Thursday, May 10, 2007

Travel: the new tobacco

This one gave me a laugh. The founder of "Rough Guides" (promoting travel) now believes that our addiction to 'binge flying' is killing the planet. Sounds like a severe case of Leftist guilt syndrome

Mark Ellingham, founder of the Rough Guides and the man who encouraged a generation of travellers to pack a rucksack and explore the world, has compared the damage done by tourism to the impact of the tobacco industry.

Ellingham now says travelling is so environmentally destructive that there is no such thing as a genuinely ethical holiday. He wants the industry to educate travellers about the damage their holidays do to the environment. The development he regrets most is the public's appetite for what he calls 'binge-flying'.

'The tobacco industry fouled up the world while denying [it] as much as possible for as long as they could,' said Ellingham. 'If the travel industry rosily goes ahead as it is doing, ignoring the effect that carbon emissions from flying are having on climate change, we are putting ourselves in a very similar position to the tobacco industry.'

Although the aviation industry now accounts for just 5.5 per cent of the CO2 generated in the UK, it is one of the fastest-growing generators of the pollution. Some experts estimate that flying could treble in the next 20 years.

'Climate change is an issue that dwarfs all others and the impact of flying is key to this,' said Ellingham. 'All of us involved have a responsibility to inform travellers as clearly and honestly as possible about the environmental cost of their journeys. We must encourage travellers to travel less and neutralise their carbon footprint through offsetting. It is hard to say the positive impact travelling has can ever outweigh the damage done by simply travelling to the destination,' he said. 'Balancing all the positives and negatives, I'm not convinced there is such a thing as a "responsible" or "ethical" holiday.'

Ellingham is calling for a 100 green tax on all flights to Europe and Africa, and 250 on flights to the rest of the world. He also wants investment to create a low-carbon economy, as well as a moratorium on airport expansion.

It was 25 years ago this week when Ellingham sat down at his kitchen table and wrote his first guidebook, using his mother's typewriter. Alongside Lonely Planet, Ellingham's publications revolutionised the travel industry, particularly by encouraging young people to explore the world. 'At that time travelling, as distinct from a two-week holiday, was a niche interest. Students went InterRailing, while the more daring would go island-hopping in Greece,' he said.

In the past 25 years, he said, there has been 'a huge growth in expectation of what people think they can do on holiday. People have more money. Flights cost a fraction of what they did then.'

Last week Easyjet came under criticism from environmentalists for delaying the launch of its carbon emission offsetting scheme, blaming a market riddled with 'snake-oil salesmen'.

Alongside guides enticing travellers to fly, Ellingham also publishes environmental titles, including the Rough Guide to Climate Change which is nominated for the Royal Society Prize for Science Books award, to be announced next week. Even so, he is keenly aware of the incongruity of making pronouncements about how people should moderate their behaviour. 'I acknowledge that I'm speaking about all of this from an apparently contradictory position but it's a question of working with what's realistic: if Rough Guides was to disappear overnight, I don't think anybody would fly any less. I think it's an entirely ethical position of mine to work with what's realistic by encouraging people to moderate the amount they fly, rather than stop altogether,' he said. 'It's up to people to make up their own minds about how they live their lives.'

While determined to encourage people to reduce the number of flights they take, Ellingham admits he has no intention of stopping himself, and he does not expect others to do so either. 'As a "recovering travel writer", I fly less than I would like to, but more than I know that ethically I should. The deal I have made with myself is to limit the number of flights I take to one long-haul and two or three shorter flights each year,' he said. 'I very much respect the purist attitudes of those who say they will never fly again, but it's totally unrealistic to expect the majority to do the same.'

Ellingham is aware of another contradiction in his position. While being hugely destructive, tourism also has so many positive effects that it would be disastrous to the economies of many nations if it were to stop or even be curbed.

Encouraging people to reduce the number of flights they take, however, is no easy task. Ellingham said he has been horrified by a new travelling trend. 'If there was just one thing I could change, it would be this new British obsession for binge flying,' he said. 'We now live in a society where, if people have nothing to do on a Saturday night, they go to Budapest for 48 hours. We fly anywhere at the slightest opportunity, 10 times and upwards a year. This needs to be addressed with the greatest urgency.'


Yet another proposal about how to fix the unfixable

The NHS should be run outside politics by a board appointed by Parliament, the British Medical Association says. The NHS should have its own constitution and make clear that it cannot provide everything possible, focusing instead on core services that meet the needs of the great majority of patients most of the time, it says. These changes would prevent day-to-day political meddling and let patients know what they could expect, the BMA says in a discussion paper.

The plans arise from dissatisfaction among the medical community about the Government's reforms, James Johnson, chairman of the BMA Council said. There was "intense unhappiness" in the entire workforce, with reforms that lacked logic or coherence. Professionals had been marginalised by changes over 15-20 years, and the "constant dabbling" by politicians was dividing managers from clinicians, he said.

The recommendations envisage the NHS as an organisation that is a cross between the BBC and an old-style nationalised industry: run by a board, reporting to Parliament, and governed by a constitution that would set out principles, rights, and responsibilities. Patient input would be strengthened by greater local involvement, the division between purchasers and providers eroded if not abolished, and clinical leadership given greater priority.

Mr Johnson, a surgeon, said that the current reforms were "probably just about as unpopular as you can get. They lack cohesion; they are contradictory. "It is absolutely right the politicians set the guidelines, but day-to-day dabbling when a particular topic becomes headlines is not good for the service," he said. For the Secretary of State to have to react to every local eventuality "can't be the best use of Cabinet ministers' time. We think the way forward is for the service to be vested in a board of governors. The Government would set the amount of money and the general direction of travel for the NHS without any further interference." The board of governors would ensure compliance with the NHS constitution. It would appoint an executive management board, to include the NHS Chief Executive and Chief Medical Officer.

Some rationing of services appeared inescapable, Mr Johnson said, as treatments became more costly and the population aged. The list of services provided should be decided through debate between politicians, professionals and the public. Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA's GPs committee, said that this did not mean the association favoured rationing. "We will continue to press for all necessary resources, but we do believe rationing may be inevitable. What we are recommending, if rationing is to take place, is that it's done in an open manner."

Andy Burnham, the Health Minister, said: "We resist any call to make the NHS a slimmed-down, emergency service, because that's what it would become if we started rationing care. The NHS should continue to be comprehensive and universal. Further independence within the NHS should be considered only if it improves services. We are already devolving decision-making. "

Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Secretary, thought the BMA was too pessimistic, and that bureaucratisation and demoralisation could be reversed. "I endorse some of the principles - taking politicians out of the day-to-day running of the NHS; reengaging professionals and focusing the Secretary of State and department on public health challenges," he said.

Nigel Edwards, of the NHS Confederation, which represents most NHS organisations, said that producing a written constitution would be extremely difficult. "The NHS exists in a cash-limited system and has a multitude of competing priorities," he said. "It is extremely difficult to reach a consensus on expensive drugs and treatments that pleases everyone. "We need to confront the reality that if the public do not want cost to be a factor in NHS decisions, they may have to prepared to pay more. "The confederation agrees that the NHS should be more independent of central government control. However, the structure of this is less important than ensuring devolution of power to local trust level."


British TV veteran disses the BBC: "Sir Patrick Moore has identified an alien species that threatens to destroy intelligent life - the women who have taken over the BBC. The veteran astronomer celebrated the 50th anniversary of The Sky at Night with a withering attack on the female executives he believes have dumbed down the corporation. Sir Patrick's outburst echoes criticisms raised by Alasdair Milne, a former Director-General, who provoked a furious response when he accused a female-dominated BBC of producing "terrible" programmes. Sir Patrick, 84, was asked by the Radio Times if television had got better or worse during a career spanning the medium's life. The answer was worse - "much worse". He said: "The trouble is that the BBC now is run by women and it shows: soap operas, cooking, quizzes, kitchen-sink plays. You wouldn't have had that in the golden days." They have even destroyed sci-fi, Sir Patrick's personal passion. He said: "I used to watch Doctor Who and Star Trek, but they went PC - making women commanders, that kind of thing. I stopped watching."

Mohammed Philby?: "Dozens of suspected Islamic fanatics have been weeded out after attempting to join MI5 and MI6. They were identified by the vetting process applicants go through over six to eight months. The success in exposing the moles has underlined the dangers faced by the security services as they seek to recruit more Muslims. Assuming that most of these would be Mohammed Philbys are British citizens, wouldn't trying to penetrate British intelligence agencies be considered treason? The article doesn't mention any arrests. Are they simply being let go to toddle back off to the nearest extremist mosque?"

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