Going green? Time to buy a Private Jet…

By Andrew Adie

Elon Musk jetted into Luton a few weeks ago, reportedly on a two-day lightning visit to view potential sites for an EV factory. His mode of transport was his PJ (Private Jet) – convenient but not exactly green.

On a similar vein, this week will see a host of world leaders arriving for the G7 Summit, led by the world’s most famous PJ, Airforce One, due in Suffolk today to deliver President Biden and his team to the Summit. One prominent example in a fleet of PJs heading for our shores. In fact the Biden team also sent a Boeing Globemaster to Cornwall carrying the Presidential Helicopter (Marine One) as well. I suspect that may have tipped the excess luggage scale.

On Radio Four this morning, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick dropped the interesting titbit that Boris Johnson will also be flying down to Cornwall today from London to attend the Summit.

At the risk of sounding cynical, and like a hair-shirt embracing green-bore, it does beg the question why, if politicians can continue to work and operate from battle buses on the road for weeks during an election campaign, the same couldn’t be achieved on a day trip to Cornwall?

I wonder if its time for the UK (and other countries) to ditch the PJs and invest in fleets of mobile offices – battle or business buses – that have a significantly lower carbon footprint than the PJ yet also provide a space for combining work and travel? I appreciate that driving across the oceans isn’t yet possible but for internal visits, surely there’s another way than the PJ? The rest of us seem to manage it.

In fairness, I’m not yet on the Greta Thunberg side on this, I do think air travel is unavoidable at times and I think innovating to find zero carbon aviation technologies (EV and others) is important – and requires a commercial purpose (i.e. air travel) to become a reality. But, while travelling from London to Cornwall may not be the fastest journey to make, it should surely be possible for the UK, in the year of COP26, to get its PM ‘to the ball’ without having to use the PJ?

I’m sure the Government would push back on this argument and say, correctly, that the Carbis Bay G7 Summit will be carbon neutral. The Government has published details of the fact that they will avoid single-use plastic, source seasonal food and off-set carbon emissions from the event through a series of projects in other countries.

All this is great but if we’re to hit net zero by 2050 we need to invest in these carbon reduction projects anyway, not as a way to offset our own carbon use.

I felt the same way about Elon Musk’s visit. I understand that it wouldn’t be time efficient to swim or catch a boat from the US to Luton but did it really need a PJ? I don’t personally tend to fly much (if I’m honest mainly because I don’t much enjoy it) but when I do I’m firmly at the back of the plane. However, I’m sure Elon and his team would be well catered for up the front, I gather its quite nice in there. And flying a few hundred people across to the UK on a scheduled flight has got to be better than cranking up the PJ.

I do understand the ‘national prestige’ and security arguments that will be put forward to counter my viewpoint but there is a bigger picture here. If we’re trying to encourage the world to be green and embrace a lower carbon lifestyle, then leading from the front is key.

Some air travel is essential, sometimes that may need a PJ, but it feels that we could be working a bit harder to push other ways of travelling, particularly in a world that’s got used to remote working and flexibility.

We got a battle bus for Brexit, maybe it’s time to buy a few for Global Britain – for the sake of the planet and our reputation as a green leader.