A week ago my column in the Irish Times dared to suggest that maybe, just maybe, dirt cheap aviation á la the Ryanair model (now aped by our former national carrier as well) is perhaps not the world’s best idea from an ecological standpoint. Nor indeed is it such a smart move to consume more and more of our strictly finite (and diminishing) oil reserves in a binge of largely needless, prodigal flying.
Let’s be honest, there’s nothing remotely cheap about global aviation, other than the ticket prices. And since airlines dump a toxic trio of key emissions (high-altitude CO2, nitrous oxide and the manufacture of aviation contrails, which are also exercising a warming effect) without paying a penny towards dealing with this growing emissions mountain, maybe it might be time, whisper it, to consider getting the airlines to ‘fess up and pay up their share – no more, no less (and we won’t even mention the massive subsidies they receive in, among other things, tax free fuel).
Guess I said the wrong thing. Michael O’Leary, Ireland’s greatest living accountant, Mullingar man, taxi plate and racehorse owner, entrepreneur, taxpayer and general hero of a million Eastern European stag parties was, how can I put it, not best pleased.
His letter to the Irish Times last Saturday broke a number of records, principal among them being the gong for the most eco-insults packed into a single piece. I counted 11. A relative of mine, reading this in bed that night, says he laughed so loud he woke his wife. While I didn’t actually wake anyone, I must admit that being on the receiving end of Mick’s invective had me chuckling into my Saturday morning tea and toast.
He’s a funny guy, especially in comparison with his yellow-pack Aer Lingus clone Dermot Mannion. Mannion has all the bluff and thunder of O’Leary, but is as dry as toast so when he starts ranting, mothers have to comfort babies and radio presenters turn down their headsets. Let’s just say he does a better Tony Soprano than a Des Bishop.
But back to Mick. Quite apart from the fact that nobody, and I mean nobody, knows anything about anything bar himself, and the rest of us (especially environmental types) are just a bunch of knuckle-dragging pygmies in comparison, his letter was still a teensy bit OTT. What’s up Mick? Doubtless, the fact that Ryanair is facing the elimination of its entire profits as a result of sharp oil price increases has not improved his humour. Guess the wonky Dublin Airport radar was getting on his wick as well.
The final straw that pushed him over the edge – and over the top – appears to have been my temerity in suggesting that maybe, just maybe, this low cost flying model might actually be a problem on a whole bunch of levels.
And now he’s back. From outer space. In this morning’s paper, O’Leary launches into Round 2 on this issue, opening by accusing me of having “had two attempts to explain how increasing taxes will reduce (or have any effect on) global warming. But like all his fellow-travellers, he has on both occasions ducked the issue”.
Mick then sets out five new bullet points for me to digest, the first of which is to correct my misunderstanding of the terms “climate change” versus “global warming”. As they say on the flight deck, Check. Next, he quotes a has-been Tory politician from the Thatcher era who is currently peddaling junk science in a recent book. Check.
Point number three is why I’m always picking on aeroplanes, can’t I go pick on marine transport instead? (well, you see, last week’s column was about aviation, the previous 16 weren’t. Fear not, Mick, this area is what the military term a ‘target-rich environment’.
Number four: go on Gibbons, I dare you support nuclear power! Typical bloody greens HATE nuclear. Guess I’m not that typical. Nukes, for a variety of reasons, including finite supplies of uranium, are not a panacea, but as a step towards de-carbonising society as a whole, they are definitely useful in the coming decades. France produces 80% of its electricity with nuclear, and they are rightly chuffed with themselves about that. Check.
Number 5, Mr O’Leary suggests I should “focus on doing something useful during (my) time on the planet, like reducing the burden of taxation on his children and their children and reducing the income of Europe’s greatest polluters (our governments).
Hmmm. Let me think about this for a minute. My kids (and Mick’s, come to that) face an ecological collapse as a result of the profligacy of their parents and grandparents’ generation. This collapse will bring the global economy down with it, and risks plunging them into the kinds of poverty, violence and chaos we are now witnessing in numerous climate-ravaged sub-Saharan African countries. So I can best help them by CUTTING TAXES!
Brilliant, that should sort us out. Why not go the whole hog and just abolish taxes altogether, shut down the public health system, close the schools, fire all those lazy public servants and let the country run itself, maybe with Mick himself installed as our Presidenté. I suspect Robert Mugabe would be a big fan of this idea. Shutting down the State would certainly, as Mick suggests, put paid to “Europe’s greatest polluters (our governments)”. You should see the emissions coming out of hospital intensive care units, not to mention incubators. Shut THEM down instead so we call all fly 10 times a year!
Somebody must have had a word in the ear of Presidenté O’Leary prior to his penning this latest epistle, as all the name-calling has disappeared. Not being gratuitiously insulted by Mick is actually a little disconcerting; for a minute, I thought he might instead be marshalling some facts with which to debate the issue.
If his “facts” amount to a dodgy Nigel Lawson book (he might as well be quoting a Nigella Lawson recipe book for all either knows about climate) and the startlingly lame observation that we’re “having record rainfall in June and July rather than heatwaves?”
Ergo this global warming lark is all a confection. QED. This staggeringly uninformed comment can only have been parroted from a recent Kevin Myers ramble in which he also assembles similar nonsense. On a scientific scale, what O’Leary is saying is tantamount to the once widely held view that the world was flat because, well, it looked fairly flat,and sure if it was round, wouldn’t we all fall off. Duh.
That’s why we listen to scientists, not businessmen, when we want to understand our climate and why we should be so concerned. Will there be a Round Three in the Irish Times, or will the Editor have decided that readers have suffered enough already? Watch this space!