News from the front desk 448: Climate activist Greta Thunberg set sail this week on a small boat for what’s expected to be a rough two week trip to the US from Plymouth in the UK to take part in UN climate talks.
Thunberg refuses to contribute to one of the most polluting activities on the planet and she might well be one of the main reasons the “flight shaming” phenomenon has taken off so strongly (so to speak).
This 16-year-old pint size environmental campaigner is practising what she preaches.
Remember the idealism of youth? When it was inconceivable to not to stand your ground? In the 60s and 70s many of today’s baby boomers were probably ferocious in their criticism of the older generation and their immovable pragmatism, citing mortgages to pay, kids to feed, law and order to upkeep and so on.
Today many of today’s baby boomers practise the same pragmatism. Calling it mortgages to pay, kids to school, superannuation to fund, etc.
Discomfort, when not mandated by lack of funds to pay for comfort, seems futile, childish, idealistic, we hear. Why bother?
Thunberg’s small voice but very loud actions will ricochet off the walls of indulgence and penetrate the protective excuses that no longer stand up.
Those of Alan Joyce, boss of Qantas, for instance.
Last week this other feisty figure who’s equally not afraid to stand up publicly for his beliefs, such as marriage equality, was a sorry sight to see on a big splashy story in The Australian (or The Ugly Australian as we prefer to call it) in front of an aviation business crowd wailing that the Thunbergs of the world were unfairly damaging his business and foisting their unwelcome conscience on the rest of us.
People are flying less and flight capacity is down to 2017 levels. “Qantas boss Alan Joyce warns climate hysteria threatens air travel” screamed the headlines, a great deal more hysterical than the calm measured and to be honest, tiny trends, he was pointing to.
France was imposing a climate tax on travel, The Netherlands proposed a charge of $11.60 per airline passenger. And KLM, echoes the near faint editorial in the paper, “resorted to the ultimate in double Dutch, launching a ‘Fly Responsibly’ campaign. It urges travellers to consider train travel, to pack lightly and to buy carbon offsets.”
Already flight capacity to Australia was back to 2017 levels, Joyce said, and he feared it would soon hit the level of the 1920s.
“Climate change events were on the increase,” he admitted, but surely this was an overreaction, a case of “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.”
Or is it?
We hear over and over that the two most impactful things we can do to reduce carbon emissions is to eat less meat and fly less.
He says frequent flying is important for the world economy and to have connections.
But what sort of connections? How meaningful are they?
Friends returned from a decent long stay of three years in Spain to say that planeloads of UK tourists continually land there go to English establishments eat English food, drink English beer and watch English football. Then they go home.
Surely they could get the same dose of warmth from a seam bath back home.
Friends in Greece say similar things of Russians who buy up huge strips of land and crowd out the beaches with wall to wall hotels where they fly in people from their homelands for a great knees up for two weeks and then go home.
Okay the weather might be better, we grant you that.
But what is the benefit to humanity or global economies when the offer is so vertical?
We know who benefits from so much tourism and it’s not We The People – it’s the owners of these businesses.
Ask the people of Barcelona how they feel about being grossly outnumbered by tourists each year, so much so they can’t afford to live in their own city. In Venice the government has mercifully outlawed the ability of the equally polluting huge ocean liners from entering the city right up to the Palace of the Doges in St Marks Square. But not before huge damage to fragile old building fabric.
But Alan Joyce bemoans the loss of some economic activity to some people. Especially his own company, no doubt.
The airline cares about climate change he said. It was trying to cut emissions. It has a plan to halve emissions by 2005 based on 2005 levels.
We’re not sure if he’s read the news, but by 2050 there is unlikely to be many places worth travelling to.
Sure, a solar plane made it across the English Channel recently, and Qantas has held “talks” with farmers to grow a few more crops for plant based fuel.
But these technologies will take more than a few years to morph from more than a glint in their makers’ eye to something with impact.
It’s ironic that Joyce can bemoan the rise of some form of budgeting of our flights when his own company is so aware of the sustainability leanings of its customers. It has a huge amount of data thanks to its Frequent Flyer programs.
In 2017, Qantas group head, environment and carbon strategy Megan Flynn, said “Consumers across the spectrum of demographics expect us to engage to understand and to lead in sustainability.
“And with the incredible sources we have we know that the demand for sustainable goods and services is not coming from people who traditionally identify themselves as environmentalists. The most rapidly growing demand comes from people who do not identify themselves as environmentally.
“And I personally find that very powerful.”
Joyce finds it disconcerting and worrying.
Under the Our Planet heading in its website the airline says:
“Our commitment to minimising the impact we have on the environment at every step – in the air and on the ground.”
But not so fast, Joyce is saying.
The company’s Qantas Future Planet Insights Report 2018 said:
- There is a strong view that businesses have a key role to play in tackling environmental issues.
- Consumer demand for green products or services is clear.
- Market demand for sustainable goods and services transcends traditional environmentalists.
So we’re confused Mr Joyce, are you going to go along with the needs, wants and expectations of your customers, or ignore them and whine to The Australian that we all need to fly more.
You don’t have to be extreme and hysterical you know, you might take a leaf out of KLM and ask people to consider if they really need the trip, to be mindful, use less, budget.
That just might help a tad more than this whinging because people finally care enough about the planet to give up a little something.