Flat White

Planes, trains and Greta Thunberg

15 August 2019

1:00 PM

15 August 2019

1:00 PM

This is what the Steve Martin/John Candy classic comedy would be like if remade by Greta Thunberg. In the Swedish version, Neal Page would never make it home for Thanksgiving – what’s there to give thanks for anyway? The Earth is dying, after all:

Pär Holmgren can be forgiven for looking haggard as he steps off the train in central Stockholm. After all, he’s withstood a 24-hour commute from his job in Strasbourg, France — some 850 miles away from his home.

Since getting elected into the European Parliament in May, Holmgren, 54, has made the grueling round-trip journey to either Strasbourg or Brussels, the two cities where the Parliament sits, every week.

“The alternative of going by plane doesn’t really exist in my mind,” he said. “To me, there aren’t any airplanes going between Stockholm and Strasbourg.”

The TV personality-turned-politician is part of a growing wave of Swedes who’ve given up flying because of carbon emissions produced by air travel.

In fact, almost 1 in 4 Swedes chose not to fly over the past year, a recent survey commissioned by the WWF Sweden conservation group has found.

Climate experts say aviation accounts for 4 to 5 percent of human-produced greenhouse gas emissions coming from energy, but air travel is often the biggest source of personal carbon emissions for high-income individuals and frequent flyers.

Listen, I’m all for it; if people want to go back in time as a result of their own free choice that’s wonderful. At least these martyrs for Gaia are putting their money where their mouth is – on train as opposed to plane tickets. They are not being hypocrites, unlike the two hundred celebrities who came on 114 private jets and numerous superyachts to Google’s climate change summit in Sicily the other week. Even St Greta herself, the teenage idiot savant of the green movement, will be eschewing plane travel and going to the UN Climate Action Summit in New York in September on a zero-emission yacht. Want to suffer 24-hour Strasbourg-Stockholm regular commutes or a few weeks at sea between Europe and America so as not to sin again the planet, knock yourself out. My problem starts as soon as the environmental flagellanti decide it’s not enough that simply they care and want to start imposing their totalitarian solutions on everyone else. Like Kimberly Nicholas, a climate change researcher and lecturer at Lund University in Sweden:

Flight should be seen as a precious gift, to be used wisely and sparingly, not blown on cheap weekend jaunts.

That sounds lovely, but when you read the fine print this woke Luddism once again proves to be the domain of those with enough time and money to indulge their consciences while they sneer at the less environmentally-conscious plebs:

Even in Europe, where train infrastructure is well developed, a return train trip from London to Madrid in October, for example, would set you back just over $680 and take nearly 30 hours of total travel time, whereas going there and back by plane would cost as little as $45 and take five hours of total flying time.

Great, isn’t it? But, as Nicholas argues, we have to do it (better still, probably not travel too much at all):

Annual emissions produced by every person on the planet must stay below 2.1 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) by the year 2050 if the warming of the planet is to be kept below 2°C (3.6°F) — the maximum limit laid out in the 2015 Paris climate accord, she said.

And it is very easy to hit the individual limit under the pact: Nicholas said just one round-trip transatlantic flight (between London and New York, for example) is estimated to emit about 1.6 tons of CO2 on average — more than three-quarters of that annual carbon budget.

On average, Nicholas said one would have to avoid eating meat for two years or recycle all household waste for eight years to save the equivalent climate pollution of taking one such flight.

This indeed seems to be the vision of an ecommunist utopia now increasingly on offer from its vocal and influential supporters:

  • As Thunberg herself declares in her musical collaboration with the Britpop band The 1975 released last month (all proceeds to the pests of Extinction Rebellion who have a tendency to glue themselves to busy intersections): it’s “time to rebel” and for “civil disobedience”… “We have to acknowledge that the older generations have failed, all political movements in their current form have failed, but Homo sapiens have not yet failed… Now is not the time for speaking politely. Now is the time to speak clearly.”
  • David Runciman, politics professor at Cambridge University: “If electoral democracy is inadequate to the task of addressing climate change, and the task is the most urgent one humanity faces, then other kinds of politics are urgently needed… Channelling more energy into these other forms of democracy—into citizens’ assemblies and civil disobedience, rather than elections and party-building—will change our politics drastically. But it may be the only way to ensure our planet does not change beyond recognition.”
  • Greenpeace: “We’re not advocating that everyone adopt a ‘meatless’ diet tomorrow. But we all must develop “meat consciousness” and reduce the level of meat in our diets. Shifting to more plant-based foods is essential to combatting climate change, soil, air and water pollution, ocean dead zones, and myriad other problems caused by industrial livestock production.” Sentiments echoed this week by UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
  • And don’t even mention Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal.

This is the future according to eco-warriors: anti-democratic, anti-growth and prosperity, with your options on everything from how (and if) you travel to what you eat restricted by your moral betters.

As a wiser Scandinavian, Bjorn Lomborg, wrote recently:

This year, the world will spend $US162 billion ($230bn) subsidising renewable energy, propping up inefficient industries and supporting middle-class homeowners to erect solar panels, according to the International Energy Agency. In addition, the Paris Agreement on climate change will cost the world from $US1 trillion to $US2 trillion a year by 2030. Astonishingly, neither of these hugely expensive policies will have any measurable impact on temperatures by the end of the century…

Global warming is a real, man-made problem — but it is just one of many challenges facing humanity. We shouldn’t base our policy decisions on Hollywood movies or on scare scenarios but on the facts. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, even if we did absolutely nothing to respond to global warming, the total impact by the 2070s will be the equivalent to a 0.2 per cent to 2 per cent loss in average income. That’s a challenge that requires our attention — but it’s far from the end of the world…

Despite costing a fortune, the Paris Agreement will have virtually no impact on global temperatures. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has estimated that even if every country makes every single carbon cut suggested in the Paris treaty to the fullest extent, CO2 emissions would be cut by only 1 per cent of what would be needed to keep temperature rises under 2C. Incurring an annual $US1 trillion cost while failing to rein in temperature rises is a very poor idea.

In other words, not just eco-totalitarianism but completely pointless eco-totalitarianism. Which makes it pretty much like every other totalitarianism. Pointless that is if you actually want to do “something” about the weather – on the other hand, if the “climate emergency” merely provides you with a great excuse to resurrect socialism and bash capitalism…

P.S. Train travel is indeed “greener” than air travel – but with numerous caveats, for example: the source for the electricity that powers the trains, how full the trains vs planes are on their journey, or the distances in question (as planes burn most fuel during take-off and landing, the longer the haul the more the emissions narrow vis-a-vis trains).

Arthur Chrenkoff blogs at The Daily Chrenk, where this piece also appears.

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