Saturday, 25 July 2009

Come fly with me?

Today, 25 July 2009, is the 100th anniversary of the first flight across the English Channel. Louis Bleriot flew his flimsy aircraft from Sangatte and crash landed near Dover Castle. The Airbuses and Boeings of today are recognisable evolutions from that plane. From a do-or-die hop across the Channel (Bleriot couldn’t swim) to flying to the other side of the world in one of the safest forms of transport - an amazing century.

Air travel has enabled us to see places most of us would have only read about before and to meet people who have enriched our lives. We shouldn’t underestimate this. But there is a down side to it as well. Forbearing to mention the spread of nasty viruses, I refer to climate change to which air travel makes a contribution.

I get a bit tired of people who tell me that the churches are jumping on a politically correct bandwagon when climate change is mentioned in sermons and resolutions are passed about it at church assemblies and councils. To its great credit, the World Council of Churches was raising issue this many years ago, before even some environmental groups took it up. Not surprising really as some of its constituency in the Pacific region are seeing their islands disappear under the rising sea.

However, the World Council (and most other international organisations) is confronted with a dilemma which I don’t think it has really faced up to. One the one hand, its style of operation relies on vast amounts of air travel – staff going out from Geneva and people being physically gathered together from all over the world for meetings. International organisations are addicted to air travel. And, I will confess that I have done more than my fair share. On the other hand, actual behaviour rather than fine words give moral authority. Perhaps there should be some act of repentence for relying so heavily on such destructive behaviour and a commitment to new ways . After all, who is going to take any lectures about climate change from air travel junkies?

1 comment:

  1. There is a way to deal with this of course and it's called environmental accounting. We're all used to the time that gets taken up at meetings with finance reports and accounts, not to mention the auditors who are checking the accounts. It's all very important of course as finance is a bedrock for any organization, and all organizations have a responsibility to ensure the money they hold in trust for others is appropriately and correctly used. But why is not an appropriate amount of time spent by governing bodies in their environmental audit of organizations? It doesn't mean stopping all travel or meetings of course - despite qualifying in a quiz as a "nerd" I firmly believe face-to-face meetings offer something that virtual teleconferencing never can. But it does mean asking whether travel/meetings are appropriately and correctly used for the world that an organization holds in trust for others - as well as the other potential sources of environmental irresponsibility - then having a proper strategy to deal with offsetting unavoidable environmentally-unfriendly activities: not by asking participants to consider making a donation to an organization, but by building this into the accounts and strategy of the organization as a whole. Of course people will complain that money for their pet project is "wasted" on such measures, but in years to come if we get that far people will look back and ask who anyone could have been so naive. And there is an additional add on bonus, as a genuinely environmentally-audited organization is then in a much better place to advise governments and others what they should do.