Jogging on Hampstead Heath on Maundy Thursday was a delight. There were hardly any people despite the strong sun which, at 7 30 am, was already beginning to warm the cold air and dry the dew off the grass.
The reason, of course, is that everyone had fled the capital city or was preparing to. The roads on the way to the Heath had been empty, too, with no sign of that new awful urban weapon, the 4×4 with its cargo of pampered schoolchildren since it was the school holidays. As I ran through the deserted Heath, I got to thinking about the insanity of what is now happening. The weather forecast was for sunshine and temperatures in the 60s and yet the motorways were clogged by mid morning and the train stations were heaving.
Why does everyone need to rush away the minute that the schools are shut and their offices close? This is particularly true of London, one of the great cities of the world. The previous weekend I had cycled 10 miles across town to the Dulwich Picture Gallery, a museum I had never visited in my half century of living in the capital. Riding through the City, I realised just how much London has to offer not just for tourists but for us Londoners, who tend not to appreciate what it has to offer.
We went to Dulwich to see the exhibition of London paintings by Canaletto and his paintings showed that they were at it then, too – travelling I mean. The pictures are full of speeding coaches, barges and boats and countless walkers but that was all sustainable. Their carbon footprint was, quite simply, zero since their transport was powered by themselves or their grass-eating horses.
In our heart of hearts we all know that by flying off to Barcelona or Bermuda for a long weekend is simply unsustainable. We are indulging in an orgy of travel rather in the way that previous civilisations indulged in food or sex or sacrifices as they began to collapse. Lastminute.com has been advertising under the slogan ‘get your five a year’ as if having one or two holidays a year is just for mugs. Can we really only get pleasure from consuming yet more and more? David Cameron’s attempt to raise this issue, by suggesting flying should be rationed through the taxation system, was an incredibly brave statement from a politician seeking to become prime minister.
And he was right to highlight flying, since, whatever the aviation industry suggests, it is the big culprit. The emissions are particularly harmful because of the height at which they are released and the mixture of particles and gases. There is no getting away from the fact that flying is simply unsustainable and, so far, its environmental damage is not reflected either through the fares or the taxation system.
It has to stop. It is not good enough to say that the government needs to plan in a way that reduces transport. Of course it should and it needs to impose price signals which move us in that. But the real responsibility is ours. Every time we book a flight, we should be think of that old wartime poster: ‘Is your journey really necessary?’
For further information about my work and past articles, and how to subscribe to my free newsletter, go to www.christianwolmar.co.uk