There are two issues here: the expense of the train journey and the cheapness of the flight. In combination they force most people to do the wrong thing, even when they want to do the right one. You have to be either very determined or stark raving mad (you can draw your own conclusions) to take the train, not the plane.
Continental trains are mostly very good, and quite a bit cheaper than the UK’s, but they are still twice as expensive as they ought to be. If EU governments are as serious as they claim to be about tackling climate change, they would be cancelling their budgets for upgrading roads and putting the money into subsidising train journeys instead. According to UK government figures, a passenger’s journey by car produces seven times as much carbon dioxide as the same journey by train.
But as well as making train travel easier, governments should also be making flying harder. The only measure which is likely to work is a restriction on the number of available landing slots. This would put an overall cap on aviation emissions. It would also mean that flights became more expensive.
This is portrayed by people who don’t want any action taken to prevent climate breakdown as an attack on the poor, but the reality is very different. According to the comprehensive analysis conducted by Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, 46% of people in “higher managerial or professional” occupations fly at least three times a year, while 74% of the long-term unemployed don’t fly at all. Sixty-four per cent of all flights from the five busiest UK airports were made by people whose income in 2004 was £28,750 or more. That’s well above the average income for that year. In global terms it places the majority of passengers in a very small elite.
Cheap flights allow executives, second home owners and those who can afford to take several foreign holidays a year (often the same people) to pursue their extravagant lifestyles at very little cost to themselves, but at a great cost to the rest of the world.
The market alone won’t sort this out. The new report by the Committee on Climate Change points out that even with a carbon price of £200 per tonne, flights would grow by 115% between now and 2050, blowing many of the savings the government makes in other sectors. Only a cap on landing slots will do. Otherwise even the environmentalists gathering to discuss this problem will continue to be encouraged to contribute to it.