For a Swede, I believe I have an unusually small environmental footprint as my income is low and my habits relatively ascetic. But compared to most people in the world, anyone with half my standard of living is of course a huge culprit. The only thing I might brag about is having relatively few children, as I’ve fathered only one in each of my two marriages. Still, so do most Chinese, regardless of income, thanks to the admirable foresight and regrettable heavy-handedness of their dictatorship.
An obvious thing I could do to improve my enviro-karma is to fly less. I generally make two or three return trips by air each year, going to conferences and taking vacations. One of my blogger friends, Kai of Pointless Anecdotes, seems to make a lot more money than me, but he steadfastly travels by train. Still, I don’t think individual decisions to fly less are an effective way to reduce CO2 emissions.
What happens when the demand for a service lessens? Prices drop, re-establishing demand. To voluntarily put a serious dent in the demand for air-travel, affluent Westerners would have to be far more idealistic than they are ever likely to become. No, the only way to reduce passenger air travel is to make it too expensive for consumers. This will happen automatically when the fossil fuels run out, but that won’t happen until long after we’ve lost the battle against global warming.
Today, even dirt-poor Westerners like me can afford to fly. Being Swedish, I believe in a bit of social engineering. I say, let’s tax the muthas to death. We need to crank up the prices until it hurts to fly.
My planned January jaunt to the US highlights another absurd aspect of air travel. Current pricing structure strongly discourages fuel-efficient itineraries. An air trip actually becomes cheaper the less fuel-efficient it is, partly because there is greater demand for fast, direct trips. Ideally, I would go from Sweden to North Carolina to Florida to Sweden. But for some unfathomable reason, a one-way ticket across the Atlantic is almost as expensive as a return ticket. This is really unforgivable in the era of automatic web-based flight booking, where no expensive staff is involved in organising my itinerary.
Having more time than money, I have to go from Sweden to North Carolina to Florida, then back to North Carolina, and only then home to Sweden. Furthermore, domestic US flights become cheaper the more convoluted and time-consuming your itinerary. So I’m not going straight from Stockholm to Raleigh/Duram, NC: I’m touching down in Newark, NJ and Charlotte, NC on the way, both ways.
The system is grossly inefficient. A bit of tax pressure would do wonders to tighten it up. Saving the planet from heat death can’t realistically be left to the good will of individuals and corporations.