Rhein on Energy and Climate

For the first time in history the European Air Space has been closed. For five days essentially all air traffic had come to a halt.

Seven million air travellers – tourists, air commuters, officials, businessmen and even statesmen – could not reach their destinations by using aircraft, the fastest, cheapest and often the most convenient means of transportation. They had to shift to trains, buses, taxis, ferry boats and cars, or postpone and cancel their travel plans. Many meetings were replaced by video-conferences.

Airlines and airports suffered substantial losses in business and requested governments for help to face the costly consequences of the clouds of volcanic ashes.

Whatever the inconveniences and financial losses for business

European social and economic life did not collapse

Looked at in a global perspective, air transport is a luxury for “privileged” businessmen, tourists diplomats, officials and consumers of airborne fruit, fish or flowers in the West and a few emerging countries. NO IT IS ONLY A LUXURY FOR THE IMPOVERISHED, NOT FOR THE WORKING CLASSES

It reflects a way of life driven by time stress. It would do us no harm to slow down the pace of life by using slower means of transport, wherever possible, attending fewer meetings across the world and resorting to modern means of communication like video-conferences.

We should work to become less dependent on air transport.

It is more polluting than any other mode of transport, but pays neither taxes on kerosene nor any equivalent compensation for the prohibitively high “social costs” it causes.

In Europe with its short distances it is possible to substantially reduce the volume of air transport, if we had an efficient trans-European system of high-speed trains which are friendlier to the climate.

15 years ago the EU has launched an imaginative programme for trans-national networks: but its implementation proceeds at a snail’s pace, especially for high-speed trains. Today, it appears that China will outpace Europe with its bold programme for the completion of a 20 000 km network for high-speed trains by 2016.

Europe should therefore accelerate the construction of its high-speed train network and put an end to the fiscal subsidies that airlines enjoy compared to railways and bus companies. This would constitute an investment in a more sustainable future and provide meaningful jobs for many thousand people over several years.

Brussels 20.04.10 Eberhard Rhein

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