Children

Though the scientific and moral case against flying is robust, the reaction to making it has made me lose faith in the power of individual action. I think the only solution is a carbon price: see why in my new introduction.

Children are likely to be the worst affected by the consequences of climate change. They are disproportionately victimised by famine, drought, disease and natural disasters, and that’s before you consider that those adults who are affected may well leave children orphaned. There is, of course, an element of sensationalism in noting this fact, but it is probably justified: a morality shift is likely the only way to ram home the necessity of addressing climate change, and actually stop you hopping on a plane. Can you really go on holiday with a clear conscience if you know you’re killing some fraction of a child?

In depth

Saying “children” is just tugging on the heart strings. You’re claiming to be even-handed and objective, but this is a blatantly emotive statement.

The demographics of the developing world with its high birth rates and low life expectancies means just under half of the population are under the age of 20; if Africa is considered alone, the figure is slightly higher, at 52%1. So, if a random group of Africans were wiped out by a climate change blunderbuss, a significant proportion would be children or young people.

Further, children are likely to be badly affected by climate change. Children are disproportionately affected by diseases such as malaria2. Over half of worldwide child deaths are caused by malnutrition3, which will be made worse in developing countries by climate change. It’s a pretty damning picture if you’re a poor kid in a developing country.

Not only will kids be affected directly, but if a significant number of adults are killed by a natural disaster, huge numbers of surviving children can lose one or both parents, leaving both emotional upheaval and the practical issue of who will then look after them.

Adults will certainly be affected by climate change, and in huge numbers. The old and infirm will be hit hard. But it cannot be denied that a significant proportion of those affected by climate change will be young people, and so carbon emissions are killing children; the fact that they are not doing so exclusively does not make the statement incorrect, nor particularly less forceful.

Do you really think this sensationalism is the right way to go about things? Shouldn’t you be making eco-friendliness attractive and cool rather than trying to force people into doing something through guilt?

Ideally, consumer choice would drive the fight against climate change. But making the fight against climate change ‘cool’ won’t ram the message home hard enough.

Say you were to market holidays or cars which were both green and sexy, all you’ll end up doing is offering people a choice. UK- or Europe-based holiday by train or boat versus plane to the Maldives, or petrol-powered versus hydrogen-powered car. There are a lot of people who won’t trade in their perfectly functional, petrol-driven car no matter how sexy the new hydrogen model is, and there are just as many people who would rather fly abroad than go hill walking.

What isn’t cool, and probably never will be, is restriction of personal choice. People are not going to act in great enough numbers without a bit of guilt and legislation thrown in there, no matter what PR team you hire to promote the Lake District.

Being green doesn’t necessitate crap holidays; there are plenty of places accessible by short car journey, train or boat which are amazing. We in Europe are especially lucky to have a hugely diverse selection of cultures and terrain ranging from alpine forest to the arid Med all within a few thousand mile radius; but people are always going to want to travel further afield, even if there’s far more than they can possibly enjoy within planet-preserving distance.

Ultimately, there needs to be a morality shift. It needs to be socially acceptable and socially accepted that high-carbon actions are ‘bad’ because they cause deaths, less conspicuously than drink driving or passive smoking, but no less certainly.

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