Monday, July 16, 2007

Footprints in the sky

Private air travel is growing dramatically. Charter passengers, including those using private jets, have risen from 3.5 million to 34 million in the 10 years from 1996 to 2006.

A private jet is attractive to those who can afford it because it saves time. You don’t need to head for a major hub like Manchester, Birmingham, Heathrow or Gatwick – you can leave from your local airfield. You can arrive 15 minutes before departure and embark without all those hours of security checks. At the destination your driver can meet you on the tarmac. It may be more expensive than business class, but for some people it’s worth it. London’s position as the leading financial centre in the world means that there are many wealthy people who will spend their money to save their precious time. Not just for business trips either: private jets make it perfectly possible to have weekends at the villa or on the ski slopes.

And what about the carbon footprint? The whole idea of one family jetting off in a private plane seems reckless, irresponsible, profligate. On the other hand, to paraphrase a well-known saying, the rich are always with us. And the rich would say that they create an enormous amount of the wealth of the UK that keeps people in jobs, funds the infrastructure through taxes and allows others to afford their own holidays in the sun. What these people don’t have is much time, so they spend their money to get the most out of it.

The wealthy people who take these flights can do so precisely because they are successful. They are the people who get things done and they are the people who will be crucial to taking the actions that will address climate change. We cannot afford to meet them head on. All we can do is present the evidence, suggest alternatives, map out the consequences. We all need to work together on this.

I hope we can reach consensus in time.

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