Sunday, 9 September 2007

Climate Neutral Flying

Weather can be cruel. From a comfortable 36°C, temperatures early in the morning and at night dropped suddenly to 15°C. In the daytime it was a poor 10°C higher. They're such cold nights that we have to creep back under the covers. Even some showers visited us, but they brought only a meagre amount of water. That's how the island slowly slips into autumn, the time for trips to the woods.

Lesvos is a pretty forested island. The centre of the island is covered with extensive forests of pine trees. Around the highest mountains you will find some more mixed woods, like with royal chestnut trees and sculpture-like old planes. September and October are the months that you go to the forest, not only because the cool temperature invites you to walk, but also for the chestnuts, the mushrooms and the pink cyclamen that will soon appear.

Lesvos has always been covered with woods. The Petrified Forest, with the sensational sequioas that were petrified by a combination of volcanic eruptions, rain and fire, are the oldest example. Then came the oak trees that they used for building ships and later they used the acorns for the leather tanneries. Nowadays there is no longer any wood industry. There are some wood cavers in Agiasos but for their furniture they use wood from abroad. There is a small industry of utensils carved out of olive wood because these days much of the island is covered with olive trees. The pine trees are protected. To cut a pine tree on your own land you must have a pretty good reason to obtain permission.

The most wonderful forests are found around Anemotia, Parakila, Chalika, Olympos and Agiasos. In Uganda you can walk in climate woods, which are planted to compensate for CO₂ emissions. What's the connection between a climate forest in Uganda and a forest on Lesvos? Well, if you like the environment and you want to visit a forest in Lesvos, you can help a forest in Uganda by flying climate neutral. To fly to the island you buy yourself a ‘Green Seat’ in the aeroplane.

The Foundation Face (which in 2006 became the foundation ClimateNeutral Group, which works with this GreenSeat-project, carried out some environmental forest projects like planting 9.000 hectares of trees in Uganda. Why there? Because it was the cheapest place to do it. Typical Dutch. Spend as little money as possible and don't look around for other problems. It's easy to see what happened in Uganda: some small farmers were thrown off their land, compensated not at all or just a little, and some businessmen could stuff their Swiss bank accounts.

The businessmen got rich and the farmers try to recover their lands in the forest. They cut the trees in order to make charcoal and then the land is free again to grow vegetables. In this way a big part of the climate forest has already disappeared: ‘farmers in Uganda cut a big part out of a Dutch CO₂-forest’ (headline in the Dutch paper The Volkskrant on 6-11-2007). It's probably not enough that we dump our poisonous waste in Africa but Africa will probably also become our CO₂ dumping place.

But that's not really the thing that disturbs me. I keep on being disturbed by the term climate neutral flying. You can't fly climate neutral. An aeroplane discharges an enormous amount of CO₂ that helps create the greenhouse effect. So if you take a flight, you polute the planet and you stimulate air traffic. It's easy to buy that off with a little money. I would say: try to take as few flights as possible. Nowadays there are plenty of Dutch people who take flying holidays two or three times a year. Is that eco-conscious?

And I have an idea as well for the Foundation Face/ClimateNeutral Group: I know an area of thousands of hectares that needs new forests and maybe you'll get even some money when you plant trees there. The advantage of the place is that it's in the middle of a tourist country where there are a lot of flights. The CO₂ discharge can be gulped down immediately by the trees. And when the tourists really have to fly climate neutral, the aeroplane can make a small detour so that each climate neutral passenger can control their own CO₂ tree. You'll find that soon you'll be able to sell climate neutral travel to people who want to visit this climate forest. Also because the region is known as the cradle of our civilisation. There's even already a famous museum that can be situated right at the edge of the climate forest. The only enemies you will meet are some property developers and the nature. The property developers are easy to bribe with projects of building hotels for the climate neutral tourists. And the danger of fire is easy to stop with good management of the forest.

Copyright © Smitaki 2007

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