This is London has twin stories about the flying habits of two well-known guys: John Travolta and Prince Charles. Both fly quite a bit (Travolta actually pilots himself, and lives in a house where he can park planes as though they were cars), and the both say that people should live less polluting and wasteful lives. This is London suggests their words might not be wholly compatible with their deeds.
“It [global warming] is a very valid issue,” Travolta declared. “I’m wondering if we need to think about other planets and dome cities.
“Everyone can do their bit. But I don’t know if it’s not too late already. We have to think about alternative methods of fuel.
“I’m probably not the best candidate to ask about global warming because I fly jets.
“I use them as a business tool though, as others do. I think it’s part of this industry – otherwise I couldn’t be here doing this and I wouldn’t be here now.”
Such prolific mileage means that, over the past 12 months, he has accumulated around 800 tonnes of carbon emissions.
According to a recent study by the government-funded Carbon Trust, this means he boasts a carbon “footprint” nearly 100 times that of the average Briton, who is responsible for 10.92 tons of Co2, from his flights alone.
It’s not clear how Travolta came to say these things. Probably somebody asked him about them, since the mag says he talked about this on the red carpet at the U.K. premiere of his new movie, and he answered off the top of his head. Seems to me that saying “hey, people should fly less even though I acknowledge I fly a lot myself” is better than saying “hey, I’m rich and I can do what I want, so screw the rest of you.”
The case of Charles is more problematic. This is London jerks him around for flying from London to Scotland when he could have taken a train or something, but concedes that Camilla has recently had a hysterectomy and was flying with a nurse on board, so I’m prepared to forgive him that. Maybe they shouldn’t have gone to Scotland at all under the circumstances, but I won’t lose any sleep.
There is a more interesting case, though:
Charles vowed last December to “substantially” curb his reliance on gas-guzzling transport in favour of scheduled flights and train travel.
And a month later he turned down a private jet and took 20 members of his staff business class on a British Airways jet to New York to collect an award marking his environmental awareness.
In his speech, Charles said climate change “was a war we simply have to win”. And he was applauded when he added: “It is surely the duty of each and every one of us to find out what we can do to make the situation better.”
Nonetheless green campaigners and Environment Minister David Miliband said he could have accepted the award by video link.
Hmmm. The BBC says that the award was only one event in a tour that took the Prince of Wales to New York City and Philadelphia for two or three days, and was undertaken with the approval of the Foreign Office. They did royal things — visiting schools and charities, attending a major musical performance, giving out awards themselves. The prince visited Independence Hall in Philadelphia, a reasonably major deal for the heir to the British crown if you look at it on the grand scale of history (though admittedly Edward VII visited when he was the prince of Wales in 1860, when I suppose it was a really major deal). A lot of Americans presumably came away from their encounters with him, however distant they were, liking Britain just a little bit better.
These are things you can’t do by video link.
Moving the physical presence of the Prince of Wales from place to place is the life’s work of Charles Windsor; his personal contribution is his informed decision-making about which causes and organizations to grace with his attention. He doesn’t do anything — but he points out people who do, and by bringing them attention, encourages their work.
Even in republics, that job is considered important: distributing the physical presence of the President of the United States is a major responsibility of whoever holds the office — that’s why George W. Bush was in that classroom on the morning of 9/11, and why he went to the smoking ruin of the World Trade Center a couple of days later, and why he threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium a scant couple of weeks after that. The children would have been read to, the wreckage cleared, the pitch thrown out, without Bush’s participation. But ceremony and symbolism matter. Sometimes the boss, even if he’s only the boss by convention and doesn’t do very much personal bossing himself, has to go.
It’s certainly worthwhile for someone in Charles’s position to think carefully, or pay somebody to, about how to maximize the efficiency of his trips, both as a technical matter of technology — can he sleep on the train rather than flying in and sleeping when he gets there? — and to maximize the usefulness of each trip. I can’t see calling the guy a hypocrite for doing his job, though.