This morning I had my first ever flight with Ireland’s national pride, Aer Lingus, LHR – BHD, on an A320. Aer Lingus is an easy carrier to identify from a distance, as I learned during my years at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, sporting as they do a dark green livery with a shamrock on the tail. But I hadn’t realized until just before boarding that Aer Lingus is classified as a low cost airline; service was good, but I’m always going to pass up the opportunity to purchase a drink on board. I’m old enough to feel it just isn’t right when airlines charge for what in days gone by was a common courtesy.
So I arrived at Belfast City Airport – ahem! – George Best Belfast City Airport, in Northern Ireland. (If you don’t know who George Best is, shame on you. Really. My football heart grieves for you.) Having done my homework I ignored the taxi stand and walked confidently out to the road in front where the airport supplies a free shuttle service to the nearest train. From Sydenham Station it’s less than GBP 2.00 and 15 minutes to get into town in a comfortable carriage; purchase your ticket on board if the conductor makes it to you before you alight.
I’m here for a meeting of the airport chaplains operating in the British Isles and Ireland. If you are tempted to think that must be no more than a dozen people, you would be quite wrong. Nowhere else on earth has the idea of Chaplaincy in an airport been quite as fruitful as it has been here; in the UK and Ireland there are chaplains at almost every airport of any significant size. Belfast is a bit out of the way for most, so I’m curious to see just how many show up at the meeting tomorrow, but I’m sure I won’t be disappointed.
What do airport chaplains talk about when they get together? This is my first meeting of the BI & I network, so I can’t speak to the past. However, from the things I’ve been able to pick up from various emails and conversations, it seems this meeting’s hot topic is in regard to how to create greater space in our gatherings for chaplains from non-Christian faiths. There was a day when all airport chaplains in Western countries were one shade or another of Christian (true, we didn’t always “like” each other, but we “loved” each other…). Saying prayers “in Jesus’ name” or reading exclusively from the Christian scriptures was not an issue. Airport chaplaincy was Christian chaplaincy, as even the title “chaplain” reflects.
But society has changed, and now we have “chaplains” (spiritual advisors, better?) from many different faiths. What once was inclusive language – because it belonged to all of us – is now exclusive, belonging to a majority at the expense of a minority. So, we have to find a way forward that honours all our members.
However, as I sit here in my hotel room on a blustery Belfast afternoon, this is not what is foremost in my mind. What I’m struggling with is the fact that by coming here today (and returning tomorrow), my carbon footprint for the year has increased by approximately 0.3 tonnes. The average EU citizen has a carbon footprint of about 9.1 tonnes per year; the average American 17.0 tonnes*. Which is meaningless, until one understands that the global average needs to be a mere 2.0 tonnes per person per year if we are to halt humankind’s contribution to climate change. As usual, the poor are carrying the burden for the rich.
As an airport chaplain at one of the world’s busiest airports, I believe it is part of my job to be a voice for creation care and for environmental justice. Air transport has made impressive strides in the past fifty years with regard to lowering the CO2 emissions of aircraft; however, the growth of the industry has out-paced the advances in technology. In my view there is no way to stop the growth in the industry (we love to travel!), but we can all do better at limiting the negative impacts of our actions. For my part: I don’t own a car, I cycle or bus to work, I rarely eat meat, and I try to limit my air travel. And in cases like the present, I buy offsets. Today I purchased offsets from Myclimate, which invests my donation in projects which mitigate the effects of human green house gas emissions.
Here’s a great article in the New York Times which gives you ideas about what else you can do to rein in the adverse effects of your travel lust.
*Don’t be too rough on the Americans: yes, their average is super high compared to the rest of the world. But their economy also accounts for roughly 20 percent of world trade, much of which they share with the rest of us.