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Green Flying Things?

Reading reader’s comments on a news article about the recent Red Arrows collision in Crete, I was struck by several which said that the Sparrows were wasteful, noisy and polluting.

That’s quite true.  They are, as are all aircraft.  In fact, all vehicles are wasteful, noisy and polluting, and we’d all be a lot better off if we walked and cycled more, and drove less.

But the Red Arrows are also beautiful, inspiring and enormously skilled – a tribute to excellence and love of life.  And sports cars are a lot of fun.

We all need to take climate change seriously, and cut emissions drastically.  This project’s charitable goals are swinging more and more toward climate change-related projects, because if we don’t solve this one, we won’t need to worry about any of the other problems we face.

But does that mean we should give up everything inspiring, everything fun, everything that spurs us on to being better than we were yesterday?  I don’t think so.  In fact, I think we need them more than ever in a world full of intangible but critical challenges.

Being an RAF brat, I was brought up in a culture of integrity and excellence that had little to do with what others thought of me, and everything to do with being true to myself.  Dad left the RAF to return to South Africa when I was not quite seven, and so it has taken years for me to realise just how much the culture rubbed off on him, and, by association, on me.  But reading this quote from the RAF’s Ethos, Core Values and Standards document reminds me of, well, home!

‘Our distinctive character, spirit and attitude that is necessary to pull together as a team, in order to deliver air power no matter the challenges or environment. We place unit and Royal Air Force success above self and strive to be courageous in the face of adversity and risk. Sustained by strong leadership, high professional and personal standards, we are bound by a strong sense of tradition and belonging to an organization of which we are immensely proud.’

It’s not the occasional display flights, the fundraisers, the beautiful old aircraft of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight that need to be cut to reduce emissions.  It’s unnecessary passenger miles, unnecessary airfreight, unnecessary trips to meetings when a video conference would do, unnecessary and unjust wars which have more to do with controlling oil than with democracy, unnecessary staple foods being flown around in refrigerated holds when they could be grown locally – I once read that every American meal has travelled an average of 1500 miles by air before it arrives on someone’s plate!  It’s unnecessary car trips to the supermarket when a walk to the local shop would get you all you needed as well as helping you to meet your neighbours.

And it will take discipline, willpower and community spirit - things we’ve largely lost in our alienated baby-boomer world.

Emissions will be reduced, not by canning the Red Arrows in some dreary and politically correct cost-cutting exercise, but by instilling in everyone the same spirit that kept London going through the Blitz, the spirit that won the Battle of Britain, the spirit that kept the transports flying day and night through the long, long months of the Berlin Airlift.  We need an inner voice  that says we can do it, if we’re willing to overcome petty differences, to pull together, to be a little bit better than we were yesterday, and to keep the goal in sight – a cleaner, safer world for the next generation.

And we’ll need every bit of inspiration and fun we can get!