It won't cost the earth

AIR travel seems set to increase dramatically in the next 25 years - with a huge impact on our planet through noise and pollution. PAUL GEATER and RICHARD CORNWELL investigate what you can do to limit the damage.

AIR travel seems set to increase dramatically in the next 25 years - with a huge impact on our planet through noise and pollution. PAUL GEATER and RICHARD CORNWELL investigate what you can do to limit the damage.

LOOKING up at the skies, it is sometimes tempting to think the problem of increased flying is too great for any of us, as individuals, to influence.

However there are things that we can do - and can influence others to do - in an attempt to reduce the impact on our environment and on the planet as a whole.

Over the last 40 years the increase in the number of flights has been influenced by two factors - the increase in the number of people flying for business, and the increase in leisure flights.

BA business flights from Heathrow and Gatwick are as likely to be over Suffolk skies, as holidays flights from Luton or Stansted. They also tend to be less full than holidays flights.

Leisure flights have really grown in popularity over the last decade as low-cost flyers like Ryanair and EasyJet allow Brits to reach Barcelona or Prague as cheaply as they could travel by train to Manchester or Leeds.

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If you run a business you will have heard the call for more video conferencing, to reduce the need to travel. Not only would that be good for the environment, it would also save time and money for the business leaders involved.

Yet many businesses have been reluctant to adopt new technology, fearing it would mean the end of the “personal touch” although an increasing number are now reconsidering it as the technology improves.

Leisure flights have also increased dramatically over the last few years with the growth in low-cost airlines and more people are seeing flying as a “normal” way of travelling. It is this idea that flying is a normal part of life that environmental campaigners are trying to combat.

Alternative methods of transport are much better for the environment - flying from London to Paris creates many times more carbon emissions than going by train, and the price is similar. Flying from Stansted to Prague for a stag weekend might sound attractive, but is it really any better to see the Czech capital through a drunken haze than it is to see Brighton through a drunken haze?

More people are flying regularly, but it is still a minority of the population and that statistic is challenge to both the airlines and the environmentalists.

Airlines like Ryanair hope to continue to expand by persuading more and more of us on to their jets, while environmentalists hope to persuade us against flying more in an attempt to stop the increase in flight. Someone is going to be disappointed in this battle for hearts and minds.

And the state of the argument will be judged by the number of planes flying over our heads.

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Are you prepared to change your lifestyle in an attempt to change the world and the skies above Suffolk? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk.

WITH the number of passengers flying set to more than double by 2030, airlines pay no tax on fuel yet indirectly every UK taxpayer subsidises the industry by more than £300 each a year - whether we fly or not.

Ways also need to be found to make the aviation industry pay, according to Friends of the Earth, and for that money to be channelled into projects to benefit the environment.

Friends of the Earth aviation expert Richard Dyer said the government's idea to charge air passengers duty was good idea, but was not enough. He said: “It is a complex international issue, but the government could make a start by introducing a tax on domestic flights. This could be done very quickly - in the next budget.

“The voluntary solutions proposed by the aviation industry are totally inadequate. It will be much harder to reverse growth in the future when the aviation industry has invested in more runways and the public is even more 'air dependent'.”

Aviation fuel has no excise duty on it, unlike petrol and diesel, which keeps the cost of flying artificially low. Many MPs have called for this perverse situation - where the most damaging form of transport attracts no duty - to be changed.

However the argument has always been that by its nature aviation is an international business, and if a plane is charged duty to fill up with aviation fuel in London, it will wait until it is in Prague where duty is less to fill up. And bosses at Ryanair claim that introducing excise duty would not stop people flying - they point out that people still drive cars despite the high cost of fuel.

The new airport tax has been unpopular with airlines, and has spurred Ryanair to publish a series of advertisements claiming that it is a “tax grab” and has nothing to do with the environment.

The European Union is also set to extend carbon trading - where industries are allocated permits for carbon emissions and have to purchase extra permits if they need to pollute more - to aviation.

Aviation is already the fastest growing source of climate changing emissions in both the UK and the world, and fumes from planes are estimated to have three times the climate change impact of other carbon emissions due to their complex chemical reactions at altitude.

Carbon emissions from UK aviation increased by 11 per cent in 2004 alone and are estimated to increase four-fold by 2050.

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How big is yours?

Your carbon footprint is a measure of the impact your daily activities - eg driving, heating our homes or flying - have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced.

It is measured in terms of the units of carbon dioxide produced.

'Carbon offsetting' is a way of compensating for the emissions produced, with an equivalent carbon dioxide saving - to lessen the impact of your actions.

Carbon offsetting is not a cure for climate change but it can help raise awareness of the damage we are doing to the planet.

Next time you fly, calculate your carbon footprint by logging on to a website like www.carbonfootprint.com. Then to offset the damage your flight causes, you can pay (eg £9.49 per 1,000kg) to an offset provider. They will spend your cash supporting projects that will reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and alleviate global warming.

Recommended offset providers included Atmosfair , Myclimate , Tesco Energy and Unravelit.com .

Weblink: www.defra.gov.uk/environment

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