Thursday, February 02, 2006

plane truth

An article in the Times by Camilla Cavendish makes some good, if occasionally unthought-through, points on aviation:

If Gordon Brown taxed aircraft fuel at the same rate as petrol for cars, he would raise a cool £9 billion for the Exchequer. But the Chancellor, who is merciless towards the most piddling tax evaders, will not bust Britain’s biggest tax avoidance scam.

Compare this with how much is poured into tackling benefit fraud, which costs the Exchequer an estimated £5bn a year (of which £1.5bn is effectively recouped in unclaimed benefits)

He smiles on airlines that pay no VAT, fuel duty or climate-change levy. He wants a new runway at Heathrow and is funding a study to help BAA to get over the pollution hurdles...

a new justification is now doing the rounds in Whitehall: “flight poverty”. This is the grinding hardship that could befall people if — horrors — their return trip to Malaga started to reflect anything like its real cost in terms of pollution and global warming. Wow. Paying more to get plastered in Prague hardly ranks with Beveridge’s five great social evils.

Why is a Labour Government flapping about “flight poverty”, when it could be fighting real poverty? Nine billion pounds — a figure calculated by the former Treasury adviser Brendon Sewill and widely accepted — is serious cash that Government could target at the most needy, not waste in bribes to people used to cheap holidays. Ryanair’s revenues last year apparently included almost two million flights that were booked by passengers who never showed up...

While flying to Australia and back generates about the same CO2 emissions per person as heating, lighting and cooking in an average house for a year, it creates at least three times as much climate damage, according to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution....

The Government itself admits that aviation emissions could amount to about a quarter of the UK’s total contribution to global warming in 25 years’ time, as other industries clean up their act.

This presumes most airlines will still be in business and able to offer cheap flights. The price of oil and the impossibility of producing any other usable source of aviation fuel will trounce any prospect of that.

Between 1990 and 2003 greenhouse gas emissions from British industry fell in line with the Government’s Kyoto targets. But greenhouse gas emissions from air transport rose by more than 85 per cent, according to the Office for National Statistics. Yet ministers are still actively promoting huge growth in air travel, from 200 million passengers a year to 470 million a year in 25 years’ time, by promoting airport expansion.

This is because transport is exempt from Kyoto, a piece of shit treaty that amounts to a suicide note from the human race. It should have a single clause; 'We could have saved ourselves from extinction, but we were too fucking cheap'.

No matter that about 70 per cent of travellers to Heathrow are transfer passengers, many never setting foot on UK soil: they are all potential customers for BAA’s hungry monopoly. No matter that those who live around airports are locked into homes blighted by noise and pollution. Their disadvantage apparently cannot compare with that of those who might be deprived of a cut-price trip.

This cannot go on. But the reality check will come from an unexpected source. In 2008 an EU directive will come into force that will set tight new limits on nitrous oxide emissions, limits that are almost bound to be exceeded in the Heathrow area by any new runway. The Government is well aware of this: it has a team of seven civil servants in the Department for Transport beavering away to find solutions.

One option, incredibly, is to reduce car emissions by sinking part of the M4 into a £2 billion tunnel. Another is to knock down 7,000 homes. If the EU law is trying to stop people being choked by fumes, then move them! Anything, it seems, is better than daring to face the reality that the cheap flight boom must end. One wonders how much longer ministers can stick their heads in the sand.

The lobbying skills of the air industry make Tesco look tinpot. It has convinced ministers that emissions trading is the way forward. Yet this will have negligible effect on global warming compared with what the Department for Transport’s computer model shows would happen if air travel paid the same rate of tax as car travel. That simple calculation suggests that air travel growth would slow to 2 per cent a year, and that no new runways would be needed. This is not emasculating business; it is fair, realistic and responsible.

But as she's said earlier, aviation emissions are simply unsustainable. We cannot afford any growth in aviation. Passenger holiday aviation now is simply inexcusable.

Will the newly green Tories be prepared to stand up to the air industry, or will they merely tilt at windmills?

No prizes offered there. Are you listening, Zac Goldsmith?

Their green policies will be flights of fancy unless they get a grip on this. A policy that started by trying to please voters will not be complete until it taxes them.

And what do we think we'll get from a party that - even in the midst of its 'let's all be touchy-feely' rebrand - is saying there's too much of a corporate 'tax burden' in the UK, and a need for less associated 'legislation, regulation and bureaucracy'?