Ethnic minorities 'lose out in the green debate'

Raising flight prices to appease environmentalists will make it harder for minority communities to visit loved ones...

It’s become all but impossible to avoid the environmental debate.

Carbon footprint, food miles, and climate change have all become the buzz words of our generation.

Our lifestyle is the greatest threat to mankind’s existence, say environmentalists. But just how do we go about saving the planet and how will these changes impact upon our present way of life?

The aviation industry has come under increasing pressure lately to change its image as a pernicious polluter.

The industry is blamed for rising carbon emissions and the ever-decreasing costs of short haul flights in particular, means that it is cheaper for many to choose to fly. Environmental groups argue that increased taxation could make people think twice about flying.

Former Energy minister Brian Wilson is co-ordinating the campaign Flying Matters, to counter negative press around the aviation industry and its environmental impact.

According to Wilson, the current ‘blame it on the aviation industry’ clamour does not consider other factors.

“There appears to be a growing focus on aviation as a target for various pressure groups. While nobody disputes the part that aviation plays in the environmental debate, it's essential that this doesn’t get out of proportion and that the interests of ordinary people aren’t just sacrificed in a green fad.

"Clearly, aviation has a responsibility to the environment but so do other factors and a balance must be found.”

FlyingMatters is a coalition of trade unions, business groups, tourism groups and the aviation industry which supports sustainable growth in aviation. The group maintains that aviation is a small but growing contributor to climate change and that technological advances could change that, removing the need to introduce additional taxation on flying passengers, or stopping airport expansion.

The group have set out a series of hard-hitting advertisements to argue that not allowing aviation to grow by around five per cent a year could result in higher costs for those flying from the UK and lost destinations as carriers concentrate on more lucrative routes.

They argue that long haul flights, particularly to places such as Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, were taken by people who did not fly regularly.

Wilson explains, “You can’t implement sudden change which undermine fragile economic development and economies dependent on tourism or on airborne trade - they also have to be considered. Recent statistics from anti-aviation groups found that half of the British population didn’t fly at all last year, and a quarter only flew once or twice in the year. The idea that everyone is flying off every weekend is rubbish.”

Wilson says that Flying Matters was not simply backed by those already in the aviation industry.

He said: “My involvement is through the fact that it’s not just the industry, but consumer organisations and trade unions. There’s a wide range of interests and again it’s not a ‘fly at all costs’, or ‘fly without considerations’ argument. It’s simply to ensure there’s not a hysterical anti flying campaign which is out of proportion to the contribution that aviation should make. It’s very easy to impose taxation under the guise of environmentalism.”

The Flying Matters campaign includes the Tourism Alliance, Airbus, Boeing, Thomson, Virgin Atlantic, XL Airways, Thomas Cook, and Opodo.

Brian Hayley, the Labour environment spokesperson for London councils said that the environmental debate was definitely slanted in a pro-Western perspective.

He says: “In terms of flying, I would not like to tell people not to fly. I know how dear going home once every five years is to people. What is would say is that when you do go, make a difference. Most people from minority communities go overseas when it’s cheaper, off peak season, and go for longer, up to a month. That means less people flying in the peak season.”

Interestingly, Hayley explained that the black and minority ethnic community was historically more environmentally friendly.

He says: “In terms of the climate change agenda, ethnic minority people are way ahead of Europeans on this agenda. We are natural people. When we buy from the market, we tend to buy in loose paper wrapping. It’s the same with Asians. They buy from markets as opposed to supermarkets. We have long had the whole ethos of saving the environment.”

Secretary General of the British Air Transport Association, Roger Wiltshire, said that the time had come for the environmental debate to consider the impact it was having.

“We are keen to make air travel more environmentally friendly,” he says. “And we want to see the social and economic arguments brought into play.”

“People are being ignored. The discussion is going on in highly-developed countries like the UK while we in the industry know there are whole range of reasons for transport, from exporting key commodities to being able to visit other places.

He adds: “Air travel could be at risk if the way that the debate is going turns into real policy.”