But somewhere along the way politicians realise that they want to get re-elected. Instead of making cheap flights so expensive that we stop taking them, the pragmatists in power have decided to raise taxes slightly, hoping that we don’t really notice the difference. But someone always notices (the press release tends to give it away) and the Daily Mail’s message boards collapse under the weight of the home counties finding new and inventive spellings of “stealth tax”.
If you want people to accept something then the last thing you do is associate it with taxation. However, fear of becoming unpopular has led to politicians doing just that. Instead of telling people what they don’t want to hear – that their lifestyle is built on unsustainable foundations and that big changes will have to be made – ministers would rather pretend that the only difference between stopping climate change and business as usual is turning our televisions off standby and paying a few extra pounds for a flight to Rome.
But the public is not as stupid as the politicians think. They’ve noticed the disconnect between talk of global ecological disaster and a slight increase in taxes. It’s worrying that the How to Solve Climate Change handbook seems to be empty, except for the phrase “increase taxes” scrawled on every page in the chancellor’s handwriting. Meanwhile the government is doing everything it can to keep us polluting, encouraging airports all over the UK to grow as fast as they can pour the concrete and allowing adverts pushing unnecessary flights to grow alongside every high street.
You can’t discourage flying with one hand and promote it with the other without being rightly labelled a hypocrite. How is the public, up to their eyeballs in loft insulation and recycling boxes, to react to reductions from every other sector because the aviation industry wants extra runways at Heathrow and Stansted? How can you take this government’s claims to be serious about tackling climate change when you can’t leave your house without a billboard inducing you to splash out on a plane ticket? Even Ed Miliband – the person who is supposed to be sorting this mess out – doesn’t see anything wrong with supporting taxes on air travel while declaring that a bigger airport in his constituency would be great for the economy.
If something is wrong, then we should do everything we can to stop it. If ministers believe in climate change, they need to stop relying on taxes and start taking action. If flying is bad for the environment (and at 13% of our climate impact, I think it’s safe to say that it is) then we need to be flying less and closing down some of our runways, not being charged a little bit more to make up for all the flying we’re doing.
When every square foot of public space is plastered with adverts for cheap flights and communities are being bulldozed to make way for new runways, whacking a tenner on a return trip to Europe isn’t strong leadership. Is that really how Labour wants its climate change strategy to be remembered: not for a bang, but a whimper?