Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Madeleine Bunting helps to keep the Third World poor

Madeleine Bunting is legendary as the human incarnation of liberal English middle-class guilt. Well, it appears that this time she really has something to feel guilty about. In her most recent piece of hand-wringing, she takes herself to task for her failure to be sufficiently environmentally friendly: ‘Is it enough to have halved family meat consumption, have foregone flights for several sun-starved years and arranged a life in which habits of cycling to work and walking to school are routine ? No, it’s just scratching at the surface.’ Maddy of the Sorrows has for some time now been suggesting the foregoing of foreign holidays, or at least driving instead of flying abroad, as a way of reducing carbon emissions. But what does her suggestion really mean ?

Senior environmentalist Lisa Mastny of the WorldWatch Institute in Washington wrote back in 2001: ‘For the world’s 49 so-called least developed countries, most of which are in Africa or Asia, tourism is one of the few ways to actually participate in the global economy. The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reports that tourism is now the second largest source of foreign exchange after oil in these countries, accounting for 16 per cent of total non-oil receipts in 1998. Their aggregate tourism revenue more than doubled between 1992 and 1998, to $2.2 billion, with five countries – Cambodia, Maldives, Nepal, Tanzania and Uganda – attracting more than half of this 1998 total. The World Trade Organisation reports that tourism is the only economic sector where developing countries consistently run a trade surplus. And its importance in trade is growing.’

As an environmentalist, Mastny argues that the point is not to end tourism, but to make it more environmentally sustainable: ‘The most sustainable option of all would be to stay at home. But in a world where travel is an increasingly important vehicle of cultural exchange, as well as a crucial driver of the world economy, this is an impractical and unrealistic solution.’ Mastny does not appear to have taken account of Bunting’s personal crusade to deprive the world’s poorest countries of their second-largest source of foreign exchange. Bunting’s suggestion that people only travel when completely necessary, and take the car or train rather than the plane, would realistically mean that almost nobody in Britain would go on holiday much beyond France – who is going to travel overland to Tanzania or Cambodia ?

There was a time when progressively minded people were in favour of a cheap and efficient transport system and affordable foreign holidays for working-class people. This is apparently no longer the case. London’s left-wing mayor, Ken Livingstone, has apparently ‘made it clear that I oppose all airport expansion in London and the South East, not just at Heathrow’. This from a mayor who spends much of his time travelling to exciting places all over the world.

There is a campaign to halt the building of a third runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow Airport. If it succeeds, it will prolongue the suffering of millions of people, resulting from the fact that Europe’s busiest airport is also just about Europe’s most overcrowded; in fact, flying from Heathrow in summer is an absolute nightmare. If the campaign succeeds, London’s position as the world’s leading financial centre will suffer. But this will not prevent increasing millions of British people from flying away on holiday each year, or millions of foreigners from flying to Britain. It will just make it more difficult and unpleasant for them.

There are other, more effective ways of helping the environment than avoiding flying abroad on holiday. One can, for example, avoid having children. Or one can simply kill oneself – probably the most environmentally friendly option of all. Anyone who opts to take any such step is free to bask in the warm glow of self-righteousness and enjoy the sensation of moral superiority vis-a-vis lesser beings. But real angels are polite enough to keep these feelings to themselves.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007 Posted by | Environment, Heathrow, Political correctness, Transport | , , | Leave a comment