There is one form of transport that is an extreme climate killer, the fastest expanding source of CO2, and that is of little economic benefit: Flying will destroy the planet. What is most devastating is that it is supported through government subsidies and is therefore superficially cheap. We need to correct this or all the effort that we are making elsewhere will be wiped out. Remember that a flight to New York from Europe releases more CO2 than a household in a year!
Government subsidies have encouraged massive growth in flying. Flights do not pay VAT, fuel duty and they are also not to be found in any carbon market. Trains are in contrast paying all three in Europe and Flying will only join the Carbon Market in 2012. Tax is designed to rebalance some of the inequalities that capitalism creates, however here the reverse is the case. If you have read my post Get the Bus you will know how damaging flying really is compared to other transport forms. Therefore we can deduce that it should pay more towards the damage it is doing to our environment.
So why the subsidies? Because no government is brave enough to act alone. Like Banking, flying is a very mobile industry. No country is prepared to go it alone as the tax havens will take the business. Plane operators would simply avoid refuelling in high tax countries. Therefore it requires blanket action and that is something that global governance cannot achieve (even when the precious global economy almost collapses due to the lack of regulation on the banks).
There is some positive movement towards an increasingly hostile environment towards planes. The opposition towards airports is becoming increasingly vocal and organised. Here Nimbyism is doing good (Read here where Nimbyism is doing exactly the opposite). A great example is the 4th Runway at Heathrow, London, where through massive local opposition and environmental protest the runaway has been shelved. Restrictions on landing slots is currently the most effective curtail on runaway climate change that we have, as less landing slots mean naturally less flights.
Some believe that the subsidies for flying should be maintained to help economic growth. However flying’s economic benefits are hotly disputed. An argument for the 4th runway at Heathrow was that it could lose business as a hub airport to other European airports such as Frankfurt. However the few sandwiches that transit passengers buy is hardly going to equal the economic costs of both the noise, air pollution andd climate devastation. Flying as a business aid can also be replaced by using other technologies, that are a lot more efficient, such as video conferences.
Flying was ok when only the rich could fly, however now people are flying to go for day shopping trips! If India and China start binge flying like the West then the planet will roast.