Thursday, January 11, 2007

Sanctimonious Hippy Garbage Strikes Again

Sue Blackmore is terribly proud. She's given up flying. In fact, she's so proud that she has used a Guardian Unlimited piece to tell us all about how enlightened she is.

"How could someone be that selfless and brave? I knew I couldn't. I spend my life flying around the world giving lectures and going to conferences. It's my job. It's fun, it's prestigious, it's exciting. Anyway, one person's actions are a drop in the ocean to the scale of the problem of climate change, aren't they?

Yet two years on I find I have made that same decision myself. As of the start of 2007 I will make only the trips I've already booked (the US this month and Basel next) and after that I won't be flying for work any more."

How can she be so selfless and brave? How can someone write those two paragraphs without cringing at their own self-satisfaction and retreating from the keyboard?

I think its interesting that she's going to stop "flying for work". So she'll still be joining the EasyJet crowd to Ibiza but conferences in the States are off limits. Hardly puritan self-denial is it?

"This decision, that I once thought impossible, really made itself. I was sitting one day in a huge 747 when, before my lunch, served in a disposable plastic tray, the steward brought me gin in a disposable bottle, tonic in a throwaway can, a plastic cup to drink it out of and, for good measure, a spare plastic cup in which to put the little plastic stirring stick.

I realised that it's not just the fuel the plane uses but the whole crazy, wasteful enterprise of travelling the world."

Firstly, disposable drinks containers on planes probably aren't wasteful. Imagine a plane carrying a full load of non-disposable cutlery, cups etc. The extra weight and space used would add far more to the pollution footprint of the flight.

Secondly, if you don't want a stirrer, cup for stirrer or cup just tell the flight staff. I'm sure they can adjust their service and just give you the can. That kind of step is a little too practical, though, isn't it? Not quite the lifestyle statement you get with giving up flying.

Thirdly, between that Guardian article and her website I count at least four shades of hairdye going into her statement of hippy identity. She hasn't got rid of the purer examples of waste in her life.

Finally, a large part of her career has been parapsychology. Can she acknowledge that, while her "work" trips might be a waste of time and airfuel, other business travel is quite worthwhile?

"There's not only the plastic, the bottled water, and the ludicrous practice of duty-free alcohol, but the luxury hotels I'm lucky enough to be put in, with all those unnecessarily frequently washed sheets and bright white towels."

I've stayed in quite a few decent business hotels recently and they have all been quite clear about the rules: to avoid this kind of waste leave the towels on the floor if you want them washed and on the rack if you don't. Evidently she was too blinded by Guardianista rage to be able to notice such simple measures.

"We all know that, for most journeys, flying puts far more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than would driving somewhere or going there by train."

That's mostly because we're travelling a lot further. Flying is often, per mile, pretty efficient increasingly as high oil prices create a powerful incentive for airlines to increase efficiency. As such, this isn't waste but a price we pay for seeing new countries and new people.

It is telling that she gives no thought, in her article, to the benefit side of the cost/benefit calculation of flying. First, many flights are a chance for people to experience different cultures and peoples. The Guardian has become the paper of the modern little Englander mentality unwilling to see the value of people getting out in the world. Sure, some flights don't achieve this objective but the pure party trip to a hot country to get drunk is a caricature. Most will, at least to some extent, come home with a better understanding of how things are outside Britain and will be better people for it.

Second, conferences, whether academic, political or business, are important in enabling an international dialogue on important issues. The most likely outcome of more British people adopting Blackmore's decision to "choose conferences closer to home" is that more people will have to fly from foreign countries; no decrease in flying or emissions. If this movement is taken up worldwide it will mean people from different nations no longer talking, face to face, with each other. Do we really want people from different parts of the world talking to each other less?

This article was a fine example of what is wrong with the modern environmental movement.


Serf said...

I hope all the hippy brigade give up flying. It will leave more space for those doing proper business.

Anonymous said...

Well if she wants to stay on the ground, why not. But she has to give up all travel or else she is cheating.

Gracchi said...

She does sound like a bit of an idiot but there are other environmentalists out there- that's like listening to the guys in the US that say some people think carbon dioxide is bad for us but we think it gives life. Ultimately you can't attack the weakest advocate of the opposition argument, it may be good politics but its bad argumentative practice.

Matthew Sinclair said...

I'm not saying that all environmentalists are at this level. However, I do think that the movement as a whole has a problem with preferring gestures to careful policy.

I have, on plenty of occasions, tried to rebut the stronger advocates as well. Sometimes its just fun to kick the weaklings :)

Anonymous said...

Rather late to comment but up till Sept 11 most airlines used metal cutlery, porcelain crockery and occasionally even glass.