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March 22, 2008

Ecocidal hen parties eating chocolate-covered waffles

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The USA is usually vilified as the arch despoiler of the biosphere, but is little Britain actually the number one bad guy?

Tony Blair used to assert that Britain is reponsible for only two per cent of global emissions - but it depends which numbers you add up. The chart above, for example, plots the accumulation through time of anthropogenic (ie man-made) emissions. As founder and longtime powerhouse of carboniferous capitalism, Britain probably 'owns' a good chunk of the early post-1850 emissions, plotted here, that are still with us.

Next, consider (as Christian Aid did in a report last year) that, if account is taken of the UK's overseas investments, the country is responsible for as much as 15 per cent of current global emissions of CO2. The UK's integration into the global economy means that money raised in the UK - which comes from its pension funds, insurance companies and banks - is lent and spent all over the world, much of it without any questions asked as to whether or not it is contributing to the proliferation of greenhouse gases.

Now add the fact that Britons produce more carbon emissions from air travel a head than any other country. The average carbon emission for each British flyer was 603kg (1329lb) a year, more than a third higher than Ireland in second place with 434kg and more than double that of the US at 275kg, in third place. Britain's lead looks likely to grow: Nearly five million British tourists plan to take long-haul mini-breaks during 2008, according to another survey A desire for increasingly exotic stag-night, hen-night and wedding locations was reason enough for 17 per cent to spend seven or more hours in the air.

Britain's new prime minister has promised to keep these stag and hen parties flying by committing to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport. This one project will enable an additional 473,000 flights per year. Some of these are needed for the import of 14,000 tonnes of chocolate-covered waffles.

Mr Brown will no doubt continue to claim that Britain is only responsible for two percent of global emissions: the impacts of its international air travel flows - including those planeloads of waffles - are simply left out of UK emissions accounting.

Will Britain worry if starts being denounced as the Worst Polluting Country In the World? Probably not: I've been called by two journalists just this week who are writing pieces on "green fatigue".

Posted by John Thackara at March 22, 2008 07:53 AM

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