetically out-think evolution?).

    Reduce population. Everything else with prove to be just too complicated.

  • Comment number 68.

    For what it's worth:

    @ Comment 6 - aviation-induced water vapour from contrails is responsible for cirrus cloud formation, which some scientists argue has a greater impact on climate change than CO2. I wouldn't really say that this water vapour is a "natural part of our environment"

    @ Comment 27 - virtually no friction on an aircraft?! Lot's of friction is generated by the contact between the moving aircraft and surrounding air. In fact, this very contact, which generates skin friction drag makes up about 40% of the total aircraft drag...and high drag means high fuel burn.

  • Comment number 69.

    The other problem is that planes release their pollutants high up in the atmosphere where they have an even stronger greenhouse effect. The process is known as radiative forcing and means aircraft emissions are reckoned to be almost twice as damaging as emissions at ground level.

    Where Ever did you get this from, there is no scientific evidence to support this.

  • Comment number 70.

    I think it's a bad idea to drop planes like they're something filthy right now. New technology is what will make them more efficient but no one will pour the amount of time, manpower or resources needed into a form of transportation that no one uses. After all, we wouldn't have the hybrid (at this point in time) if no one thought of the internal combustion engine first.

    I think this is just one of those things where we have to be patient for the technology to catch up with what is needed (while still nudging to make sure that such projects are worked on).

  • Comment number 71.

    You ask me: "how do you illustrate, in a television report, the impact of flying on the environment?".

    I answer: "you don't". Instead, you illustrate, in a television report, the impact on a television reporter of first finding that his plan to fly across the world infuriated his wife, enraged his colleagues and alienated a large section of his audience, apparently because they all came to belong to some sort of cult that believes that if a man exhales, a polar bear drowns, and then finding that this cult is all some gigantic hoax, tax scam and power game perpetrated on the gullible.

  • Comment number 72.

    As pointed out in an earlier post, the elephant in the room is the unsustainable global population. Now there's a taboo topic! The more people there are, the more of the earth's resources we burn and the more CO2 we produce. We really need action on all fronts if we are to solve our problems in a civilised way.

  • Comment number 73.

    I have no qualms about flying at all. One major point that nobody appears to cottoned onto is the fact that most people fly off to warmers climes. This being so means that! One is not using ones car at home and using public transport when abroad. The heating in your home is turned down. The lights are turned off, cooking is nonexistent. In my particular case my shop is closed. Therfore no heating or electric is being use. To sum up! I am only using the carbon that I save by not being at home. This applies to a great number of people who go abroad for there holidays. Therefore we should make flying cheaper and should encourage people to go abroad and lift all these stupid taxes. It could increase carbon emissions. Not reduce them

  • Comment number 74.


    Why not look at the ethics of the Copenhagen Jamboree - with 20,000 delegates flying from all round the world staying in posh hotels, eating MEAT.

  • Comment number 75.

    It is generally accepted that her in the 21st century we have a few more factories, cars, trains and aircraft than were around in the 16th century. It is also generally accepted in the scientific community that temperatures in the 16th century were around three degrees higher than they are now. Yet this same community continues to push the idea that modern means of transport and manufacturing are the cause of "global warming".

    The fact is that the climate has been changing cyclically ever since the Flood. It gets warm, it gets cold, it gets warm again. Big deal. It is NOT man-made.

    We used to hear scare stories about the hole in the ozone layer. What they didn't tell you is that the "hole" was found by accident, we don't know how long it's been there, we don't know how big it should be, we don't know IF it should be there. By the way, it's been shrinking for the last few years.

    The only truth behind the global warning myth is that governments are using it as an excuse to wring more taxes out us.

  • Comment number 76.

    Have they heard about video conferencing ?

  • Comment number 77.

    How did you get this job?
    "is ethical to fly "? Get a Life !!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 78.

    I think there are two reasonable steps that can be taken to reduce air travel emissions

    1. Make sure people know the UK is an exciting and varied place. Our culture is obsessed with the idea that abroad is better, but few people ever think why. If I was an evil dictator I would make people sit an exam on places to visit in the UK to be allowed a passport for lesiure purposes. Advertise wonderful places that can be reached in a couple of hours on a car or train. The Isles of Scilly are nothing like what you expect England to be, and the tropical rainforsts I've been to weren't that different from large British woodlands.

    2. Fly a few large planes instead of lots of small ones. Look at flights between Geneva and London. There are probably about 20 a day, all of those on fairly small, inefficient planes! Some routes can only justify small planes, but not Geneva-London, and there must be other similarly popular ones. I believe the problem is that Geneva's runway isn't long enough to take the big planes, and any talk of extending airports tends to get a negative knee jerk reaction from environmental groups, but I think it would be worth trying to convince them.

    But well done on a realistic and well balanced article. I am a little fed up of some (not all) of the eco-brigade making totally unreasonable demands in a needless agressive way (such as telling me I must not fly ever, despite all my family and my boyfriend living in another country) which is more likely to make people think reducing emissions from air travel is too unreasonable to bother with than look for ways in which it can be done.

  • Comment number 79.

    I feel sorry for your "Ethical Man" as he frets and worries about his flight to Jamaica. He should just look at what is going on in Copenhagen where supplies of limousines for delegates to the climate change conference are so short that they are having to be driven in from Germany.

  • Comment number 80.

    You've convinced me.

    I'm going to cancel my foreign holiday and fly to Copenhagen to eat lobster.

  • Comment number 81.

    One solution is heavier-than-air flight (i.e. Zeppelins). Zeppelins fly at half the speed, but a fraction of the carbon impact. So you'll be in the Caribbean after a day's flight instead of half a day's flight, but in a more comfortable environment. Instead of arriving in the evening and going straight to bed, you arrive in the morning rested (and one fewer nights on the hotel tab).

    For tourism and freight, heavier-than-air flight is a total waste of carbon.


    Dr. Jürg Gassmann

  • Comment number 82.

    What are you blathering on about?
    "...much (not all) time spent travelling is time not spent doing something else - often a productive activity. So there is an economic cost to slow travel."

    Productive/economic activities are not inherently good, in fact, are quite likely to be bad for the environment. I'm not saying flying is good, but that doing nothing is often better than doing something productive as productive activities usually mean burning oil/exploiting third world in some way.

    So, in the above argument, you're saying "sod the environment, I need to burn oil to move fast, otherwise there'll be an economic price to pay", which is a strange thing for an ethical person to say.

    I agree with the chap who stated that desire is an illusion. He's right. Compassion is the way forward - compassion for humans and the planet. What is truly right for us humans is truly right for the planet and all that live on it. Think on and think deeply.

  • Comment number 83.

    Taxes, we have so many of them anyway and so much is wasted (bailing out banks, paying compensation for civil servants incompetence etc.) and also without digressing too into another huge debate the whole nuclear program coupled in party to that of the military.
    Nuclear, supposedly the big saviour of the earth its 'no co2 emissions and no pollution a marvel. except when you look back at where it comes from, what happens to the ore. Although plutonium uranium and the like are very energy rich fuels huge amounts of ore are needed to be refined to make it into a suitable grade for power stations, which in turn let it be used in nuclear weapons (research it if you like).
    This refining process, energy intensive, powered by fossil fuels, producing emissions etc. isn't the answer. Also the transport of the refined product, or the ore to the refinery or the waste from the plant aren't taken into consideration of this no co2 emissions.
    The land it is mined from, huge areas of generally western Europe are obliterated for large scale open cast style mining, villages and people moved then the land left abandoned and inhabitable. The appalling wages of the people who are down the mines, exposed to radiation, working long hours.
    And thats without going into what happens to the nuclear waste once its reacted.
    So with so much clearly wrong with nuclear why is the government planning to 'invest' so much money (£3.7billion on sizewell B just to install) to it when it could be spent developing cheaper technologies which actually have a pay back time instead of a lifespan.
    Wind is too unreliable? well maybe the fact that others controlling the raw resources for our power, or them running out, or maybe them just getting too expensive to be economically viable? is that really more reliable?
    Furthermore with the energy gap at the moment and nuclear power station taking at least 10 years to build they aren't a quick solution either

  • Comment number 84.

    Just wonderin' 'bout my
    comment earlier.Did it make the cut?

  • Comment number 85.

    How about we look at if climate change is indeed happening and if it is man made?
    I seriously considered it, until I read the hacked climate scientists e-mails and realized we have been played like pawns in a climate change racket...why? For power over our lives and for higher taxes.
    That's all this climate change non-sense it about.
    Sorry Mr. Rowlatt, you just wasted a year of your life. So take that plane, relax and know you are doing nothing to detroy the enviroment. I'm all for being clean, but green (all based of false premises, no thanks).
    To me, as a historian, this all seems so medival and in the future people will wonder what got into sane people to give their lives to an empty cause.

  • Comment number 86.

    Re my earlier post (#81) - Zeppelins are LIGHTER-than-air, traditional jets are heavier-than-air. Zeppelins are the once and future mode of transport. Apologies.

    Dr. Jürg Gassmann

  • Comment number 87.

    I always had a problem with this blog that it considers environmentalism as the only ethical imperative.

    As a smarter American than me once put it, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." Cheap (in money and time) travel brings the world together. If we suddenly decide that bicycles are the only way to travel, people will cease to remember that there are people other than those in front of them.

    A "small world" brings the problems of how the other three-quarters lives to our doorsteps, and makes visits to other countries not an exclusive activity of military forces.

    The question is: what is good for humanity as a whole. If we lose some farmland and some vacation homes sink into the sea and avoid World War III and give starving kids in the third world a little bit of information on how to avoid beriberi, I'm okay with that!

    Honest stewardship of the environment for future generations is definitely part of our ethical obligations, but "carbon is the only and ultimate evil" just doesn't fly.

    (irony intended)

  • Comment number 88.

    If David Attenborough can clock up the air miles, I'm pretty sure it's ok for me to do it!

  • Comment number 89.

    This is very simple. People with the wealth to fly claim it is their 'human right' to demand low cost holidays at the expense of hundreds of millions of other, generally, poorer people who depending on where they live face drought, flooding or economic ruin. As John Lydon wrote back in 1976 - cheap holidays in other peoples miseries'.

  • Comment number 90.

    My carbon footprint: 36 years & i've never been on an airplane or driven a car.

  • Comment number 91.

    There is no solution to the environmental impact of flying. Unfortunately we can't do it any more. With immediate effect aviation fuels should carry tax (there's no tax on it at the moment). As a result of the tax the cost of flying will increase dramatically. As a result of the cost increasing there will be fewer passengers to provide the income for airlines and in turn that will increase the cost of operating aircraft. Higher cost of operating aircraft will push up the price of tickets even further and within a short time flying will virtually cease.

    Unfortunately that's the way it has to be. The world will be a better place for it.

  • Comment number 92.

    At the risk of sounding selfish, I've ridden, run or walked to work every day for the last 2 years, even after a 4' snowstorm and in -30C, so I've earned the right to fly compared to 99% percent of those same people I see sitting in traffic every day.

  • Comment number 93.

    @muadip2: I've already given up flying - I don't think it's something we have to wait for others to do, but just set the example ourselves. I've noticed that it sets people thinking when they ask me why I'm holidaying in Norfolk or somesuch. No point laying a guilt trip, just explaining my reasoning is enough.

    I remember when I gave up owning a car (20 years ago now); from year to year I'd wonder if I could manage another year without (especially come the winter). Now it's just second nature, and feels quite liberating, strangely. I think the same thing will happen when we just shut the door on our own choice to fly.

  • Comment number 94.

    I norice with amusement, but without surprise, that the thousands of "evnironmentalists", politicians, bureaucrats & lobbyists FLEW to Copenhagen. If they actually believed the HOT AIR that they emit when they make speeches on "climate change", they would have avoided generating all this CO2 by holding a teleconference.

    It seems more plausible that they want OTHERS to have a lower standard of living, so that these members of today's nomenkultura can continue to live a luxurious life at OUR expense.

  • Comment number 95.

    Pollution of the atmosphere is worldwide and from many sources. From the burning of rain forests and the many aircraft flying, the assorted range of vehicles, every living human and animal passes flatulence. Landfill sites burn vast amounts of rubbish, the huge vehicle tyre mountains that burn for ever. Industrial air pollution is rife in parts of Europe and in the Far East. So sadly I see us having little chance of controlling so many pollutants that contaminate the air we breathe.
    In this age of Technology we can do so much, but we cannot visualise that
    air pollution needs a worldwide concerted effort.
    Power stations are quickly erected as and when needed. A new industry needs developing that could be produced worldwide .....atmospheric
    cleaners. These could be similar size to power station. Basically the
    idea is they suck in polluted air [From HOTSPOTS ] and blow out cleaned air.
    The same principle be adopted but airborne cleaners on airships to fly ove cities like the Goodyear balloon Other ideas can be adopted I am sure. Yes I know its seems not practicle, to expensive, laughable. So was Flying to the moon and a 101 other inventions. We have to tackle this from a different perspective with everyone helping. Someone first
    of all try it on a small scale, see what the effect is.

  • Comment number 96.

    Why are we so concerned about climate change yet at the same time renewing our nuclear weapons systems. A weapons system at would polute if not distroy the world for ever in a matter of minutes. Yet they are worried about me flying to an holiday destination once a year, all seems very strange to me.

  • Comment number 97.

    Zeppelins had gotten a bad rap in the olden days, but the technology is much safer now and much cleaner. They're spacier, fly lower (with a great view), probably fit much more people and could offer a great new avenue to explore. Why doesn't the EU study this possibility and set a precedent for the rest of the world? So what if they're slower, it's a small price to pay if it helps clean up the planet. I bet they're safer now than jet airplanes. Plus with on-board entertainment, cell phones and wireless internet, it could be more like a cruise-ship. It's about time we think outside the box...

  • Comment number 98.

    This is ridiculous. ClimateGate should have exposed to everyone that the idea of anthropogenic global warming is nothing other than an attempt to establish a sort of Guilt Church State Religion. Carbon is sin, and carbon credits are indulgences.

  • Comment number 99.

    I recently did a carbon footprint test on the internet and as a result I have concluded that the entire climate change problem is intractable.

    I found that I would have to reduce my trips (by air) to Canada from once a year to once every three or four years, even though all my relatives live there (I immigrated to the UK from Canada many years ago). I would also have to reduce my trips around Europe from 10 or so to around 2 a year. And I would still be only part way to meeting the requirements for an acceptable carbon footprint set by that particular test.

    Add to the above, the fact that Americans will never, ever, accept restrictions on their use of cars that would enable them to make substantial reductions in emissions, even if the very laid-out design of their cities allowed them to do so.

    The only way I can see this working is if we all accept the "one child one family" concept adopted by the Chinese many years ago, and enforce it for centuries. But would that be politically acceptable in the west?

    Maybe we should just give up now, or give more thought to the potential technical solutions that were canvassed in a recent BBC feature?

  • Comment number 100.

    Seeing as I've just read the article from my hotel room in Madrid, having just flown in from London, I think my views should be clear. Do I think we should give up holidays? No.

    Do I think there should be aviation expansion to allow aircraft to operate to their best ability? Yes.

    Flying Matters - and I for one won't stop flying.


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