Air Travel and Consumerism News
Below are links to stories relating to air travel and consumerism.
NASA JPL scientist explains why he gave up flying: “I don’t like harming others, so I don’t fly.”
Academics fly a lot, and there is the presumption that this is essential for their work and for international university connections etc. A climate scientist, Dr Peter Kalmus (who works for the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory) has decided that his own lifestyle is not consistent with his understanding of rising anthropogenic carbon emissions. "I try to avoid burning fossil fuels, because it’s clear that doing so causes real harm to humans and to non-humans, today and far into the future. I don’t like harming others, so I don’t fly." He says: "I experienced a lot of social pressure to fly, so it took me three years to quit. Not flying for vacations was relatively easy." Long trips by road to visit family were a bit harder. He comments that he knows scientists who fly a lot, but “just don’t think about it” and "most people simply don’t know the huge impact of their flying—but I also suspect that many of us are addicted to it. We’ve come to see flying as an inalienable right, a benefit of 21st-century living that we take for granted." "In today’s world, we’re still socially rewarded for burning fossil fuels. We equate frequent flying with success; we rack up our “miles.” This is backward: Burning fossil fuels does real harm to the biosphere, to our children, and to countless generations—and it should, therefore, be regarded as socially unacceptable."
Essays on why we travel, what we get out of it – travel as epic adventure or religious experience …
The growing obsession with travel is apparently induced by very cheap air fares, growing affluence, ever rising expectations, an increasing sense that hypermobility across the globe is an entitlement - on top of an emptiness and dissatisfaction with what everyday life has to offer. In a series of essays, an anthropologist looks at some of the reasons for our globe-trotting, why we do it, and what we get out of it. He considers travel as epic adventure, and how we seek challenges, in our rather mundane lives, over-influenced by health & safety; how we want to substitute novelty for normality; to reverse our daily routines, and abandon the comfort of familiarity. And the quest for ourselves. In looking at travel as a religious experience, he considers the rite of passage of much gap year travel..." some 25,000 visit Thailand, Australia and New Zealand ...there is ritual talk: “where are you going?”; “where have you been?”; “did you ‘do’ this monument/trek/natural wonder?”; etc. Drink, drugs and digital photos, sun, sea and social networks ... Upon their return from the wilderness, our young vagrants are transformed (or reformed) into worldly-wise Westerners, new sovereign citizens of a global era. (Theirs is the Earth and everything that’s in it!) ... Indeed, for many in the West today, overseas travel has come to fill the void vacated by ‘real’ religions, providing meaning, purpose, awe and wonder, as well as a sense of belonging."
Is travel now the ultimate “must-have” possession, used to define who we think we are?
David Jobanputra is an anthropologist and film maker, who has given much thought to why we travel so much. He has looked at travel largely as something rich westerners do, in more exotic lands. But he also asks about travel in the way it has now become a serious consumer product, and one through which we try to define ourselves - sophisticated, trendy, caring, bold, discerning etc. "We choose a personal brand identity to which we aspire and the travel industry supplies us with the right product to match." ..."Consumption is our lifejacket. It is also our straitjacket." ..."We buy status, power, a sense of inclusion. We even buy our adventures. In the age of consumerism, everything is commoditised ... including tourism....Transnational travel makes culture a commodity. When the ethic of consumption is extended to new people and places, everything comes with a price. Visit to the palace - $12; mountain trek - $35; traditional dance performance - $8; sense of self-worth - priceless. Today’s holiday brochures boast bargains like an Argos catalogue; instead of homeware and cheap electronics, we find tigers, temples and tribal villages. All are commodities, just the same. We buy these things for the same reason we buy any other non-essential product: to look better, feel better or else appear better."
Heathrow offers “personal shopper” service, to ensure rich passengers are helped to spend
For Heathrow, getting passengers to shop at the airport is vital. The airport is said to have made something like £480 million from retail in 2013, with passengers spending around £1.8 billion in total. Passengers spend on average about £38 each in the airport. And some passengers spend a very great deal. Heathrow has a Personal Shopper service "which offers travellers an accredited stylist with free of charge service and provide them an individually tailored retail style." For those too dim, impressionable or incapable of locating what to splash their cash on, and how to find the most pretentious and expensive designer brands, they can book their own shopper who will tell them what to buy. This truly is hyper-consumerism gone mad. Some quotes: "Everyday, there will be personal shoppers who are fluent in Arabic, French, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish that will provide free of charge services to all passengers"....Supermodel Erin O’Connor said: “Travel has been and still is a huge part of my life. The Personal Shoppers at Heathrow have incredible fashion and beauty insight which means they can pull a selection for me before I even arrive at the airport. I can make the most of my time before I board my flight and know that I will have everything I want for my trip.” And it offers free beauty treatments.
American blog “Love and long-distance travel in the time of climate change”
In a thoughtful, soul-searching article by an American climate campaigner, Eve, she sets out her dilemma about flights across the States to visit her family several times each year. About a year earlier, a meteorologist in the US, Eric Holthaus, vowed not to fly again - after he understood just how serious the issue of climate change had become, and how large a part of his personal carbon footprint flying had become. With thousands of other Americans, Eve was influenced by Eric Holthaus. She writes of her difficulties in having lived a typical American life, involving studying and working in places far from home, yet wanting to keep in regular contact with parents and family. She describes the sadness of choosing not going home to visit parents. "It is very, very strange to be in a position now — and I don’t think I’m alone — where I find myself weighing seeing the people I love against my own complicity in the global climate crisis." And "Never before has our economy been so effortlessly globalized that jobs pull people back and forth across countries and oceans, and never before have we had so much evidence that the systems and habits we’ve created to actually live in that economy are quite literally destroying the planet."
Kevin Anderson blog on decisions of academics and climate community about personal travel
In a blog in June 2014, Professor Kevin Anderson writes about the need for people to consider their own behaviour in relation to flying. He is personally highly conscious of his own energy use. He looks in particular at academics and those in the climate change community, and their justification for the use of high carbon travel. These are some quotes: "Amongst academics, NGOs, green-business gurus and climate change policy makers, there is little collective sense of either the urgency of change needed or of our being complicit in the grim situation we now face." And on the desire to fly to save time to spend with our families: "When we’re dead and buried our children will likely still be here dealing with the legacy of our inaction today; do we discount their futures at such a rate as to always favour those family activities that we can join in with?" And "Surely if humankind is to respond to the unprecedented challenges posed by soaring emissions, we, as a community, should be a catalyst for change – behaving as if we believe in our own research, campaign objectives etc. – rather than simply acting as a bellwether of society’s complacency."
Political taboos leave politicians unwilling to take steps to cut transport emissions
An interesting, thought provoking article in The Conversation, looks at the way in which issues to do with reducing our desire for travel could be seen as "taboo." For the EU, CO2 emissions from transport make up about 30% of the total. However, while the automotive and aviation industries try to convince us that technology will cut emissions, the growth in demand will far outweigh these small improvements. If politicians challenge our desire for ever more travel, they can be punished by powerful lobby groups, by peers, or at the ballot box. On air travel, a high proportion is done by the most wealthy. But the political classes and opinion formers are themselves in this category, of hypermobile people with a "distinct unwillingness among this section of society to fly less." Increasing the cost of flying disproportionally affects lower income groups, yet does not seriously impede the mobility patterns of frequent-flying elite, who enjoy flights "subsidised through the exemption of international air travel from VAT." The airline industry and its lobbyists work hard to instil the idea that “mobility is freedom”, and that to restrict such mobility through regulation is nothing short of an infringement of that liberty; another taboo.
Baffling world of airport retail; cheapest possible tickets, most expensive possible terminal shopping
A frequent flier writes in a blog how he is baffled by airport retail policy and why "shops that you find in airports succeed or how this market is designed. If you consider that a large percentage of the folks wandering around the terminal spent a disproportionate amount of time online searching for the cheapest possible deal, then surely you wouldn’t expect them to walk into this terminal-come-shopping mall and spend £495 on a pair of socks? Ok, maybe not £495 but you get the point. It doesn’t make sense." Heathrow Terminal 5 looks more like Rodeo Drive, except for maybe Dixons and Boots, which are the only visible high street options. Even at Stansted, where " 90% of the passengers spent more on their McDonald’s breakfast than they did on their tickets" though it has sensible shops landside, but after security, only up market shops. Yet the airports make immense profits from their retail sales. So much for the need for cheap flights and complaints about paying APD. In 2012 Heathrow was 3rd in the world for the amount of airport retail spending ( £831.7m - $1.34 bn - by 70 million passengers); Incheon Airport in Seoul was in 1st place $1.73 bn by 38.4million); and Dubai in 2nd place ($1.6bn by 57.6m passengers). Hong Kong, Singapore Changi, Bangkok, Paris, Frankfurt, Schiphol came next.
Tourism board drive to lure visitors away from London – half never venture outside the capital
In summer 2013 the UK nation’s tourism authority, "Visit Britain" launched a drive to get more overseas visitors to visit the rest of the country. Research for Visit Britain showed that of the 31 million who visited the UK in 2012 – a record number – half went to London only, never venturing outside the M25. The rest of England welcomed 13 million tourists, Scotland 2.2 million and Wales 0.9 million. The Visit Britain "GREAT Britain" initiative hoped to use the delights of country pubs, Stonehenge and cathedral cities such as Winchester and Lincoln promoted in campaigns abroad. Also that Britain is a comparatively small country and relatively easy to get around – and that they should not worry about driving on the left side of the road. It seems that many potential visitors just don't know what there is to see outside London, or how to get there. Visit Britain offices abroad are being given a “Beyond London” dossier of suggestions for destinations to promote. Visit Britain is to step up efforts to exploit opportunities presented by low-cost airlines which use regional airports for direct flights to Europe. Although most passengers are British tourists, the airports have already seen an increase in Europeans coming to UK destinations. An international survey showed 75% believed the UK has plenty of interesting places to visit outside of London (22% strongly).
Branson’s plans for “space travel” progress – for the privileged mega-rich
The plan to take tourists up on joy-rides virtually into space must be one of the most environmentally irresponsible around. Perhaps indicative of a society that has lost sight of the concept of living within environmental limits, using resources wisely, and not flaunting excessive wealth. But space travel is what Branson plans. It is reported that Virgin's "Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo," VSS Enterprise, has just completed its third test flight. It has now reached the altitude of 13.5 miles or 71,000ft, but in order to be considered to be at the edge of the earth's atmosphere, it needs to get up to 62 miles or 328,084ft above the earth (called the Kármán line). These trips planned by Richard Branson are purely for "space tourists" and only those with exceptional wealth would be able to afford them, so it will be rich celebrities and rich business people only. The price is likely to be around £152,000 for a return ticket to the edge of space. Conspicuous consumption gone mad. This is a Branson PR statement: “2014 will be the year when we will finally put our beautiful spaceship in her natural environment of space.” They hope to reach the Kármán line this spring, and begin commercial operations later in 2014.