Taking the Mick on aviation and climate change

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!

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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6 Responses to Taking the Mick on aviation and climate change

  1. Ciaran says:


    Even if you accept the IPPC case it still makes no sense to:

    1. Take personal responsibility
    2. For large blocs, such the EU, to do something when the likes of China & India do nothing

    The lie that we can change anything at a personal level or even a State level is just preposterous and the idea that developing nations should have their hands tied so we can feel less guilty is mean in the extreme.

    My other question is where is this all leading…I think this is well answered in the Guardian column below:


  2. Billy the kid says:

    Just read Mr O’Leary’s latest offering in the irish times, wow Michael, this must be really close to the bone to have you so worked up. Leaves me wondering: if O’Leary spends his time writing rants to the papers and phoning in to radio stations about anything that happens to piss him off, who actually RUNS ryanair?

    We should be told. For a busy man, he seems to have an awful lot of time on his hands for this itty bitty silly stuff like that daft letter about John Gibbons in todays paper. Ok ok you think he’s a twat, Michael, so what? Last week you thought he was a total d**k, so does this mean you guys are nearly friends yet??

    Dont get me wrong, its a great scrap and I make a bee line for it in the paper every day. Not sure what John Gibbons does for a living, but Im pretty sure he doesnt ahve to run an airline unlike poor Michael. No wonder the poor man seems so stressed.

  3. Muppetshow says:

    So Michael O’Leary reckons climate change, global warming or whatever he chooses to call it all a a load of rubbish, since “we in Ireland having record rainfall in June and July rather than heatwave?”. What class of a total gobshite is this guy? Does he know even the slightest thing about climate change, or is he just pulling this garbage straight out of the top of his head?

    God help us all when our so-called business elite like O’Leary reveal themselves to be craven, profit-mad liars who will quite literally see us all burn in hell sooner than take their noses out of the trough long enough to see what’s coming our way.

    This total jackass would be an amiable idiot, were it not for the extraordinary quantities of air time he commands, not to mention appearance at Oireachtas committees. All this publicity makes him an extremely dangerous proponent of the Business-As-Usual model that will be the end of us all within a generation, or probably a great deal less.

    Shame on O’Leary, and bigger shame on the rest of us for listening to him.

  4. Gerald Looney says:

    Another new scripture, not to John Gibbons or his believers/followers, but to truth seekers:

    Veritas Vos Liberabit.
    Gerald Looney

  5. Paula Downey says:

    Reading Michael O’Leary’s latest volley in the Irish Times on the issue of climate change, I’m struck by the narrowness of thought it reveals. If I were a Ryanair shareholder, I’d be hoping for something more strategic and far-seeing from the CEO charged with protecting my interests.

    He’d learn a lot from the late great systems thinker, Donnella Meadows, whose powerful analogy explains the uncertainties and delayed responses that are part and parcel of complex living systems. Imagine driving a car which, when you turn the steering wheel to take a corner, doesn’t actually respond and change direction for another ten miles. Then she asks: how would you drive a car that behaved like that? Answer: Very slowly, very carefully and very humbly.

    Far from humble, Mr O’Leary speaks with great certainty – and scary simplicity – of the complex global climate system that neither he nor any of us will ever understand in that way. Any voice that speaks with certainty about complexity should always be met with a raised eyebrow.

    The voice that says not to worry, there’s nothing a little technological tweak can’t fix, continue to plough your current furrow, is soothing and seductive to creatures of habit. However nature’s delays mean the impacts of two hundred years of industrialisation have only begun to play out, while the subtle interdependencies of living systems in which everything affects everything else, make the future unpredictable in detail, though if we’re willing to observe it with an open mind we can see its overall pattern emerging.

    Like it or not, this is a time of consequences, and ours is a culture at a crossroads and in transition. We have a lot to learn about how to live within nature’s limits and meet our needs without destroying the place that will take care of our kids. Every industry, profession and individual is needed for the task, and as we make the critical decisions that will shape our future, we’d do well to choose carefully the voices we listen to, legitimise with our investments, and amplify with our column inches.

  6. Pingback: Bookmarks about Aviation

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