Michael Williams: Readers' editor

Travel ads fund our freedom to talk green
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The Independent Online

It's one of those conversations that is the stuff of nightmares for a readers' editor. It can happen at any time of the year, but it lurks most often around now, as people start to focus on summer holidays. It usually goes like this:

It's one of those conversations that is the stuff of nightmares for a readers' editor. It can happen at any time of the year, but it lurks most often around now, as people start to focus on summer holidays. It usually goes like this:

Eco-Savvy Reader: "Why don't you ban all those articles in your travel pages that encourage people to fly. You claim to be a green newspaper. Why don't you practise what you preach?"

RE: "Well, 'The Independent on Sunday' isn't in the business of banning anything. Nor is it the paper's policy to refuse to cover particular types of holiday or destination. But we do try to reflect the green concerns of readers, concentrating on sustainable tourism and travel that minimises our carbon footprint."

ESR: "Ha! So how do you defend running all those reader offers and ads for long-haul flights when you have columnists urging readers to back the protesters against expansion at Heathrow? Isn't it totally illogical?"

RE: "It's the ads that pay the bills that allow columnists the platform to express their opinions. The advertisers don't interfere with the views of commentators and the newspaper doesn't meddle with them. Besides, we have a duty to reflect the leisure tastes of the majority of our readers. Surveys show that concerns about airline advertising rank way below those for high-emission cars or ads using sexual imagery. And a majority of readers still nominate flying as their favoured way of travelling abroad."

Here I must declare an interest, as when you read this I shall be in Atlanta, Georgia, 4,200 miles from home. Despite various "green" claims by British Airways, the Boeing 777 is still a mightily polluting beast, and sitting with your knees under your chin in economy doesn't go far in mitigating its footprint. Can I defend the journey?

By contrast, our family holiday last year was very low carbon. We stayed on an organic farm in remotest north Devon, leaving the car at home and attempting to get around by bus and train. While the farm – set in a gorgeous valley – was delightful, was it fair to inflict on my young children interminable waits in the rain at isolated country bus stops? Or failed connections on dirty trains, run by First Great Western, officially Britain's worst rail operator?

Simon Calder, the travel editor of our sister paper 'The Independent', has, by the nature of his job, a bigger carbon footprint than me. He recommends occasional hitch-hiking as a means of keeping its size down. But how many readers will be found this summer with their thumbs out on the slip road to the M1? The truth is that none of these choices is easy. But we believe 'IoS' readers are intelligent enough to make up their own minds. And there's one reader offer we won't be making. A free hair shirt with every edition.

Is women's studies still relevant?

Last week's story on the demise of this academic subject prompted male and female readers alike to mourn its passing – and to dance on its grave – at ios.typepad.com


It is very heartening to hear that women's studies have been incorporated into a wide range of courses. However, even places like Australia, where I am from, can still be deeply sexist.

John Mullen

I teach history in a university in France. I wish I could say that history programmes no longer ignore the history of women. Important female figures get a slight mention.


Imagine the furore if there were special men's studies courses which deliberately left out women. Disciplines such as oral history are the way forward, enfranchising both sexes rather than one.

Dr Louise Livesey

Christine Hoff Sommers' criticism of feminism as "dreary and tired" is an inherent contradiction. I and others will continue to teach a discipline which isn't dead but being rendered invisible by the media.


"Rendered invisible" seems to be how society deals with feminists these days, and indeed women in most roles, apart from the decorative bodies and sex symbols which are still everywhere.

Katherine Collins

Is there anywhere in the world where women are now completely free from male domination? Any woman here knows that she is countering male power and privilege every day.

Alex Brew

At the biggest women's march since the Seventies, on International Women's Day this month, around 4,000 people demonstrated in London to end violence against women. It wasn't reported.

La Bird

One of the reasons potential students don't opt for purely theoretical or arts-based courses is because their options have become increasingly limited by economics. This is the really tragic "farewell".