It’s amazing how a Tuscan getaway aided by the cut-price offer of Ryanair’s initial flight from Malta can numb the brain. Getting the juices to bubble once again had to be somebody like Michael O’Leary who pooh-poohed calls for green taxes on aviation as the “usual horseshit”, shedding a new light on the entrepreneurs carving not just the economic landscape, but the way we live, and the way we look and value the people around us and the planet we live in.
Returning to the sanity and anger of the gainfully employed, the news of O’Leary’s disdain for green aviation should be enough to make some of his passengers reach for the nearest parachute. But aviation is a necessity for people who live on an island, and also a fact of life in the world of real-time.
And yet, concerned consumers, an upcoming guerrilla force of informed buyers, are reckoned to be increasing every day. Concerned media groups are essential in arming them with necessary information. And business has to respond to these consumers. Business has to be responsible.
O’Leary has ruled out joining the EU carbon emissions trading scheme, which is the only way that airlines can avoid penalties if they increase their carbon dioxide emissions. In short, if you pollute less, not only does a corporation forgo the punitive levies, but they can sell them off to a corporation which has exceeded its limits. It is green business – and it’s also the best at encouraging more R&D investment to go towards greener and cleaner solutions.
British Airways and other European airlines have pledged their intention to join – it’s either that or face a political backlash that will curb the growth of aviation once and for all. In short, there’s not enough room for unlimited aviation, and that’s not because the market is saturated.
O’Leary has also dismissed Richard Branson’s pledge to invest USD3 billion in renewable energy over the next decade as a “PR stunt”, after the billionaire was convinced on climate change by Al Gore, and his film on the apocalypse of climate change.
The Stern report is harrowing to say the least. Maltese businesspeople and entrepreneurs should be strongly urged to read the report which has warned of catastrophic economic consequences if climate change is not tackled, and see for themselves how they can make their businesses greener.
It’s not just O’Leary’s reaction to the Stern report that should be cause for concern: his gung-ho business vision, for which he dubs Ryanair as “gangbusters” experiencing unlimited growth, should be watched. Earlier this week he said he was “far too busy doubling Ryanair over the next few years to be joining any carbon emissions trading scheme”. In this respect, one should remember that the Maltese tourism product will have to be jealously guarded from the sort of encroachment that has profit – not the national interest – in mind; and of course, Air Malta should be clearly restructured in a bid to remain competitive and give back the Maltese taxpayer value for money. That will mean painful cost-cutting.
Some economic studies contradict Ryanair, claiming that even a price increase of 1.5% is enough to put some people off flying. As witnessed by the increase of departure tax on Maltese travellers and its effects on their incomes and movements, green taxes on aviation and their emissions, such as an increase in VAT, are likely to have similar effects.
That is the least of concerns when faced with the climate change time bomb. Frivolous air travel, made possible by low-cost airlines, will be detrimental to efforts to combat climate change because the speed of change is too fast for the planet to endure. Just because it makes economic sense, does not mean it makes sense at all – not when one considers the effects of aviation on climate change.
That’s why Al Gore’s ominous words are axiomatic of the type of change in mentality we require – “We’ve allowed ourselves to adopt a philosophy of short-term thinking that somehow we think absolves us of future consequences of present actions.”
One asks what the Maltese government will be effectively doing in terms of a nationwide campaign that will send shockwaves on climate change. The park and ride system is strongly welcomed. But then, can it start considering a taxation system on CO2 emissions on our old fleet of cars, coupled by a decrease in registration taxes, in a bid to strike a balance on car importation and the detrimental effects of ageing vehicles? And despite the inexistence of Kyoto obligations, will power generation be rendered more efficient? Will the St Luke’s incinerator be finally replaced? Some serious thinking on climate change has to start featuring on the national agenda. Now.
Stern warning indeed
The scientific evidence on climate change is so overwhelming that the apocalyptic scenarios awaiting the world can no longer be ignored. What we do in the next two decades is crucial in turning this cataclysmic fate. Under a business-as-usual scenario, the stock of greenhouse gases could more than treble by the end of the century, which means a 50-50 chance of exceeding the 5ºC global average temperature change.
The Stern review ominously calls this taking humans “into unknown territory” – as of now, the world is just five degrees warmer than in the last ice age. That radical temperature change would mean major declines in crop yields (up to one-third in Africa), major rise in sea levels for cities like London, Shanghai, New York and Tokyo; more than 30% decrease in runoff and water availability in the Mediterranean and Southern Africa; and the extinction of 20-50% of the world’s species and ecosystems. Irreversibly, we would see the onset of a melting Greenland ice sheet and even the West Antarctic ice sheet.
But reversing this trend is an opportunity for growth – mitigation costs around 1% of GDP to transit to a low-carbon economy. According to the Stern review, the social cost of carbon today is USD85 per tonne, but the benefits of offsetting emissions is believed to be a net USD2.5 trillion.
There is more to be said on climate change, but informed consumer choices and ethical decisions by companies, including the creation of a domestic emissions offset scheme for Malta, are radical choices which will be desperately required.
Read the Stern Report