Love miles (and corporate lobbying)

Guardian Unlimited: Pundits who contest climate change should tell us who is paying them

A follow-up to George Monbiot’s three articles in the Guardian’s G2 supplement last week on global warming, all edited extracts from his new book Heat ([1], [2], [3]). In this article, he notes how sceptical writing here as well as in the US has been influenced by corporate lobby funding from both the oil and the tobacco industries, both of which have an interest in casting doubt on strong scientific opinions. One such outfit has even suggested that we just let climate change happen and then adapt - never mind the fact that those with most to lose are in the poorest parts of the world and least responsible for the emissions which cause climate change.

The third of the above linked articles is well worth a read: it’s about how the entire air travel industry is entirely unsustainable and that it’s next to impossible to make the efficiency savings which would remedy this.

Monbiot’s statistics indicate that there simply is no “technofix” to make aviation environmentally friendly, and that most of the aeroplanes in operation simply have to be grounded. This means an end to the frequent flier culture that exists in some of the wealthier pockets of our society - the shopping trips to New York and parties in Ibiza and “most painfully for me, political meetings in Porto Alegre”, and that “journeys around the world must be reserved for visiting the people you love, and that they will require both slow travel and the saving up of carbon rations” (his book explains the whole carbon rationing deal).

People fly unnecessarily, and don’t forget that a lot of people actually hate flying but do so either because everyone else is doing so or because they can’t think of any better way of getting where they’re going (if that happens to be across the Atlantic or Pacific or to somewhere like South Africa, that is basically true). I remember a family wedding I went to in Connemara (Ireland) in 2003, in which I spent the months between hearing about it and actually going dreading it and making half-hearted plans to take the ferry.

There are other reasons, however. One is the fact that land corridors have been closed because flying has become easier and cheaper, particularly because air fuel can’t be taxed - as was the case with the Orient Express, for example. In the UK, a number of rail lines were taken out of use in the 1960s, partly because of vested interests certain politicians had in road building but also because, when you could take the train or fly from, say, London to Manchester, it may have been deemed unnecessary to have two rail corridors (the other, since closed, went out of St Pancras).

The other is politics. Obviously outsiders can’t easily dictate where people who will fight wars won’t fight them (civil wars, particularly), but there are a fair number of major land routes which have been closed because the countries it passes through have a grudge against each other - India and Pakistan, for example. If air travel is to be drastically scaled down, there needs to be international treaties to open up the alternatives, allowing, for example, US citizens to travel through Iran when they badly need to get to India.

And let’s face it, the link between our Muslim communities in the west and their respective back-homes can’t be continued as easily as they are now if you can no longer get back to the old country in less than a day’s journey. This may well mean that the practice of sourcing spouses from back home has to cease, unless that country is particularly near (somewhere like Morocco), which could well mean that the language of the old country, if it’s not Arabic, becomes vastly less important. Whether this is altogether positive or otherwise remains to be seen, but as the number of British (and American) Muslims with one foot in another country diminishes, there is the likelihood that we may develop a more specifically localised Muslim identity and be seen rather less as part of a foreign land transplanted into the West.

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