A Green Tax for 'Binge' Flyers


By guest-blogger C. Tenz

When the publisher of a guidebook series says people fly too much, we know we’re in deep CO2 trouble. But that’s exactly what Mark Ellingham, the founder of the Rough Guides, said in an interview recently in The Observer. In an article celebrating the guidebook series’ 25th anniversary, Ellingham rails against the travel development he refers to as “binge flying” – hopping a flight for a quick weekend in a distant locale. To counter this trend, he calls for a £100 (~ $ 210) green tax on all flights from Britain to Europe and Africa and a £250 (~ $520) green tax to flights elsewhere.

As a poor eco-lover who lives far from her close friends and family, I initially balked at the idea. I can’t imagine affording my annual flight from Germany to the US if the price doubled. As a citizen of Cologne, a city that often hosts these binge flyers, however, I might be swayed. It would be nice, after all, if our local environment was compensated for the damage done by holiday shoppers and stag party revelers who fly in for the weekend because the beer is cheaper here.

Perhaps, however, the answer shouldn’t rest on finances. Considering that flights are reaching record levels – with 2.51 million take-offs planned for May 2007 – this fee could quickly increase the amount of money diverted toward environmental interests. But which eco-developments would benefit? At this point, there’s still not much conclusive research on the best way to remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere, so the money wouldn’t directly undo the damage caused by air travel. And Ellingham acknowledges that the plan could backfire. With a reduction in air travel, he says, the economies of many nations that currently benefit from tourism may be devastated. Should some of this green tax go to those nations?

Germany, for one, is trying to avoid this green tax argument altogether with an appeal to its citizens to stay home on their next holiday. In marketing their country as the best travel destination, they are using not only the “better for the environment” argument. They’re also playing up the low costs of using the rail system to move around the diverse landscape, which includes both beaches and mountain ranges. And with the nation still reeling from the hottest April temperatures on record, it’s got a climate to rival Spain’s. That, combined with the German eco-consciousness, will hopefully work better than a tax to keep the world’s holidaymakers at home a bit longer.

Starre Vartan is founder and editor-in-chief of Eco-Chick.com and the author of the Eco-Chick Guide to Life. She's also a freelance science and environment writer who has published in National Geographic, CNN, Scientific American, Mental Floss, Pacific Standard, the NRDC, and many more. She lives on an island in Puget Sound with her partner and black cat. She was a geologist in her first career, and still picks up rocks wherever she goes.