Fraser Forum

The hypocrisy of saving the planet from 30,000 feet

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Mercifully, the Leap Manifesto, at 1,437 words, is only 1/27 the length of its (for now) more famous anti-capitalist predecessor, the Communist Manifesto. Even so, it has generated lots of comment, especially for its goal of a “100 per cent clean economy” by 2050.

Few things are more satisfying than pointing out the hypocrisy of one’s intellectual opponents, which is why I didn’t resist looking into the recent travel schedule of Naomi Klein, principal mover behind the manifesto. Fifteen minutes with Google indicate that in this year alone she has made or will be making appearances in Australia, Vatican City, Montreal, Hollywood, various places in Europe on a book tour, Ithaca and Syracuse, Washington, D.C., California and Boston. There may well have been or will be more.

She presumably didn’t bike to most of these places. The damage to the planet, if air travel wreaks the atmospheric violence she and her supporters claim, must have been appreciable—as in fact she is well aware. In March she told The Independent newspaper that: “I’ve cut my flying to a tenth of what it was. I was flying a hell of a lot, way too much… [Now] I’m doing as much as I can by Skype and saying no to 90 per cent of what comes my way, but I'm still doing what I can to get the message out and that involves burning too much carbon, and feeling [bad word] about it.”

I’d hate to think how much she must have been flying if what she’s doing now is only a tenth her former schedule, but the fact is that if you’re trying to change the world, you’ve probably got to travel it a lot. Almost all of us who want things to be different are involved in hypocrisy of this sort. I would prefer a world without silly subsidies but when my kids were eligible my wife and I filed for the federal Child Fitness Tax Credit and I still use the Public Transit Tax Credit. As former U.S. senator Phil Gramm once said, “If we should vote next week on whether to begin producing cheese in a factory on the moon, I almost certainly would oppose it… On the other hand, if the government decided to institute the policy, it would be my objective to see that a Texas contractor builds this celestial cheese plant, that the milk comes from Texas cows, and that the Earth distribution center is located in Texas.”

So let’s move on from the hypocrisy—Klein is human, after all—and focus on her vision for 2050. The Economist recently ran a story about the future of electric flight. It seems electric planes may actually be part of our future, though current plans are that the Airbus E-Thrust, which aims to be able to carry 90 passengers for two hours will enter service in… 2050. If in 2050 air travel does have to be electric, how much do you suppose it will cost? Even if fossil flying is still allowed, if there’s a gallumphing tax on carbon, how much will an intercontinental ticket cost? Lots more, in both absolute and relative terms, than it does now.

Never mind. If capitalism is allowed to continue, billions of us may be rich enough to afford even hyper-expensive flying. But if capitalism is essentially put out of business, as Naomi Klein and her fellow Leapers would prefer, it’s only (sorry) high-flyers like her who will be able to slip the surly bonds of Earth. The rest of us will be much more earthbound than we are now.

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