The CEO of Lufthansa wants to ban low airfares ‘for the environment’ (not to get rid of low cost competitors). The CEO of Wizz Air wants to ban business class because business class takes up more space on planes, so is more ‘responsible’ for carbon emissions (not to get rid of competitors that rely on premium passenger revenue when his airline doesn’t offer business class). Moral grandstanding for me, but not for thee.
Climate activist Greta Thunberg won’t fly. She’s a key part of the flight shaming movement in Europe. She takes boats when visiting the U.S. In Europe she takes the train. The 16 year old says her childhood has been stolen because the world isn’t taking climate change seriously enough. Indeed she is celebrated on multiple continents.
Ms. Thunberg wants you to know that she suffers for our sins. She tweeted a photo of herself sitting on the floor of a train, implying she’d have to sit on the floor all the way home to Madrid.
Traveling on overcrowded trains through Germany. And I’m finally on my way home! pic.twitter.com/ssfLCPsR8o
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) December 14, 2019
The German train operator responded “It would have been even nicer if you had also reported how friendly and competent you were looked after by our team at your seat in first class.”
Time‘s Person of The Year backtracked, reminding that overcrowded trains are good I guess because that means a lot of people aren’t flying.
Our train from Basel was taken out of traffic. So we sat on the floor on 2 different trains. After Göttingen I got a seat.This is no problem of course and I never said it was. Overcrowded trains is a great sign because it means the demand for train travel is high!
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) December 15, 2019
According to a statement from Deutsche Bahn AG, “Thunberg had a seat in first class between Kassel and Hamburg and that other members of her team were already sitting in first class from Frankfurt onwards.” (Emphasis mine.) The religious undertones of her approach aren’t an accident, by the way.
None of which should be taken to lessen the significance of the issue at hand, even if I’d differ in approach from the young woman who has become famous for the way she lectures the world. Global warming is a problem. It’s going to affect the world in a variety of ways (and not in the same way everywhere). You don’t have to trust climate models to believe this, though the worst case scenarios are scary even if they’re unlikely.
No one has real plans that are both feasible and ambitious enough to do anything about it. We could adopt all the recommended changes in the West and – taking the threat seriously – that wouldn’t be enough to make up for emissions elsewhere in the world. So my own hope is for enough broad based economic growth in the world, so that everyone can take the issue seriously, and for technological progress so that the tradeoffs involved especially for the least well off are manageable.
Air travel, though, remains a small part of global emissions. Economic growth, made possible by travel, is a crucial part of the solution. And the airline industry is among the better ones for making progress with its emissions.