Green Brits = hypocrites. Even they love flying

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A passion for aviation is the Achilles’ heel of British attempts to live more environmentally-friendly lives. An Exeter University study presented at the Royal Geographical Society’s annual conference has found that a even people living generally green lives are reluctant to fly less.

Cheap flights have become a lifestyle choice, concluded the government-funded study. Aviation is currently thought to account for about 7% of UK emissions, although activist group Plane Stupid, using data from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, ascribes15% of the UK’s contribution to climate change to aviation, because “emissions from aircraft are especially problematic because of the height at which they are emitted and the particularly noxious mix of gases, making them 2.7 times more damaging than the effect of their carbon dioxide alone.”

Britain will not be able meet its climate targets without curbing the industry’s growth. Air passenger duty was increased in February, and the European Union is preparing to include aviation in its Emissions Trading Scheme, which could increase costs further. However, the Exeter research suggests that price hikes will have little impact on our behaviour.

“Flying is quite embedded in peoples’ lifestyle choices,” said Stewart Barr from the university’s Geography Department. “It’s not people on lower incomes taking these flights, it’s middle class people taking more flights to go on city breaks, and they can afford to pay higher prices.”

The study showed that knowledge of the impact of aviation among all groups of society was confused. In July, Ryanair was ordered by the Advertising Standards Authority not to repeat advertisements claiming aviation accounted for just 2% of carbon emissions, because the company did not explain the figure was based on global rather than UK statistics.

Brenda Boardman from Oxford University commented that “I’m not at all surprised that people are confused, because you have Tony Blair saying it’s unreasonable to ask people to stop flying; until you have politicians giving us some clear messages, people will be confused.”

Thanks to the Camp for Climate Action 2007, most of the UK has heard about the plans to expand Heathrow airport. Plans are also lodged to expand many other airports including Stansted, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Liverpool and East Midlands. Globally, aviation is the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.

However, whilst concern for the environment will apparently not get Brits to change their lifestyles, other recent studies have shown that the inconvenience of long queues, meticulous security checks and the risk of lost baggage can deter us from flying abroad. Market research group Mintel found that more Brits were taking cycling holidays in the UK than ever before, and 13% more Brits had taken a camping or caravanning holiday in the UK this year than in 2006. Holidaying in Britain is better for the economy as well as the environment, as Brenda Boardman points out.

Globally, aviation is the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. It is not possible for any government to commit seriously to reducing greenhouse gas emissions while also allowing airports to expand and the aviation industry to grow.

Sources include: Royal Geographical Society; Predict and Decide: Aviation, Climate Change and UK Policy; BBC online; Plane Stupid

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