Saturday, December 12, 2009

Monbiot again

People who want the luxury of flying to become limited to the privileged few often use the excuse of climate change to support their argument.

No, I didn't mean that, since I'm not going to descend to Monbiot's level and use the cheap rhetorical trick of questioning other people's motives, as he does in today's Guardian. While I broadly agree with Monbiot's conclusion that it should be cheaper to take the train than to fly, or drive to your destination, I don't think that  insulting people who don't agree with you, ignoring the benefits of air transport and ignoring the implications of the very statistics he quotes, is going to win this particular argument.

Taking the statistics Monbiot quotes as given: if "sixty-four per cent of all flights from the five busiest UK airports were made by people whose income in 2004 was £28,750 or more", then forty-six per cent of all flights were made by people earning less.  That is not a small proportion, and even if £28,750 was above the average wage in 2004, it was still much closer to that of a school-teacher than a city banker.

While cheap air fares "allow executives, second home owners and those who can afford to take several foreign holidays a year (often the same people) to pursue their extravagant lifestyles at very little cost to themselves", they allow thousands of other people to travel abroad who would not otherwise be able to do so. The effect of raising fares would be for the same high earners to continue the same lifestyle, with perhaps one less holiday a year, and a little less business travel.  it would be the other 46% who would have to possibly give up travel altogether.

The most telling statistic Monbiot quotes is that 74% of the long-term unemployed don't fly at all, which means that a remarkable 26% do.  I had no idea that the benefits of cheap flights had filtered down to that extent.

There isn't any getting away from the fact that if flying is deliberately made more expensive, hundreds of thousands of people will no longer be able to afford foreign travel, but the wealthy, including Monbiot himself (who has just flown to Canada and back), will be able to continue to do so.  How are politicians, who also come into the wealthy category, expected to sell that argument?  What I want to know is if there is any way of making the railway network capable of transporting the same numbers of people around Europe and as cheaply as the airlines do now



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"There isn't any getting away from the fact that if flying is deliberately made more expensive, hundreds of thousands of people will no longer be able to afford foreign travel, but the wealthy, including Monbiot himself (who has just flown to Canada and back), will be able to continue to do so."

I think this is an issue with which society should have to live. There isn't any good reason why everyone - irrespective of income - should have some divine right to fly off anywhere they choose - whenever they choose - irrespective of the environmental damage they may be doing.

Monbiot's point that it costs a ridiculous fortune to travel by train is the one with which we need to get to grips urgently.

I also think that not only does the cost of train travel need to be addressed but the potential interest of the actual journey as opposed to getting there as quickly as possible needs to be looked at. It appals me to see kids in cars with DVD players built in looking at DVDs instead of looking out at the scenery and noticing what's going on around them.

By the way - I haven't been on a plane since 1995. I regard air travel as being about as nasty a travel experience as you can get.