Saturday, September 01, 2007

Short sighted environmentalists

To some it is astonishing when protesters join the establishment, like George Monbiot, gamekeeper turned poacher, whose conservative upbringing caught up with him and makes the erstwhile vociferous critic of the establishment now spout the official mantra on 9-11 as well as climate change or global warming. Due to his former credentials as a campaigner he is now a high value asset to those in power.

Yet, there should be nothing surprising about such apparent U-turns. From the days of the early Christians in the Roman Empire to, more recently, the post-war labour movement, opposition has been bought up and re-branded by the ruling elite. These processes are often justified with the need for efficiency in organising the alternative view, and because a lot of the old rhetoric remains in place, genuine believers in the cause only realise what has been happening after the takeover is complete. "Middle England's" "New Labour" is a recent example.

That the hitherto anti-establishment, anti-capitalist environmental movement is becoming an establishment hobby horse is clearly evident in the protest camp recently set up at London Heathrow airport. When environment editor of The Guardian complained about media management at the camp he received a vociferous rebuttal by Media Lens lambasting The Guardian as an establishment paper in bed with Big Oil. Conveniently forgotten in this row was that George Monbiot is a regular columnist in The Guardian, the establishment paper aimed at what remains of "The Left".

In my mind the obsession of the New Environmentalists with air travel is nothing short of a diversion from more important issues like the 9-11 cover-up, the disastrous war in Iraq, and forthcoming war in Iran. Numerous websites offer the unwary traveller an air travel calculator to figure out how badly his journey impacts the environment, so he can set out on his well deserved holiday laden with guilt. I have been unable to find a similar calculator for cruise missiles which are regular fired in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A cruise missile uses only about one tenth of the fuel in its rocket propellant than the fuel burnt by an Airbus, but an Airbus carries almost 150 peaceful people to a place of relaxation, whereas a cruise missile will at most send 15 people into a place of no return. On that score the carbon footprint per person going on holiday and per person killed in these wasteful wars is about the same, but the comparison is slanted, because missile propellant, unlike aircraft fuel, is converted almost completely into CO2, many missiles miss their targets and the equation omits the environmental impact of the carrier aircraft and of other ammunition such as laser-guided bombs. I leave the detail to the statisticians, but let's say for argument's sake that for the negative environmental (never mind social) impact of every human being killed during war you can send at least three people on holiday. These macabre statistics alone should drive home the futility of obsessing with individual air travel.

The casualty figures for these two senseless wars range from 100,000 to half a million; if the latter figure presented by The Lancet was true, then all the 2.5 million passengers passing through all of the UK airports during the course of a whole year could have flown for free as far as the carbon footprint is concerned, and considering the costs of missiles and bombs our government could also have issued them with free complimentary tickets.

Civilian air travel is a peace-time offshoot of military developments. In spite of being heavily subsidised, turnover and profit figures are only in the millions, whereas the military hardware produced by the same companies making civilian aeroplanes nets them billions. War is immensely more profitable than peace, and George Monbiot and his Heathrow protesters help blinding the general public about this unpalatable fact. When will we start hearing about the effects those military adventures have on climate change and calls for the return of our troops not only to save innocent lives in the regions concerned but also to save the planet? Go, camp outside the Pentagon!

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