Sue Arnold: Flying high with my cut-price conscience

'Once again I'm torn between the Kyoto Protocol and the Doges' Palace'
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The Independent Online

If I'd thought of it in time, I could have flown to Gothenburg on Ryanair for 20 quid and mooned at President Bush with the rest of those bare-bottomed demonstrators, to show how outraged I feel about America's irresponsible attitude to global pollution. Alas, I was elsewhere. I was in Bilbao thanks to another cheap airline promotion, lying on the floor of the Guggenheim Museum watching goldfish watch television ­ one of the more relaxing exhibits.

And then, in a couple of weeks' time, a Greenpeace friend currently engaged in non-violent, direct action against the genetically modified maize crop in Norfolk has invited me to a weekend seminar about the dangers of aircraft emissions, a subject close to my heart, but unfortunately I shall be in Salzburg. My friend, who lives there, telephoned last night to say she'd just found me a return air ticket on the internet for £9.

Somewhere deep inside me, a little to the left of the indigestion I am intermittently experiencing from my last in-flight tuna and dill mayonnaise wrap, a still small voice keeps telling me I'm not being altogether consistent in my crusade to save the ozone layer. It was Helen Sharman, Britain's first astronaut, who triggered my interest in environmental purity.

She was describing what Planet Earth looked like from outer space (for someone who knows how to operate the docking mechanism of a lunar module, she is amazingly poetic) and how, apart from the Great Wall of China, the only man-made object you can see with any real clarity from a spacecraft are the jet streams from aircraft criss-crossing the Atlantic.

Yesterday morning on the radio, Michael O'Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, was saying that cut-price air travel was in its infancy. Venice is his next target and once again I'm torn between the Kyoto Protocol and the Doges' Palace for £10 return.

But what about all the pollution your aircraft are causing, I protested to Mr O'Leary afterwards. Statistically, he said, a jumbo jet produces as much pollution as the motorists in a village, but then he would say that, wouldn't he? He also said that if environmentalists had been around 300 years ago, they would have moaned about all the forests being chopped down to make wooden ships. Come on Sue, get a life, he added.

I'm more inclined to believe Roger from Friends of the Earth, who tells me that a single passenger flying to Miami produces as much carbon dioxide emission pro rata, as the average motorist in a year. The answer, of course, is an alternative to fossil fuel and, even as we speak, a certain Leicestershire businessman is working on a type of bio-fuel suitable for aircraft.

Do you mean chicken manure, I asked Roger, remembering a recent visit to a power station in East Anglia entirely fuelled by chicken shit. No, he said, willow coppice, which produced some curious images of re-fuelling worthy of the Guggenheim.

Until 5-star willow coppice comes on stream, we should all try to cut down on air travel, especially long-haul flights. Brittany is every bit as exciting as Bangkok. At a push, you could even get there by bicycle. We're becoming increasingly inclined to confuse distance with quality. Students studying Spanish, my son included, turn up their noses at the idea of studying in Seville. It has to be Buenos Aires. Personally, I'd be happy to limit my travel to Europe for the rest of my life. I might even go to Denmark if all else fails.

I'd better not go to Salzburg, or if I do I'll go by train. I went to Hull by train last Wednesday. With the scheduled delays it took four hours there, four and three quarter hours back and cost £102 return, second class. For the same price I could take all the children, husband and granny to Mozart's birth place, with iced coffee and Sachertorte at the Café Glockenspiel afterwards. But what about my conscience? Mr O'Leary at Ryanair, I dare say, could find me a cut-price one.