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The Fight over Flight: what’s the problem with air travel?

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Fight over Flight

The now scrapped plans for a third runway at Heathrow sparked fierce debate about air travel. Anti-flying groups opposing the plans, mostly cited environmental concerns. While many are concerned about the impact airport expansion will have, others worry that restricting our freedom of movement is a backward step. Regular air travel has only recently become affordable for most people, and critics argue there is a heavy dose of snobbery in the dismissal of cheap flights. So is there more to the fight over flight than concerns about carbon emissions? Is the freedom of flight now a necessity to be defended, or a luxury we should sacrifice for the good of the planet? This Battle of Ideas debate filmed by WORLDbytes volunteers is revealing.

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Related topics: Civil Liberties, Debates, Democracy, International, Science & Progress

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Joe said:

Unbelievable. Mayer Hillman thinks people should be denied the right to travel long-distances to see loved-ones or attend important family occasions, but to judge from his website he has no qualms about flying to the US or to Vietnam to attend conferences and give radio interviews. I’d also be interested to know his source for the incontrovertible fact that “we are on a trajectory towards the extinction of life on earth”. He wonders why the public isn’t interested in the issue – my answer to that is that most people can smell authoritarian bullshit scaremongers a mile off, and want as little to do with them as possible thank you very much. Climate change is happening, and it is worth pausing to think about what it is likely to mean in practical terms (and there is still a great deal of ongoing debate among scientists regarding its likely effects), and what we ought to do about it. But there is no place for this kind of hysterical panic-mongering in the discussion.

Carbon rationing is another pet hate of mine, as it would essentially make high-carbon activities the preserve of the rich, whether on a personal basis (as Mayer Hillman suggests) or on the level of national quotas. It’s a grossly unfair idea. The reduction of carbon footprints to a matter of individual responsibility is also an unproductive contribution to the discussion – the average Brit is personally responsible for 11-12 tonnes of CO2 each year, so obviously the answer is to make individuals use less CO2 by driving less, switching off lights, not flying anywhere, buying less stuff. But if the energy you use at home comes from, say, nuclear power stations rather than coal; or if the stuff we buy comes from more energy-efficient factories and production processes; or if the cars we drive make more efficient use of fuel or run on electric; then already emissions have been reduced without reducing anyone’s quality of life. CO2 emissions could be viewed very productively as a set of technical problems, and an eminently solvable set of problems at that. However it is typical of environmentalists to reduce the issue to one of personal responsibility, and it speaks volumes about their broader political agenda and their degraded view of the public as a set of feckless polluting morons that need to be treated with a firm hand.

Rant over. Aside from Hillman, I appreciated the clarity of the debate and the astuteness of the audience questions and observations. Good job.

viola said:

I am a bit confused by the video, as the debate has tackled many wide issues without coming up with any sort of conclusion. This clearly shows that environment is an important topic as much as it is all but limited to nature. It is social, it is political and it is economic. And it is an open debate. Indeed, I just checked the Battle of Ideas website and the next upcoming festival will have a debate on the use of cars. One of the end sentences presenting the discussion is: “Or should we give up on the freedoms and thrills that motoring has brought in favour of more ‘sustainable’ forms of transport?”. It recalls some of the opinion about flights as a right for our freedom. Personally I am very concern with climate change. It is worth searching alternative means of transport, and making them more sustainable. But I agree with some of the speakers that said that most of the population will not support flights reduction. And there is a need of a more grassroot approach; the big powerful are not going to solve anything with carbon credit scheme, just their interests. COP15 is the example of the failure of top-down decision.

Aare said:

Restriction of air travel in my mind is an important topic. I do not have an opinion yet, whether it is good to restrict or not, however I agree that air travel pollutes and pollution causes climate changes and as a result people globally suffer as well as our natural environment suffers, So it is much about our levels of acceptance. As I said restriction of air travel is an important topic and as such it should be discussed more and more until we find a solution or an acceptable balance between our need for mobility and our acceptance of the worsening climate situation. It should be discussed, and not forgotten behind other, more easily solvable problems. It is a complex issue for whole world – we have gone wrong in many ways and one of these wrong steps has been too big centralization and urbanization. In current electronic age, people could actually live less centralized and urbanized manner and still take care of all of their private and social needs. Therefore I think that we need to invest into the technology that enables us more balanced living and better life standards where ever we are on the globe.

Marcia said:

Climate change will not truly be addressed in my opinion until the average Joe is given information that is understandable and is not told what to do by different sides. Instead consulted and treated like thinker not an idiot. At the same time we need to also address industries that fly food from the other side of the world to the UK because of what people want and not what they need. The notion of carbon rationing will probably have more loopholes in it then any legislation ever created. And how do codify such legislation on carbon emission that will not keep the less fortunate at the bottom of the scale.

In order to tackle climate change we need to look at all the factors that contribute to destroying the climate. Flight is a right we all have, and how to tackle it without seeming to discriminate against those who won’t be able to afford it, while crippling the economy of the third world countries who export food by flight, will be difficult.

As a member of society of I understand the importance of regulation of flight due to carbon emission, however as an individual I believe I have the right to fly wherever I wish (which is selfish, but aren’t we all just a bit selfish) . And this in my opinion is where one aspect of the problem is to be found.

For Flight is the opium of the masses?

Nuura said:

As one of the attendees said: “We live in a democracy,” meaning majority rules. We all know about global warming and that is a factor that triggers natural disasters. Therefore carbon dioxide emission should be addressed at the moment the third world is being affected the most not us the west, even though we contribute the most to the emissions. So restricting flying it does not make any sense because we all have the human right to move where we want to move. Also flying is not used only used for leisure but also to get in contact with the masses that are affected by natural disasters to give aid. The approach it’s too radical, because the majority will never agree to it.
Also how much of the emissions of flying is of the total output greenhouse gases.
The world wants real figures that are not doubtful but real figures of how much us humans are contributing to global warming and natural disasters. The society needs to be re-educated and stop being so selfish. Society is a selfish one that only cares for status and the good-life unfortunately but giving real figures and seriously shocking people and making an impact, that could lead to sustainable changes in our lives to make sure that we think about our planet in a way for all.

Mia said:

In response to the last comment, who said that flying is worth the cost of natural disasters? I think they said that there is no cause and effect, no link between us flying and natural disasters. Millions of lives are affected by poverty, and therefore natural disasters, as they lack the infrastructure to protect them from these disasters. More developed countries have man made defences against such things, so let’s make sure everyone in the world is not at the whim of nature. Going back to flying, we are getting cheaper and cheaper flights, meaning so many more of us can afford to see the world, not enough though, so we should be arguing for more cheap flights if we think the world is for us all.

Sally said:

As the questions from this debate reveal, many people champion flying as a symbol for modernity and opportunity. However, it is shocking that, as one person from the audience declares, that flying is worth the cost of natural disasters that affect millions of lives in poorer countries. This does not mean that we should ban flying or stop travel but we do need to find practical solutions to such environmental problems.

Steve said:

The scorn of Hillman Mayer for the recreational and commercial need for exotic travel or just plain jet-setting is more than a question of CO2 emissions. The argument against flight is an attack on the basic right of individuals to transcend material constraints. The aeroplane’s triumph of human ingenuity over gravity should be a cause for celebration. Instead, the desire for air travel is transformed into a modern day sin. As a member of the audience points out: the call for a ban on flights is no less shocking than a call for a ban on housebuilding. While Greens hide behind planning laws to delay the transformation of housing, they dare not call for an end to the construction industry. The popular refrain that flying is beyond the pale is simply another way of saying that the masses need to learn their place on earth and get their heads out of the skies.