Written in 2000 - All these years later, and it's still costing the earth...
CHEAP TRAVEL COSTS THE EARTH
At this gloomy time of year the lure of a sun-soaked holiday on a remote
exotic beach seems irresistible. The cost of air travel has fallen
dramatically in recent years making holidays abroad far more accessible to a
wider section of the population. The effects of price slashing and
‘no-frills’ airlines has grown the number of passengers travelling through
UK airports from 22.5 mIllion 20 years ago to 11.6.8 million Just 2 years
ago. Industry observers predict that London airports atone wlll need to flnd
capacity for an extra 100 million passengers per year by 2015 - the same
number presently using Heathrow. Gatwick, Luton and Stanstead combined. At
least 80% of airborne travellers are holidaymakers. Unfortunately, the
increased number at people taking advantage of cheaper air travel, currently
rising at five to six per cent every year, is planet-threateningly bad.
According to meteorologists attending a world summit on climate change
earlier this year, the 16,000 aircraft circling the globe every single day
have become one of the main sources of atmospheric pollution.
Air pollution and global warming are having a much more devastating effect
on life than was originally feared. By the end of the next century
scientists are now predicting that temperatures will have risen by as much
as eight degrees Celsius — over two degrees higher than earlier
The odd degree or two doesn’t sound much, but the one degree rise which has
already occurred has killed between 70-90% of the coral reefs in the Indian
Ocean and wiped out half the polar bear and seal populations. Further global
warming will melt the polar ice caps, which wilt in turn raise the
temperature at sea level. A one metre rise in global sea levels would put 75
per cent of the earth’s land mass under water.
The world’s airlines are dumping 7SOmillion tonnes of pollutants into the
atmosphere every year, mostly the most problematic greenhouse gas — carbon
dioxide — which equates to 3.5% of global warming.
The airline industry insists that it is committed to tackling the problem. A
British Airways spokesman said the company was at the forefront of many
the problem. "We have set a target of 30 per cent reduction in emissions
over the next 20 years" he said. "We have already managed to double our fuel
efficiency over a number of years and are looking at many initiatives to
The Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions IDETR) is also
looking at a range of methods to tackle the problem, including tightening
the rules on emissions, better aircraft design and further taxation on fuel.
But, according to the New Scientist Magazine, engine emissions are not the
only problems caused by the aeroplanes. A report earlier this year suggested
that the fluids used to de-ice aircraft are polluting the ground water near
major airports and killing aquatic life. Researchers from Western Washington
University had identified the problem as a family of chemicals called
tolytriazoles. which are also used in car de-icers. These were found in high
concentrations in a stream draining an airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. On
three occasions when heavy de-icing had occurred, minnows and water fleas
placed in the stream by a researcher all died. In the summer months, when no
de-icing is necessary, 80 per cent of the creatures survived. Researcher,
Devon Cancilla, was quoted as criticising the rules for de-icers, which
regulate only the concentration of glycol — a de-icing substance that is
less toxic than tolytriazoles.
Organic farmers based under flight paths are also facing difficulties in
receiving Soil Association Accreditation due to excess fuel being dumped
into the atmosphere prior to aircraft landing and, therefore, effectively
spraying the ground beneath. The Norfolk region has a particularly acute
problem with a large number of military bases operating air exercises in the
The airlines are claiming a new ‘open discussion policy’ on all aspects of
environmental concerns, including talking to non-government organisations.
One suggestion put forward at the Air Transport Association conference
earlier this year is that aircraft should fly slower and lower. The
environmental group Germanwatch believes this would reduce environmental
pollution as well as dampen the growth in demand for flying.
There is little scientific doubt that aircraft are contributing to air
pollution and global warming, but by how much is still In dispute. The
environmental groups claim the airlines simply pay lip service to global
warming concerns in favour of profit, whilst the airlines dispute the
scientists findings as being ‘over-hyped’.
Ironically, if the scientists are right, with more and more people being
Jetted off to exotic locations, the aviation industry may end up helping to
sink the very paradise islands it now encourages us to visit. U
~. Organic Iiving March 2000