According to the UK Government, in 2006 air travel accounted for 6.4 per cent of the UK’s emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas causing climate change. Due to the economic decline of 2008-2009 this number dropped slightly to approximately 5%, but it is expected to increase to 10% by 2020, barring steps to curb these emissions.
In a commentary on the impact of air travel, the web publication Article Trader states:
“Most of the wealthier nations in Europe are developing an air dependent culture and it’s clear that something needs to be done. Frequent flying for business and pleasure and second homes abroad is fuelling this growth in air travel.”
This commentary then asks “What can we do to prevent this growth in flying”.
The response to date of the UK Government has been to invite its citizens to travel less often, and when travel is unavoidable to choose another form of transport that generates less carbon dioxide.
Recognizing the increase in demand for recreational travel, the travel industry has expanded greatly over the last decades. Almost every week we (and other Alumni/Alumnae of the University of Toronto) receive an attractive brochure promoting the pleasures of the Greek islands, or exotic India, or the magic of the Far East. The prices are reasonable, and within the budget of most retirees.
The Aeroplan and Air Miles schemes build up credits for future air travel in a way that is completely painless. Foregoing air travel will result in the loss of countless points that have accumulated in individual accounts.
And there is the airline industry to think of: the jobs of many thousands of people depend on people continuing to fly, taking holidays elsewhere in the world, using airlines to get to new destinations.
The Article Trader commentary also considers whether a tax on short haul flights from the UK to Europe would reduce green house gas emissions. Anybody who travels knows that taxes and levies represent a large part of the cost of air travel, and yet the demand for air travel is still increasing. A token tax would not have much, if any, effect.
Any campaign against air travel would surely meet with significant political opposition. This opposition would point out that there are many other polluters who should be forced to clean up their act before the airline industry is singled out for such negative treatment.
A more neutral approach would be to require the airline operators to purchase carbon emissions credits, a cost that could be passed along to their customers,some of whom would be prepared to pay for these credits. But a carbon emissions trading scheme, such as has been proposed, is some years away from adoption on an international level.
So reduction in air travel will depend upon persuading individuals not to use this method of transport, much as the UK Government has done.
Grandparents regard travel as one of the principal ways to enjoy retirement. With the raising of health standards, grandparents are living longer. They need constructive activity that will avoid the possible monotony of aging. There is a sense of entitlement: to whatever generation they may belong, grandparents worked hard, paid taxes to support their government and saved for their retirement
Without being too pessimistic, the conclusion appears that much time will pass before education and persuasion succeed in reducing recreational air travel.