Flying into trouble?

I feel sorry for the poor sods who live near a major airport like Heathrow. The skies around Sheffield seem to boom almost continuously with the noise of jet engines these days. And of course, we don’t even have an airport anymore. So living under the flight path of Heathrow must be pretty much unbearable from a noise point of view.

Flying is also one of the quickest and cheapest ways to put huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the upper atmosphere (unless you happen to own a coal mine). Unlike petrol or diesel, no duty is charged on aviation fuel, so it only costs around 65p a litre. In terms of climate impact, the aeroplane contrails are mostly expelled miles above the earth, where they remain for hundreds of years, and they release water vapour, in addition to the fuel exhaust fumes, which is a very powerful climate change contributor. When all of this is taken into account, a return flight to Spain for one person results in nearly 1 tonne of greenhouse gas. With a ‘safe’ limit of just over two tonnes of green house gas per person per year, it’s clear then that flying quickly blows the bank.

So what is the alternative? We all love and need our holidays, and options like going by train can be unappealing or just downright impossible. I was an avid air traveller, and was lucky enough to see some amazing places, but I gave up regular flying in 2006 in response to climate change, and swapped planes for travelling by train, car and ferry instead – which are almost always significantly better from a climate perspective. I have been as far as Gibraltar, and these journeys have been outstandingly memorable and sometimes luxurious affairs. I’ve always loved holidays in the UK, and I’ve spent time discovering more of our beautiful island. I can honestly say that I haven’t missed the tiny seats, crazy surcharges and huge delays of the budget airlines at all.

We all want more money and jobs in the economy, of course. But there are lots of ways to achieve this without destroying our world. Heathrow expansion was fought tooth and nail last time because an continued increase in flying will remove any chance we have of stopping climate change, and it will also severely impact on the quality of life of people living in a wide area around airports. Let’s not throw away another opportunity.

This article appeared in the Sheffield Star on 4th November 2015.

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