The subject is what the Europeans call the "carbon footprint," the whole notion of measuring the ways in which man is destroying the planet.
What you have to do is: (1) Place in order of the damage that they do to the environment, on a global basis, the aviation industry, automobiles and power stations. (2) Say by what multiple the aviation industry pollutes the environment more than the Internet does. (3) Say by what multiple a ton of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere high up, by aircraft, does more damage than a ton of carbon dioxide released at ground level. (4) Finally, say which of all the industries in creation may rightly claim to be the greenest.
The answers to the questions now follow.
(1) The worst polluter, contributing 25 percent of all carbon dioxide produced and spewed into the atmosphere, is cars and trucks. Power stations are as bad, also contributing one-quarter of the grand total.
Aviation, all 85,000 daily civilian flights, produces just 1.6 percent of the total. Tell me this, then: Why is no one leaning on the automobile industry to clean up its act? Dependence on oil brings with it the liability of befriending Middle Eastern and South American dictators.
Moms picking up the kids in gargantuan nine-seater SUVs are therefore arguably worse criminals than child molesters, who only ruin a few lives per molester. Drivers of gas-guzzlers are wrecking the show for all of us.
OK, now that I have you on my side, here's the answer to (2). The extent to which the entire aviation industry pollutes the environment is exactly the same as that used to run the Internet, its servers and the personal computers on which the Net is accessed. If you're reading this online, while tooling around in your Hummer, you are evil incarnate. If you're using a cell phone to tell your friends to read it, you may be the Devil himself.
Ah, you say, but question (3) will vindicate my swinish behavior. Surely, aircraft release their carbon dioxide high up in the atmosphere, where it does more damage? Wrong. A ton of carbon dioxide is a ton of carbon dioxide, no matter where it is released. Take that, hippies.
If all these are true, why are people whining about airplanes but making no comment on stretch limousines? The answer, of course, is that fewer people fly than drive.
The self-appointed "socially aware" crowd considers flying elitist, and therefore wants it curtailed. European organizations exist that are dedicated to ending air travel altogether.
These socially minded protestors (read: weenies) have made a ton of noise, but little impact. They managed to produce a hysterical overreaction to smoking, but otherwise have affected our progress not one jot. Embittered, they now seek to cripple business activity in the name of the children.
The answer to (4), by the way, is a palliative, in case I enraged you earlier on. The insurance industry is among the greenest in the world. Its practitioners should be feted with parades and social awards. Fat chance.
By what arrogant illogic does mankind think that its effect on the planet will be sufficient to kill it? The Earth was here long before us, and doubtless will be here long after we are gone. Cows produce methane; people produce carbon dioxide; no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
ROGER CROMBIE is a Bermuda-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®.
April 15, 2008
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