African cities generally use less electricity than their European equivalents, as people own fewer appliances and have greater need for thrift. Jet engines are essentially the same as turbines used for electricity generation, and the engines on a single jumbo would power a small African city had they generators attached. Remember that next time you fly.
Worldwide aviation emissions pump slightly more pollution into the atmosphere than the entire United Kingdom economy, and aviation emissions continue relentlessly to increase year after year. Air transport is simply far too cheap for the damage it causes and the resources it consumes. You cannot cause more damage to the Earth’s atmosphere with £30 worth of resources, than by buying a £30 Ryanair ticket to Barcelona. If you spend that £30 on fuel for your diesel car, or on coal and burn it in your garden, you will not come close to the damage caused by your share of emissions on that Ryanair flight.
The fundamental reason air travel has expanded to be so harmful is the international understanding that tax and duty is not charged on aviation fuel – unlike vehicle, train or maritime fuel. Even citizens of Saudi Arabia or Venezuela no longer can access fuel as cheaply as you do in effect when you fly.
The notion that it is impossible to tax aviation fuel, as a plane could fly off and fill up elsewhere, is nonsense. There would be a cost to that flight scheduling, and in any event countries could tax planes on untaxed fuel landed in their fuel tanks, not to mention the scope for international agreement on enforcing fuel levies.
The fact that aviation fuel is not taxed is indeed not the sole reason why it is, ludicrously, cheaper for me to fly from Edinburgh to Bristol or London than get the extremely more fuel-efficient train – for which fuel is taxed. The farce and greed of rail privatisation is also a large part of it. But the fuel tax question undoubtedly is a very major factor, and the sole reason you can fly to Barcelona for £30.
The question has become mixed with notions of democratisation of leisure. This should be tackled head on. There is no human right to go by air and have a sun soaked holiday on the Med dirt cheap. The Earth cannot afford to indulge the pollution caused by massive air tourism. The unpopularity of saying this means that few people in politics ever do, but it is nonetheless true. In view of climate change, for the public to expect Ryanair fare levels is obscene.
Mass air travel for leisure needs to be stopped. Maritime, rail and other more eco-friendly means of international communication need to be encouraged. As mankind has not even the political will to tackle these most straightforward of measures on climate change, I really do begin to despair for the future.