The war on cheap flights

Like the feudal lords of old, greens want to tie us to small patches of land.

Ben Pile


The government announced this week that it is considering legislation to add a ‘carbon charge’ to the price of flights.

Flights – especially cheap flights – have long been the enemy of climate-change obsessives. And taxes have long been the weapon of choice for those who want to regulate our behaviour. Ministers hope that like taxes on cigarettes and alcohol, or congestion charges on London’s roads, consumers will see the ‘signal’ of rising prices as an instruction to change their behaviour.

According to this latest proposal, charges will be automatically applied, but customers will be able to opt out. This has angered environmentalists. ‘A voluntary [carbon price] will achieve nothing’, said Green Party MP Caroline Lucas. She instead called for ‘a frequent flyer levy so those who fly the most pay the most’.

Since the government has now committed the UK to reduce its CO2 emissions to ‘Net Zero’ by 2050, this optional tax will undoubtedly become compulsory. And what is a small charge will, like the taxes on smoking and drinking, surely become the largest portion of the cost to travellers. The levy will stop people travelling, not by ‘raising awareness’, but by pricing people out of the skies. What’s more, although the headlines are aimed at flying, the proposal itself suggests that train, boat and bus journeys should also be subject to the same charge. ‘Those who use the bus the most should pay the most’, as Caroline Lucas might say.

The direction of travel of all green policy is the same. It leads to further restrictions on material freedom. The slippery slope is no fallacy in this case. From the inception of the green movement, the possibility of abundant and cheap energy – even if it is environmentally sound – has been anathema to environmentalists. ‘Giving society cheap, abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun’, said Paul Ehrlich, a key figure of the green movement, in the 1970s. Instead, restraint is what is demanded.

In the early 19th century, the educator and historian Thomas Arnold noted of the new London-to-Birmingham railway: ‘I rejoice to see it and think that feudality has gone forever.’ Undoubtedly, the internal combustion engine transformed lives for the better, as did the jet engine. Contrast this with the view of upper-class eco-warrior David Attenborough, who recently lamented that the Industrial Revolution that gave us these transformations ‘started the problem’.

Mass transport eroded old feudal divisions. But greens of all kinds want to reinstate those divisions and lower our social horizons once more. It is not a coincidence that environmentalists celebrate feudal lifestyles and modes of production: localised, tied to specific patches of land, with limited scope for travel and mobility.

In her appeal for green votes in the European Parliament, Ursula von der Leyen, the only candidate for the EU Commission presidency, pledged her own Net Zero target for the whole of the EU: ‘All of us will have to contribute… in the way each of us travels and lives. Emissions must have a price that changes our behaviour.’ Nobody voted for von der Leyen, and nor did anybody vote for the green austerity she proposed. Europe’s politicians have never offered voters the opportunity to express their view on the far-reaching green agenda. In the UK, parties of all stripes have signed up to it.

Few contemporary politicians are capable of making the case for abundance and prosperity to transform our lives and society. Politicians talk about energy and transport as if they should only begrudgingly be provided. The idea that travelling is a good thing that should be cheap and convenient is all but heresy. ‘All of us will have to contribute… in the way each of us travels and lives’ clearly means that all of us will have to travel less and pay more to do so.

Ben Pile blogs at Climate Resistance.

Picture by: Getty.

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Fred West

22nd January 2020 at 12:57 pm

Maybe all taxes should be means tested with those most able to pay, paying the most.
Like £100,000 levy on every flight the super rich make and 5x that on billionaires.

Thomas Sagan

29th July 2019 at 9:03 am

David Attenborough must have one of the largest carbon footprints of any human being on earth. He’s travelled to every corner of the globe multiple times and his tv programmes have probably caused more global warming than several small African nations.

Now he wants to price the working class out of going on holiday once a year.

Shut up, you hypocritical, sanctimonious old fool.

Winston Stanley

25th July 2019 at 7:54 pm

Another neo-feudal tendency:

– Against “cultural appropriation” – we should not get our culture from all over the world, we should stick to what is national, and maybe, logically, even regional or local – very pre-modern and feudal, our cultural horizons limited to our local contacts

Winston Stanley

25th July 2019 at 7:48 pm


– Population reduction – the population was much smaller in feudal times, the less developed economic base impeded human flourishment

– Against industrialism – speaks for itself

– Particularly against fossil fuels – the fuel of the industrial revolution

– Against material development, for natural conservation – the feudal landscape and living standards

– Elitism, authoritarianism and paternalism – EU, nanny state, green taxes, nudge culture, against democracy and the demos, populism, free choice etc. – much like the feudal hierarchy, our place is to be managed and controlled by TPTB, with priests to make sure that we “know our place” and to tell us how to live our lives

– Against transport, except for the rich, fuel taxes, localism – as article points out, very feudal, people were tied to fields, the aristocrats could go where they liked

– Veganism – the peasant diet was largely plant-based, lots of meat was mainly for the rich and considered an extravagance and an exception for the masses

– Organic – reversion to Medieval agricultural practices, much less food could be produced and the potential for population growth was limited

– Cosmological and natural morality – we receive “moral” imperatives from the cosmos and from nature, rather than our own choices and free will, a reversion to Christian cosmology and teleology as the basis of ethics, we are not free and autonomous but constrained and determined by suprahuman imperatives, our place is obedience to the order, social, natural and cosmic

– Poverty, humility, simplicity, abstinence, celibacy, obedience – all Medieval Christian “virtues”, for the peasants anyway (bar celibacy, that really is monastic), the aristos could live it up proud as was “their place” in the “natural order”, a reflection of the greatness of the Lord God, the heavenly figure of eathly authority, no less, and of our lowliness in the cosmic order

If Greens think that the Middle Ages were much better and that we should go back to feudalism then maybe they should just say so. Amazing how they dress it all up as leftism.

Winston Stanley

25th July 2019 at 7:51 pm

Another neo-feudal tendency:

Neil John

25th July 2019 at 5:14 pm

The scientific community does seem to agree, high level jet flight pollution does need to be reduced. One researcher has postulated her individual flights to conferences and other ‘academic’ gatherings alone exceed her Universities ground level carbon foot-print, though getting academics to give up travelling and exchanging bodily fluids at conferences might be a good thing, it’ll be hard to do.
As for the too cheap travelling public, no doubt the effects of the few have had on Britan’s reputation abroad hasn’t helped, it took me years to afford a package holiday flying abroad, the relatively well off retired who filled the plane were obviously regular flyers. Like the retired academic I know who has just finished a round the world flying jaunt to go climbing mountains and diving is a concerned environmentalist, as long as it doesn’t affect them.

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