Thursday, July 05, 2007

Love miles

Two years ago it seemed like a good idea. A family affair - christening, blessing and hog-roast. No matter it was in Slovakia, with airfares so cheap we promised we'd fly over for an international gathering of the clans. Two years ago we didn't really think about the environmental consequences of our actions, but that was then and it's now we're being called on our promise.

The whole thing has sent me into something of a panic, trying to work out if there's a way to keep a longstanding family promise while honouring our environmental pledge to reduce carbon emissions. The cost of breaking either promise is high; family let-down and the breakdown of Anglo-Slovak relations on the one hand; or two tonnes of extra carbon on our tab, enough to wipe out all this year's emission reductions. Mind you the cost of going wipes out our savings too by the time you've added on all the little extras budget airlines don’t advertise. And cars, buses and trains are no better, environmentally or financially; this party is costly whichever way you travel. But this dilemma isn't about money vs the environment, it's about family and the environment.

It would be easier if others in the family sympathised with our environmental predicament, but like much of the population they just don’t seem to get it or perhaps just don’t care. I've tried explaining but it's deaf ears, counter-arguments and rationalisations. "Well, you were happy enough to fly to New Zealand and back for your holidays two years ago." " Flying isn't a major cause of global warming you know." "You don't think you not flying is going to make an ounce of difference to anything except us?" It's a pointless argument. So it falls to us to decide; to fly or not to fly, that is the question.

After our environmental awakening we'd made a rule not to, but this has really put it to the test. When I weigh things up, I can't seem to balance the scales. In my head I know to fly is 'bad, wrong, environmentally irresponsible' but in my heart I fear the more immediate consequences of family strife, the prospect of which seems far more frightening than long term global meltdown.

George Monbiot describes jetting around to see family and friends as clocking up love miles. He recognises the double-bind we face when trying to visit far-flung loved ones and cut-down on carbon; it's just not possible. In a carbon rationed world something will have to give, and given that not even the greenest of us will find it easy to give up love miles, he reckons there's only one thing that will help us put planet before family and that's grounding the airplanes. For a while last weekend, it looked like terrorists might just do that and resolve things for us, but airport closures were short-lived, security was tightened and flight disruption minimised. It's going to take a lot to stop those love miles.

It's with something of a heavy heart and against my environmental conscience, we're going to put family first. And wipe out in one short flight a year's worth of carbon saving small stuff. I guess putting family first is something we all do in small ways everyday, but it's for family now at the cost of family future and how selfish is that? It's going to be a long haul to recover from this short-haul environmental blow-out.