Let’s face it: a transatlantic plane powered by cooking oil is not, on its own, going to decarbonise the airline industry.
Hard though it may be to believe while strolling along Great Yarmouth seafront, there simply aren’t enough chip shops in the world to supply the waste fat from which Virgin’s Sustainable Airline Fuel (SAF) is made, and to grow the crops afresh would take up too much land. Moreover, there is still the issue of the contrails – made of water vapour, a greenhouse gas – and of course the carbon emissions from the manufacture of the planes themselves.
But how remarkable that some of the bitterest opposition to this week’s Virgin flight is coming from within the environmental movement. A group called Transport & Environment labelled it a “gimmick”. The Aviation Environment Federation (AEF), condemned it with the words: “the idea that this flight somehow gets us closer to guilt-free flying is a joke”.
A government-funded group of academics called UKFIRES, charged with advising on tackling climate change, has already damned all efforts to create sustainable aviation fuels, saying “there are no options for zero emissions flight in the time available for action, so the industry faces a rapid contraction.”
Why are so many climate campaigners sent into a fury when innovators come up with possible ways at least to reduce, if not eliminate, carbon emissions? It is the same with carbon capture – which has been dismissed out of hand by many in the green lobby, even though there is no other way to counter the emissions from many hard-to-decarbonise industries.
The truth is that there are two wings to the Net Zero lobby, who are utterly opposed to each other. There are the Panglossians, who embrace some new technologies and think they will magically get us down to zero carbon emissions in time for our arbitrary target of 2050. Then there are the climate puritans, who don’t really want to know about technological solutions at all; they just get a kick out of trying to stop people doing things like driving, eating meat, or flying off on foreign holidays.
True, the Panglossians are often guilty of unrealistic faith in innovation and often leap on ideas without thinking of the costs and practicalities. But I would rather listen to them any day than the puritans with their increasingly bizarre claims.
There is a group called Climate Genocide Act Now which is campaigning for what it calls “climate criminals” to be tried at the International Criminal Court. What constitutes a “climate criminal” in its mind? Er, apparently “politicians who expand luxury, non-essential activities, like aviation tourism”, to give an example.
In other words, there is no amount of effort to decarbonise air travel which would satisfy them – they just want us to stay on the ground, as do all those who subscribe to the “flight-shaming” movement. It is a philosophy grounded in a kind of idealistic, pre-industrial socialism – which won’t be happy until we are all living small lives in rural communes.
Sorry, but you are not going to bring the public along with you. No more than a tiny fraction of the population is ever going to stand for being impoverished in the name of eliminating carbon emissions.
Reaching Net Zero through technology is going to be a whole lot more difficult than many people seem to think, but it is an infinitely better route to be taking than the miserabilist rejection of modern lifestyles.