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Flight-shame about to touch-down in NZ

AUTHOR Frank Newman DATE 06 Aug 2019

Flight-shame. If you have not heard about it already, you soon will. It's the latest buzz coming out of the global warming pandemic and gaining a momentum that is beginning to have an impact on air travel within Europe. It could potentially have an even more significant impact on long-haul destinations like New Zealand.

An article appearing in the Washington Post says, "…a growing crowd of Europeans…are spurning air travel out of concern for the environment this northern hemisphere summer." 

It tells the story of Johan who travelled from Sweden to Austria. Instead of taking a two-hour flight, he chose to reduce his carbon impact by taking a 30-hour journey by rail, bus and ferry.

Environmentally conscious travellers like Johan are becoming increasingly aware of the contribution air travel has on one’s carbon "footprint". For example, the carbon calculator enviro-mark shows that a return trip from London to Auckland would add 7.8 tonnes of carbon into the environment, or 31 tonnes for a family holiday for mum, dad, and two kiddies, which is a whopping seven times the estimated annual footprint of an environmentally conscious four-person family. For those adopting a save-the-planet lifestyle, that's a pretty compelling reason to take a rail holiday around Europe instead of a long-haul flight to New Zealand.

While most travellers are unlikely to do the emissions math, many will be influenced by the flight-shame campaign. International air travel may no longer be the trendy thing one talks about to impress others at social gatherings. "Oh my partner and I had a wonderful week in New Zealand", will become, "My partner and I had a wonderful week travelling Europe in an e-vehicle and staying in sustainable lodges with composting toilets". 

It is inevitable that the increasingly vociferous global warming activists will convince ordinarily sane folk that the best way for them to save the planet is to stop flying. This is in part because of the inspiration of fresh-faced school kids demanding action from our politicians, but also from politicians themselves. Shortly after the Whangarei District Council declared a climate "emergency", a councillor is said to have remarked that she believes the number of tourists visiting Northland should be reduced to minimise their environmental impact. That is not likely to be welcomed by the many business owners and their employees in Northland who rely on tourism for their livelihood. It's the same argument that climate activists are using to reduce livestock numbers, and there is now a real possibility that tourism, like farming, will come under pressure to reduce activity. 

Airlines are of course positioning themselves to counter the potential threat. In April, Stuff reported Air New Zealand "is one of the country's largest climate polluters, responsible for emitting 3.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, the equivalent of around four per cent of New Zealand's total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Air New Zealand alone has the same GHG footprint as the country's entire waste disposal sector (because international flights don't count towards a country's total emissions, most of its footprint is uncounted in the national total)." 

It reports that aviation was not included in the Paris Agreement, leaving it up to the airlines to come up with its own system to mitigate carbon emissions. (Perhaps politicians did not want to draw attention to their own flying habits!) 

The only practical way for airlines to do so is to reduce fuel consumption, either by reducing the number of flight miles or using more fuel-efficient planes; although significant gains from new technology are likely to be some way off. Airlines are more likely to go on a charm offensive by flirting around the edges with compostable cups and newspaperless lounges to make travellers sleep a little easier on those long-haul flights. 

Tourism facts:

  • Total annual tourism expenditure in NZ is $39 billion. Of that about 41% or $16 billion comes from international tourism. 
  • Tourism has been a growth sector with earnings increasing 44% in the past five years. 
  • Tourism is our biggest export industry, contributing 21% of foreign exchange earnings. It employs 216,000 people directly and another 149,000 indirectly – almost 1 in 7 jobs.
  • International visitors pay $1.7 billion in GST revenue annually.

Frank Newman is a former councillor on the Whangarei District Council.

The views expressed are those of the author alone and may not reflect the views of Better! Whangarei.

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