Flowers, not flyers

September 9th, 2019

I’m returning to the subject of flying again today, I’m afraid….

Activists protesting against flying are launching a campaign – Heathrow Pause. They will each fly a toy drone within the restricted zone around Heathrow airport. The drones will fly nowhere near the flight paths, and never above head height, ensuring they present no risk. Their aim is to disrupt, ‘denormalise’, one of the most destructive activities on Earth. Any drone activity forces the airport to suspend all flights.

Like George Monbiot, who publicised these actions in the Guardian, I find it shockingly depressing how normal flying now is. He said: “Once unthinkable, then a bizarre novelty, then an extraordinary luxury, then a hope, then an expectation, flying – and flying frequently – is now treated as a right.” And a cheaper and cheaper right – so easy and convenient….

On a personal level, I was really pleased this morning to receive a reply (at long last, 2 months later…?) from Pieter Elbers, CEO at KLM.

Well, it was actually from Remona van der Zon, the airline’s sustainability manager. Of course sustainability is a bit of a misfit word in connection with airlines – there are technological alternatives for most of our damaging activities but not flying. Planes just use a huge amount of fuel….and thus emit a huge amount of carbon dioxide.

Ms van der Zon pointed me to several other ‘good’ airlines – ANA (Japanese) are imaginatively using industrial pollutants and microbes to create a new fuel, but this will be mixed with petrol in a 50/50 blend; Finnair are bizarrely offering customers a choice, between the opportunity to purchase biofuel to be used in flight operations and supporting the use of low emission cooking stoves in Mozambique…. Scandinavia’s SAS is the only airline to have ‘sustainability’ as a visible option on its website home page – it talks about developing electric aircraft: a great goal, but a long way off being a reality I fear. Finally, United boasts about giving aid to help the people in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian, while at the same time offering its customers good deals on new flights – have they no shame?….

So, it’s all not very re-assuring – however hard some airlines are trying to ‘clean up their act’, a ‘no fly zone’ would be better…! For luxury, unnecessary flights anyway. All those horribly wealthy Tatler magazine readers who think nothing of jetting off to the Seychelles or Antigua for a long weekend….

I’m going to stop before I get dragged down by thinking of oblivious ‘poshies’….!

Just to return to two strands of the flying argument.

A frequent-flyer levy is such a good idea (see the Free Ride coalition) – set at the right level, the levy would avert the need for airport expansion, and steadily scale down the industry.

And a pause in ridiculously low special offers on flights is needed – temptation is not fair, help with making the ‘right choice’ is fair. I did like KLM’s assertion to me that they aim to bring awareness ‘into the living rooms’ (tv adverts, I presume..?) of people who are not yet taking conscious decisions as I do.

After my email ‘appeal’ the week before last, a friend of my daughter’s encouraged me with a good, positive quote she’d found – ‘we need lots of people doing it imperfectly rather than a few doing it perfectly.’

So yes, that is still my aim really – to spread the word, to hope more people might consider making a few imperfect contributions to the cause!

Another reply I’ve had this week is from Jesper Brodin, the CEO of IKEA – well, from his PA, Mercedes Rodriguez-Arias…Mr Brodin will be taking part in Climate Week in New York (as will his ‘compatriot’ Greta Thunberg of course, though she didn’t fly there!), and the international stores certainly do have many very impressive projects to help reduce climate change (including becoming carbon neutral by 2030).

They are also supportive of any of their co-workers who decide to participate in any climate protests – so if you know of any IKEA staff, encourage them to take part on September 20th. There are actions in Gloucester, Tewkesbury and Cheltenham here in the South West; and about 100 around the UK.

I’ll sign off with a little local newspaper article about a solar farm that has just got permission – panels will generate approx 20 megawatts of electricity, covering eight fields outside Gloucester. 80 people apparently wrote to Stroud District Council in support of the application, but not because they believe in green energy! They said panels were preferable to wind turbines and the site was invisible from their village. The 30 objections reckoned there is ‘limited sunlight in the UK’ and asked ‘how does this proposal benefit the local people?’

I’m hoping all these people were around my age, but with no children or grandchildren to illuminate them – younger people understand the ‘bigger picture’, I’m sure….

Just before I go, a little more about trees – the Committee on Climate Change says the UK needs to increase its woodland from 13% of land area to 17% (the European average is apparently around 35%). John Tucker, director of woodland outreach at the Woodland Trust, said: “If people feel they want to do something, then planting a tree in the right place is a good thing to do.. get trees that are produced from seed that is sourced in the UK and grown in the UK, to avoid imported trees that carry a risk of disease.” One tree in one garden won’t make a huge difference, but 10 million people planting one tree each would.. Or you can support Trees for Cities, the International Tree Foundation and TreeSisters.

PS I did hear from JBS Meat Company, surprisingly – they said they are working with Greenpeace to avoid involvement in deforestation in the Amazon….?! I’ve asked Greenpeace to clarify/comment – waiting to hear from them…

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