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.

Why bother?

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.

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  1. Our consumption of everything is rampant.
    The system needs to change, fundamentally.

    We can’t plant our nature strips with vegetable gardens if we work 50 hours a week plus 10 hours commuting.

    We can’t go plastic free and buy in bulk and go back to cooking from scratch when we work 50 + 10.

    We can’t afford private health. We can’t afford electric cars (yet) and it’s not safe to ride e-bikes to work.

    Our water is scarce, our trees are being decimated, our government is coal-corrupt.

    We need to put environment first and put in a WWII effort in emissions reduction to survive.

    But we gotta work to live in the current system, which is set up all wrong. We are, sadly, doomed, until the system changes.

    I catch the train to work and look at all of us sheep, blindly pushing through this climate emergency, climate catastrophe, and wonder, why aren’t we doing something??! But, work. We gotta go there to get money. The system is like that, and it’s going to kill us all.

  2. Let’s face it, with population growth and growing levels of consumption, we wont be reducing the planet’s carbon output any time soon – I predict within 10 years, if flight taxes are not adequately offsetting emissions, people will be shamed into not flying, in an environment where all forms of carbon/pollution shaming will be mainstream.

  3. The mistake Gillard made was pitching the carbon tax too low at 27.50 per tonne, waiting too long to implement, it should have been implemented in a mini budget the day she was elected.
    It would have given a 3 year breathing space for the real effects on the economy to become apparent and bedded the arrangements into the economy much like the Howard implementation of the GST.
    She made the worst political mistakes possible, dithering and prevarication.
    If the tax had been pitched much higher say $100 per tonne and applied to oil and gas as well.
    The subsequent tax reductions levelled at raising the tax free threshold and pensions would have been too high for a new incoming Liberal government to promise abolishment.
    It would have ended the need for further subsidisation of renewables/insulation schemes.
    At the same time implementation of much higher oil excises shared 50-50 with the states should have been applied making political adjustments very hard for an incoming government.
    The application of excise made directly to crude oil production/import rather than specific products like auto fuel. The cost would be more equitably shared across all oil product lines.
    The government could argue that it was a tax neutral implementation or a tax reform to have lower income taxes and a higher energy consumption tax.

  4. I don’t understand why everybody is talking about flight here and there and Australia and any other country buy food and goods from everywhere …like…why do bananas come from south America…stop this market first…it’s a shame…why am I going to the supermarket and I find fruit coming from everywhere around the world but not from Australia…just an example…why on market there are grapes coming from U.S. full of sulphur and not just seasonal fruits…Stop all this useless export!!

  5. Air travel needs to end.

    Burning coal needs to end.

    People need to consume less.

    The global economy and carbon footprint needs to shrink to pre-industrial levels.

    Without this there will be a climate catastrophe. Ecosystems will fail, food and water will be come scarce. Humans will fight over the remants. This has already started.

  6. Maybe less people want to fly to Australia because they don’t want to visit a country with such irresponsible climate behavior.
    If Alan Joyce is worried about loosing customers maybe he should tell the government to get their climate policies into line with the risks, and tell Boeing, Airbus et al he won’t buy any more planes until they offer fully electric models. These would be quiet enough to sleep in, so we would just need beds. Surely that would be possible with cheap electric power.
    He could also make flying more fun there was space to dance.