The rise in demand for air travel is one of the most serious environmental
threats facing the Earth. Global aviation's negative impact upon global climate
and ecology is becoming more evident and known. Aviation accounts for about 2%
of world emissions of carbon dioxide, over 6% in the U.K. and other
over-developed countries, and projected passenger growth of five percent a year
means airplane emissions are growing more rapidly than any other source. Air
transport contributes disproportionately heavily to global warming, as carbon
dioxide and water vapor emitted at high altitude are four times more potent than
at sea level. Aircraft also produce other harmful gases that warm the Earth
including nitrogen oxides and high-altitude cirrus clouds.
The "Camp for Climate Action" outside London's Heathrow airport is this week
highlighting aviation's centrality to fighting global warming. Heathrow is the
world's busiest airport and a bigger source of CO2 emissions than most
countries, yet the airport's capacity is to be doubled by building a third
runway. Air travel in the United Kingdom is set to double in the next 25 years,
threatening government plans to cut CO2 emissions by 60% by 2050. Supporting
protests elsewhere in the U.K. are highlighting the relatively extreme damage
done by private jets used by the super-rich. An average corporate jet carries
two people while emitting as much greenhouse gas in an hour as an SUV does in a
year. A protestor explained "this is a protest against the super-rich with their
own planes who are putting two fingers up to attempts by the rest of us who try
to cut our carbon emissions by saying they will not only continue to fly, but
they will fly in the most carbon inefficient way possible."
The danger of "celebrity environmentalism" is clear as the launch of Leonardo
DiCaprio’s eco-documentary entitled "The 11th Hour" coincides with the Heathrow
aviation protests. Mr. DiCaprio glibly defends his and other celebrity's use of
private jets, and despite a solar powered house and hybrid car, all his personal
efforts to reduce his carbon footprint are shattered by a jet-setting lifestyle.
Clearly addressing climate change and other global ecological crises will
require shared sacrifice and a reduction in consumption by many. Yet eco-avenger
Leonardo DiCaprio sees no problem preaching about the evils of gas-guzzling
cars, as he and green pal Laurie David cannot give up the fossil fuel chugging
private planes. When pressed on the matter while launching his film in Cannes,
he replied defensively that "I try to travel commercial as much as I can." His
co-producers defended his refusal to swear off private jets, saying that asking
him to do so was shooting the messenger.
It is unconscionable that Leonardo and super-rich celebrities, and their
supporters, do not see their hypocrisy in refusing to set an example of
sacrifice for the Earth. Stabilizing global climate and ecology will require
massive sacrifices by both developed and developing countries. How can we ask
Indians and Chinese to forgo a western lifestyle, or Americans to give up their
SUVs, when the super rich cannot even cut simple things like private jets?
Leonardo, as a good ecologist/filmmaker/activist should know the solution to the
planetary ecological crisis is millions and millions of people significantly
changing their lifestyle to be more eco-friendly. Leonardo must be called upon
to pledge to never get in a private jet again. This is a small thing to ask when
so many others are threatened with death from climate change.
Let Leo know that the battle to stop the growth in aviation's greenhouse gas
emission is one the most important environmental battles ever that requires his
personal example. To be a credible messenger of global ecological sustainability
Leonardo must both walk the walk and talk the talk. Let him know you will see
his movie if he swears off private jets.
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Environmental leadership and private jets do not mix
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