Sunday, March 11, 2007

Some Good Ideas from the Conservatives in the UK

It's been reported that the Conservatives are issuing a policy document on green taxes today. Among the policies proposed is a tax on all too frequent airtravel. From what I understand they're punishing airlines that fly inefficient old planes that are heavier polluters than more recently build ones. They also propose that each of us gets a kinda green frequent flier account whereby we - sort of - fly one long-distance flight per year and one short-distance flight per year on a reasonably low tax rate. However, someone flying from Glasgow to London several times per week will find herself paying a very substantial and increasing tax rate per flight. The logic behind this is pretty obvious: the Tories aim to discourage us from taking too many short-distance flights. That probably is a good idea. The airlines usually counter this by saying that their pollution is small fry compared with other polluters. However, it is also true that their contribution to overall emissions is rapidly increasing due to the fact that more and more of us fly for short-distance travel. The airlines have also argued that such tax policies would hit mostly the low-income traveller who would then be precluded from travelling (thereby losing valuable freedoms). The fact is though, that most of those travelling on low-cost carriers in the UK are actually business people and middle- to upper-income folks.
Of course, while this initiative aim to get us to take trains, is commendable, there is also the fact that trains remain - at best - an unreliable luxury activity in this country. The amount of delayed, cancelled etc trains in this country is probably only matched by South Africa's useless rail network. Just last week I needed to attend a meeting in Oxford. I planned the trip quite carefully in such a way that I would be able to go by train... only to discover that someone or other has decided to go on strike and that very severe disruptions were forecast. So I flew down to London on BA. No hassles, an obscene price (like 200 GBP one way...) - but I got where I needed to get in time for my meeting.

The table to the left shows a ranking of what the German news magazine SPIEGEL calls climate sinners (ie polluters). O course, this is in absolute terms as opposed to relative to population size.

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