Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Why we hope authors and illustrators will stop promoting climate-wrecking companies like Emirates Airline

The post below was originally written for the news page of the Think Twice campaign web site. The campaign, which was instigated by book blogger Zoe Toft and myself, encourages authors and illustrators to 'think twice' about attending the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai on the grounds that the festival is sponsored by an environmentally unfriendly company owned by an oppressive government.

With this year’s festival now over, we are winding down the campaign. However the Think Twice website will remain online and we will continue to accept new signatories to our pledge.

The principle aim of this campaign was to raise awareness of the three key issues highlighted on our homepage, which we have achieved. The debate the campaign provoked online (and off-line) has helped to highlight the oppression of free speech and human rights in the UAE as outlined in English PEN and Human Rights Watch’s open letter to festival patron Sheik Mohammed, which was published as the festival drew to a close.

We’re pleased to say that the response to the campaign has generally been very positive, however there have been some exceptions. Critics of the campaign have argued that the festival promotes cultural exchange and a love of literature. We accept this point, but the same could be said of all book festivals, most of which give these same benefits without lending their respectability to a sponsor who is so morally reprehensible. The fact that this particular festival presents itself as promoting free speech, while being funded by a government that is brutally suppressing free speech among its own citizens, seems especially inappropriate. In short, we don’t accept that sponsorship by an environmentally unfriendly company owned by an oppressive government is a “necessary evil” that authors should be prepared to accept in return for a book festival.

The one major regret we have about the campaign is that we were unable to get more authors and illustrators to engage with the issue of aviation-induced climate change. Some people have suggested that it was inappropriate to combine climate change and human rights issues in the same campaign. We disagree entirely; climate change is very much a human rights issue. Amnesty International have described climate change as “one of the greatest human rights challenges of our time". Savio Carvalho, Amnesty’s Senior Advisor on International Development and Human Rights addresses the subject thus in this article:
“What has climate change got to do with human rights?
Extreme weather-related disasters and rising seas will destroy homes and ruin people’s ability to earn a living. What’s more, unless emissions are reduced significantly, around 600 million people are likely to experience drought and famine as a result of climate change. So you can see there’s a direct link between climate change and human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, water and housing.”
Climate scientists and environmental campaigners have made it clear that the continuing growth of the aviation industry is critically undermining efforts to keep global warming beneath the 2ÂșC limit needed to avert climate catastrophe. Earlier this week, the World Wildlife Fund, Transport and Environment (a coalition of European environmental organisations) and other environmental groups launched the FlightPath 1.5 campaign to address “the defining global climate change issue of 2016: reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the airline industry.” As well as urging world leaders to confront the aviation industry, the campaign aims to educate “the public about the importance of this unaddressed issue".

The FlightPath 1.5 campaign aims to educate the public about threat posed by aviation-induced climate change. 

The problem is that, while domestic flights are covered by the carbon budgets of individual nations, international flights are not. So, while other industries have been working hard to reduce their CO2 emissions, the aviation’s industry’s emissions have more than doubled in the last twenty years. The festival’s sponsor, Emirates Airline, have led the way in exploiting this loophole, outstripping all other airlines by a considerable margin. The international passenger kilometres flown in 2015 by the top 5 international carriers are shown in the graph below.

And, rather than curb their growth, Emirates have announced plans to double the size of their fleet. As such, Emirates are by far the worst offenders in an industry that has consistently prioritised corporate profit ahead of the welfare of future generations.

Setting the issue of ethical sponsorship aside, we hope that this campaign will help authors and illustrators who are genuinely concerned about climate change to recognise the immense impact air travel may be having on their personal carbon footprint. One person's return flight from London to Dubai generates more CO2 than all of the electricity used by a typical UK household in an entire year. For authors and illustrators who fly once a year or more, probably the most effective thing they can do to help combat climate change will be to cut back on their flying.

For many authors and illustrators this may mean attending fewer international festivals and conferences in person (regardless of their sponsorship). The academic community are already leading the way in this respect. The Flying Less campaign is helping to reduce flying by members of academic institutions and professional associations. Launched in October last year, it already has 352 signatories. In the interests of future generations, we hope that the literary community will also recognise the urgent need to cut back on its flying.

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