Key words :
I Wish I Could Fly
27 Feb, 2008 11:13 am
This intriguing, if badly-scanned, graph appears in the 13 February issue of The Guardian. It's a stark illustration of the pollution caused by the global shipping industry. The darker the area, the more particulate pollution its suffers from - and some of the darker patches overlay major shipping lanes very precisely.
More interesting than this, though, is what the Guardian's report
reveals about shipping's contribution to climate change. In short: it's
big. This is interesting because, in the ongoing battle to target the
villains in the global emissions game, shipping has escaped almost
unscathed. Keys have been scratched down the paintwork of SUVs, camps
held outside airports, power station chimneys climbed and locked onto.
Yet all the time the world's vast container ships, backbone of the
global economy, have been going about their merry business polluting
the planet in order to bring us the latest straight-to-landfill
must-haves. And nobody's said a thing.
But the most interesting thing about this story, to me, is this:
This graph - which is also badly-scanned, not to mention wonky - is the big story. It compares the relative emissions of aviation and shipping - and look which comes out on top. Shipping produces 4.5% of global industrial emissions; aviation just 2%.
For a while I've been increasingly uncomfortable about the green movement's intense and, I think, irrational focus on airline emissions as a major target for their climate change campaigning. I think environmentalists have made a big mistake in making this such a major issue, and I think they're going to regret it.
Why? Firstly because, as this report shows, aviation is not the biggest problem. Car traffic is a bigger problem. Home energy wastage is a bigger problem. Forest destruction is a bigger problem. Shipping, it seems, is a bigger problem. Aircraft emissions may be the fastest-growing cause of emissions, but they're not the biggest, by a long chalk. And how fast are shipping emissions growing? Does anyone even know? I doubt it.
But this is not the main problem. The main problem is a typically green refusal to try and grasp human psychology. Flying is, I think, to most people, one of the great unalloyed benefits of 'progress.' People love it - not the journey itself, perhaps, but the destination. We can go to places our grandparents never dreamed of, cheaply and fast. People love this. They will cling to it, and do. Going all-out to tackle flying, in this context, is effectively an attack on peoples' aspirations. Once again, the greens end up looking like they want to stop people enjoying themselves. Out comes the puritan instinct, so badly-hidden, and suddenly we're all playing I-fly-less-than-you in public. It turns people off. It's dull and lentilly and counter-productive.
So why do it? It's not politically sensible. It's not tackling the biggest problem out there. It alienates people. If you really want to stop climate change (and in my view it's too late, but feel free to try) this is a suicidal way to do it. It resurrects all the old doubts people have about the greens and, instead of inspiring them, makes them feel guilty.
If I was running Greenpeace, say, or Friends of the Earth or any other big cheese green NGO, I know what I'd do. I'd take virtually everyone off my aviation campaign, and stop beating the public around the head with their desire to take their kids on holiday (oh, and did I mention that most of the environmentalists I know fly far more than Joe Public ever will?) I would put all of those people to work on my forests campaign, and I would shift the main focus of my climate change work from something negative to something overwhelmingly positive: protecting the world's rainforests.
This is a win-win-situation. The great forests of the world are falling, still, at a rate of knots. Climate change or no climate change, this is a planetary tragedy. Stop the destruction and you help stop climate change anyway. You also save thousands of species, the homes of tribal peoples and the last untouched wildernesses of the Earth. Best of all, you give the public a positive message: 'help us save the great forests and stop climate change', rather than 'don't go on holiday and stop climate change.'
That would make sense to me. Granted, it wouldn't give us the familiar thrill we get from telling people what not to do - but it does seem far more likely to actually work.
Originally publised on: Know Your Place