Ross Clark Ross Clark

Why are white men being shamed as transport polluters?

Black women are the worst for carbon-intensive travelling habits, according to the Guardian, citing research by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). Oh, sorry, I must have misread that. What the Guardian headline actually says is: ‘Wealthy white men are Britain’s largest transport polluters.’

While is poses as scientific inquiry this is really just political activism dressed up in academic clothes

But it is worth quoting the other way around because the former is, of course, a headline you will never, ever read – either in the Guardian, an academic paper or anywhere. There are very simple rules for this kind of pseudo-scientific stuff: if you are going to bring race or gender into a study it must always present white men in a bad light, and no other group. White men, on the other hand, must never be presented as victims – that is the preserve of other groups. The only surprise is that the IPPR hasn’t also tried to dig down into the travelling habits of gay and straight people so that it can add ‘heterosexual’ to the list of attributes shown by the people who are condemning us to what the Guardian likes to call ‘climate breakdown’.

While is poses as scientific inquiry this is really just political activism dressed up in academic clothes. It starts with the assumption that white males are at the top of a hierarchy of privilege and works from there. If a study such as this chanced across a statistical finding which was at odds with that narrative you can be absolutely sure that it would not be reported. The glaring example of this was during the pandemic when many claims were made that women were suffering disproportionately from Covid when data clearly showed the opposite: that the disease was killing far more men than women. 

Yet the IPPR report does inadvertently reveal something interesting: that most of the miles travelled by people earning under £10,000 a year are by air – much like people earning over £100,000 a year. 

It is a sign of how budget airlines have democratised air travel for everyone. Even people who might be described as ‘poor’ are able to take foreign holidays by plane – if not as many as the better-off. 

This matters because it will be the poor who will be proportionately most affected by carbon reduction targets. Carbon taxes, a move towards ‘sustainable’ airline fuel, cessation of new airport development; all either will or already are hiking up the cost of travel for the poor. It has become a common assertion that the poor will be affected by climate change much more than the rich. But this is more true of efforts to tackle climate change – which stand to have a greater detrimental effect on the lifestyles of the poor than the rich.