Sun, Sep 04, 2005 - Page 9 News List

Stay at home and save the earth

Beat global warming, the crowds and the queues by staying at home for your holidays

By Jackie Ashley  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

There are times in a woman's life when she questions her most basic beliefs. There are moments that break open lifelong assumptions.

Since adolescence, I have held the belief that a week or two of the summer should, if financially possible, be spent abroad. This does not mean mountains, bracing wind or interesting cathedrals. It means somewhere on the Mediterranean, soaking up the sun so meagerly rationed in Britain. It means swimming, the wine cheap but cheerful, and broken-backed novels around the beach lounger.

As millions of Britons know, it also means endless airport queues, usually at about 4am; flights on which you are crammed like dazed animals heading for the abattoir; and packed, noisy resorts.

The Mediterranean is almost full. The French, Spanish and Italian coasts form a nearly unbroken, thousand-plus-miles-long line of barbecued flesh.

The Greek islands are pulsating with Eurotrash music and the sound of young men throwing up.

Where we went this year, on a relatively obscure part of the Greek mainland, tractors and earthmovers were flattening every available outcrop of sea-facing land for new holiday villas. The north African coast is now a mass tourism magnet. Turkey is spotted with resorts. Even Croatia is filling up, they tell me. As I float, blissfully, in the oily azure waters, I can't help wondering where all the sewage goes.

Then there's the climate. Global warming brings its unpredictable events, including sudden dousings and storms in southern Europe, but the sun shines on. The trouble is, increasingly, it shines blisteringly on. One of the most miserable weeks I've had was in an Italian house a couple of years ago with no air-conditioning, when it was so hot no one got a wink of sleep at night. By day, towns like Siena and Florence were empty because nobody could bear to walk their baking streets. Forest fires from Provence to Portugal have become a staple of August front pages around Europe.

All of this could be borne -- there are shady spots, sea breezes still -- if we felt that at least the summer migration south was a guilt-free, innocent pleasure. But it isn't. The vast growth in cheap and charter air travel is a serious contributor to global warming, and rightly rising fast up the political agenda. The aviation economist Brendon Sewill has just published a devastating pamphlet, Fly now, grieve later, (Aviation Environment Federation), about the impact of flying on global warming. It isn't just the carbon dioxide emissions.

He describes the smog created by aircraft exhaust gases, the hot, moist-air-forming condensation trails and the effect of engine kerosene on cirrus cloud formation. This makes flying up to four times more damaging than if measured by emissions alone.

He says that flying is by far the worst thing we do, much worse than driving around in big cars.

"Young eco-warriors who care passionately about recycling set off to backpack around the world with hardly a thought that they may be undoing tenfold what they have tried to achieve," he said.

Even "elderly couples proudly tell their friends how they have flown halfway round the world to visit their grandchildren without recognizing that they themselves have helped to destroy their grandchildren's future."

Between 1990 and 2000, worldwide aviation emissions grew by 50 percent. Here in the UK, the Department for Transport is promoting a huge growth in air travel (an extra 275 million passengers over the next 25 years), expanding airports and assuming huge further increases in aviation emissions -- more than canceling out the reductions forecast for other parts of the economy. The government itself says that by 2030, aviation emissions "could amount to about a quarter of the UK's total contribution to global warming."

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