Monday, November 27, 2006

Goodbye, blue sky

NPR (National Public Radio) carried a story last week about how 'carbon offset' programs are becoming popular with travellers. Travel organisers like Orbitz will offer to nullify the degrading effects of your air-ride for a fee. The narrator interviewed a person who took a vacation in Hawaii - he paid an additional $30 or so when he bought his air tickets to offset the environmental impact of his travel. Supposedly, this money will be invested in renewable energy. In some ways, this is a great leap forward, because carbon trading finally seems to have emerged from the pedantic tangle of global treaties and arrived at the tip of your mouse (Rohit maatsaab, if you are reading this, comment).

But some would argue that it is not enough. Recently, Sunita Narain wrote in Down to Earth [link] that global airlines have had too sweet a deal. She says that airplanes and autorikshaws are similar to some extent - both are polluting and both are (now, to some extent) 'democratic'. But low-fare air travel is growing exponentially in India and Europe, and the ecological footprint of an air traveller is larger than commonly believed. She argues that air travel emits 'luxury' emissions, not 'survival' emissions, thus has to be taxed and curbed. "Simple, yes, but unpalatable?".

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