After…things I would like to be different (3)

After coronavirus (which might be quite a long way away), or at least when the world settles down to a new normal, there are some things that I’d like to be different. So over the next days and weeks I’m going to write them down. They will mostly be to do with our relationship with the natural world (but not exclusively).

If you would like to have a go at writing a guest blog on a thing that you would like to be different then please take notice of these general guidelines for guest blogs and send it to me at for consideration. I’ll give priority to offers that relate to the natural environment, and/or to those that are well-written (IMHO).

Sitting in my garden I now see and hear far fewer planes crossing the east Northants skies. Aside from Icelandic volcanoes, nothing has jolted our addiction to flying as effectively as a global pandemic. A tiny virus has done more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from aviation than all the good intentions of individuals and the green policies of governments put together. We’ve been forced not too fly and there’s going to be a good few more weeks of enforced abstinence for most at least.

It seems to me that there will be few better measures of whether we want ‘after’ to be different from ‘before’ than how much we are allowed and encouraged to fly.

Carbon emissions from all UK activities other than aviation declined by 9% in the decade 1990-2000, yet those from aviation doubled in the same period. We make something like 250 million passenger flights annually which is four flights each per year. I think I’ve made five return trips by plane in the last decade.

Airlines are already squealing that they are essential to economic growth, and the economy, and to everything else and that they are so essential that they need handouts to keep going. Who could look at Michael O’Leary and Richard Branson and not want to give them some of our money these days? It’s almost as though not taxing aviation fuel doesn’t count as a massive public subsidy for a highly polluting industry.

Taxing aviation fuel would be a good start and rationing air travel would be another. If you gave me a flight allowance then I would most likely tear it up and that would reduce overall air travel, but I might give my share to my kids, or perhaps sell my share on the open market. Tradeable permits, set at a much lower level than now, would be an effective way to limit air travel through price and availability. ‘What a complicated system!’ you might cry? Well, take a look at how governments raise money from income tax and you’ll see a complicated system of regulating behaviour that is mind-numbingly complex and yet is wholly accepted (well, maybe not 100%) because we’ve all grown up with it, even though income tax was introduced as a temporary measure to raise money to fight Napoleon.

I’m not hopeful that even the jolt to the system delivered by a global pandemic will reset the system as far as air travel is concerned but it should. At present there seem to be two Westminster petitions on this subject: one entitled ‘Decline any requests for bailouts from the airline industry‘ and another ‘Support the British aviation industry during the COVID-19 outbreak‘. I’ll leave it to you to guess which one has fewer than 5,000 signatures and which has over 100,000.

If you’d like to comment on this blog post please start by disclosing how many air flights you have made in the last decade.

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23 Replies to “After…things I would like to be different (3)”

  1. 2 flights in the last 10 years -one to Carcassonne and one to Berlin
    In my lifetime (I'm 68 in August)
    1 in the 66 to Malgrat de Mar ,Spain with my parents -although we flew to Perpignan and got a bus from there (Franco?) In those days a Gerald Durrell experience, wandering off all day catching lizards and praying mantis and my parents not letting me bring them home.
    another one to Zurich in the 90s ( went to the zoo to arrange bringing an elephant back to Chester Zoo where I was working at the time - that showed my parents!) and another to Carcassonne in the early 2000s.
    I really should try and get out more. Obviously I quite like the idea of tradeable permits.

  2. 14 return flights all on wildlife holidays. I have one holiday now postponed until May next year and another to Bulgaria in July that I suspect won't happen. I have however signed the petition for no bail outs for the air industry.

  3. Never, in my 70 years, flown! (If Mother Nature had wanted me to fly she'd have given me wings! 😉 ) Can't say I've missed it either. I doubt very much that people will agree to drastically cut their unnecessary air travel without some government intervention. When enough time has passed, assuming things get back to some kind of 'normal', people will forget, and want guaranteed sun for their hols, or to visit an unmissable destination.

    1. No flights for any reason in the past decade - and very few before that.
      I wholly agree with your doubts, Mairi, that people's views on flying will change. A friend thought he deserved a holiday in the Mediterranean sun after observing this lockdown - and he's probably not alone.

  4. Liking this wish list a lot.
    Zero is my answer. However, to counter that, my wife has flown twice (so 4 flights), once to India and once to Trumpland, so I guess she had my allowance.
    I love the idea of a tradeable flight allowance and only ask that you extend this to cruise ships as well since they are even more polluting.
    It wouldn’t stop people flying should they wish to but uses the polluter pays principle perfectly.(try saying that quickly).
    The same allowance for every person (NO, just because your an MP or millionaire you don’t get more) is also very social. Those who wish not to fly, or cruise, or can’t afford to, will benefit from the extra money.
    Robin Hood Principle.
    As for the petitions you have highlighted, this is the first I’ve heard of them so I wonder where they have been promoted.
    I guessed wrongly! I can well understand that people wish to protect their cheap flights to Spain next year, but was very surprised that so many wanted to pay even more tax to Branson. But then, most people wouldn’t know that flying is subsidised out of their tax anyway.

    1. Mel says I have to include an internal flight in India as well!
      (While I stay at home looking after the dog)

      1. Further thought on the aviation fuel not being taxed. Is that also the case for private jets? Does anybody know if this is a further sub we are giving to the rich? Never thought about it before.

  5. Nil.

    Your article, as does much of the public discourse, assumes that the Covid 19 pandemic is a unique event that will not be repeated.

    That's quite an assumption.

  6. Around the beginning of the millennium, when climate change became an obvious issue (my my, that was a long time ago since when...) I decided not to fly more than 1 trip a year, and I have averaged less than that, with very few ( 2 I think) long haul trips amongst these. I did try not flying at all any more but given that everyone else I knew, even those who were environmentally aware, were continuing to fly anyway I decided that my never flying just made me a mug. And, less selfishly, it also made me a poorer advocate - flying less is an easier sell than never flying again, esp if you live in the UK with our weather.
    [Exception; I lived in Orkney for a year, and short hop flying there is literally the equivalent of the local bus service and not easily avoided if you need to get to the off islands].

    Some observations; I had a great trip to the south of France by train c.2005, but it was 4x the costs of flying (for me and my teenage stepdaughter so 2 people on one income) and simply not affordable again. This Feb I looked at a winter weekend break to Edinburgh, about £50 by plane, over £200 by train. Even allowing for getting to and from the airport it was more than 3x as expensive. I couldn't afford the train, didn't want to fly again (I'd already used my ration when I might otherwise have taken a ferry thanks to Brexit uncertainties with ferry availability) so in the end I drove to Suffolk, stayed in a YHA, and had a fab but completely different sort of time at Minsmere.
    Second, my environmentally aware friends are, virtually without exception, still flying merrily nearly 20 years later. Its such good value you see. They will stop when the macroeconomic signals make them change their choices, they might even vote for this, but they can't turn down such tempting offers. If we're serious about curbing the impacts of flying it has to be something governments lead on, it can't be down to individuals choosing to sacrifice. No more airport expansion, tax jet fuel, and either Mark's tradeable permits (boon for the mostly poorer >50% who never fly at all) or simply an escalating departure tax of nil for the first flight, then much much more for each successive extra one. Hit the 10% of people who take 70% of the flights (that stat may not be exactly right but its something like that).

    Oh, and don't use taxpayer money to bail out the airline industry you idiots. Talking to you, Dom. Doh.

    1. jbc, spot on. The figures are nuts aren’t they. How can we ever expect fewer flights to be made when it is by far the cheapest form of travel. And still would be even if they taxed the fuel! Even driving a long distance only becomes cheaper when there are at least two in the car.

  7. Haven't flown in 20 years, i don't miss anything about it.........the long queues, the delays, the boring journey. The last time put me off when a little airport like Edinburgh expanded into somewhere I no longer recognised, and its much bigger now. Undoubtedly, I came home with a sniffle or worse, which I put down to the unatural air circulated in planes. I am gobsmacked things are beginning to return to normal under some pretense that we can socially distance on a plane. I do understand the need to fly off for sun but it should not be every weekend. It got really for £20. I had high hopes of change after Covid but it looks like nothing will. Everything must grow and money must be made while nature is the loser again. No bailouts and definitely a tax on aviation fuel would be a start.

  8. Our carbon-fuelled, Earth destroying lifestyles will eventually lead to the loss of the things we most treasure. Count the number of friends and aquaintances who regularly travel abroad to watch birds, who keep a 'world list' of species seen, who splash photos and videos all over the internet yet claim to be 'concerned' for the natural world, oblivious to the yawning chasm between thought and action. (Yes, I am aware of the justifications often presented for this, most of which are pure b******t.)
    If concerned environmentalists are not prepared to curb their lifestyles, who are we to point the finger at anyone else? 'Mote & beam' anybody!?
    To comply with your request, Mark, I must 'fess up to having flown once in 2012 and twice in the previous year, all trips to visit family then living in Europe. Usually we made this journey by train until timetable changes made it totally impractical.
    Of course, flying is only one part of our overall carbon footprint but it is the one easiest to remedy at a personal level in most leisure related circumstances.

  9. The amount 'we' fly is disgusting. On your '4 flights each a year': the wealthy and the middle classes fly a lot more than poorer people. Another reason to ignore those opposed to taxing it. Me: one flight about 15 years ago, only because someone begged me to go with them.
    What's the footprint of a (British) child though? More than about 500 flights probably, and potentially limitless, depending on how they and any children of theirs (ad infinitum) behave.

    1. I assume you are childless Dr Parry and if that is a choice that you have made for environmental reasons then it is admirable that you live by your principles. However, before you go too far down the road of guilt-tripping those of us who do have children you might wish to consider that it is younger generations who will need to pay your pension, and for your health care, provide whatever physical care you need and generally ensure that the services that you (and all of us) depend on are maintained after you cease to be economically active.

      1. Well we paid for their educations and child healthcare. There is nothing virtuous about the children now paying their part.

        1. I didn't suggest there was anything virtuous about it. It a simple matter of practical truths. The working population supports the non-working population. We benefit from that when we are too young to go to work and then again when we are too old (or otherwise incapable of work). In between we contribute our taxes and more generally to the functioning of the economy. If we didn't have any new recruits into the working population then everyone would have to work until they dropped.

  10. Absolutely cannot believe, btw, which way round those petition numbers are. Contemptible.

  11. Never have and never will. To be fair, I should add that I've never needed to, and couldn't afford it anyway, but wouldn't out of principle now.
    In my 57 years, I've only been abroad once (26/5/82, the most important date in sporting history!), and that was on a boat. Despite this, I consider myself so very privileged to have been a birder/naturalist; it's given me many priceless experiences, and although I've lived a comparatively sedentary existence, I'd like to think I've travelled the world in my mind. And I sure as hell ain't finished yet.

  12. has shown that the airspace over Southern England this week has been super crowded by private trainer aircraft, so if you've got a neighbour working on his/her pilots licence, then stay the hell away from them for a few weeks because all those briefing room contacts means they are going to be a major coronavirus vector. In carbon news, apparently car sales are on a major uptick in the UK right now due to all the people who used public transport during a pandemic now swearing to never use it again. Our public transport has always sucked, but this just illustrates how badly.

    1. "Our public transport has always sucked, but this just illustrates how badly"

      I'm not sure I understand your point here. It is true that public transport in the UK often leaves a lot to be desired but if people are genuinely buying cars at the moment because they didn't like having to use public transport during the epidemic that surely says nothing at all about the quality of our bus, train and tram networks? I don't suppose there is a public transport network anywhere in the world that people would choose to travel on during an epidemic of highly contagious and potentially lethal disease if they did not absolutely have to.

  13. If the the replies on this page are a true sample , then it simply confirm my suspicions about your readership. None live in the real world or at the very least are stuck back in one that disappeared around 50 years ago!

    1. Matthew - then we are so lucky to have you here to show the way forward with your incisive argument and impressive analysis.


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