Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Ryanair: Climate Change - It's All In Your Head

I have a certain respect for Michael O'Leary, CEO of Ryanair - Europe's largest airline (by passenger number). It's a very specialized kind of respect - the kind I have for older people who say what they think, wear what they want and don't give a damn about who they might offend. I like to think that some day I'll be that irresponsible.

My respect doesn't extend to the actual opinions that O'Leary regularly and flamboyantly expresses (nor to those of octogenarian anarchists for that matter). One of the reasons for the timing of our trip is that in 10 years, thanks to the price of oil going only one direction and and increasing popular and political attention being paid to climate change, it may not be economically feasible to make this kind of trip. O'Leary thinks that this kind of concern is just a "middle-class, mid-life crisis" preoccupation.

Correct on both counts: I am approaching mid-life, harbouring an unhealthy curiosity about the eventual nature of my crisis. And even a cursory glance at me confirms 'middle class' (a closer look would prompt a swift revision downwards). So far, from a single-sample, anecdotal point of view, O'Leary would appear to be spot on. So is he right?

Let's look more closely. Here's the detail on Michael's keen analysis of the situation:

"China and India are laughing at us while they build more coal-fired power stations. The European middle classes are having a mid-life crisis and the sooner we wake up and say so the better."

Leaving the mangled metaphors to one side for a moment, there is not even the slightest attempt on O'Leary's part to make intelligent comment on the matter. The thrust of the sentence seems to be 'China and India are catching up and overtaking Europe and the US on the CO2 front so the whole climate change thing is a delusion reinforced by our delicate suburban sensibilities'. Sorry? What's that now? You get the feeling that he might have said just about anything, depending on what he first hit his head off that morning.

In Europe and the US we tend to lend weight to the opinions of our business leaders. The reasoning is sound enough: if you can run a company successfully then you're smart and deserve our attention. The reality is that there are different types of businesses with different breadths of view, and there are varying grades of business people as well. But the typical business leader isn't looking as far ahead into the future as the Nobel winners who are trying to inform the public about climate change. And when business does look ahead, it usually squints.

I think the most insightful view on Michael O'Leary's real view of the future of cheap aviation was given in the last line of that Guardian article:

Mr O'Leary reiterated his determination to stand down in "two or three years" but said he was no nearer setting up his own long-haul airline.

Maybe Micheal is heading for an earlier than expected move to the land of high waistbands, optional hygiene and swearing at clergy.


Brendan McKenna said...


Being a bit older than you, all I have to say is how dare you even think about a mid-life crisis! You're approaching midlife (unless, of course, you're planning on kicking the bucket early) the same way that the girls are approaching college age -- from a distance.

As far as O'Leary is concerned, yes, China and India are building coal-fired power plants. They'll have the same 'success' with them that China's had with the Three Gorges Dam. If O'Leary wants a new way to make money after he leaves Ryanair, he can go to India or China and open an environmental clean-up company, 'cause I'm sure he'll have great demand.

He'll never start a long haul airlines, because the fuel costs would force him to charge more than he wants for seats. And no one will stand for a trans-Atlantic flight where you have to pay for all your food and drink in any case.

Brendan Lawlor said...

Hold on a minute there now, Brendan. Don't go spoiling my plans to go mental. I thought a mid-life crisis was every man's due. A guy can have a dream, right?!? ;-)

And if memory serves, you're not that much further up in the bus.

emmett said...

Dear Bren (deluded)

Stop kidding yourself, you have been mental for a long time now. Face up to it for gawds sake!!

Great to see the rtw trip plans develop and looking fwd to the updates.

What a load of bollockology. Don't knock Mr O'Leary - he has indirectly made travel more accessible to literally tens of thousands that otherwise would not have had that opportunity. It just so happens that he has become stinking rich also as a result - that's really only by the way ...

Call me naieve? Or call me Al ... musical things a happenin; this weekend. Ode to Joy!

Brendan Lawlor said...

How can you make a rambling comment like that, and then call me mental!?

Sure don't I love Ryanair and what it has done for free travel. Do I think that's going to last forever? Nope.

Looking forward to hearing about your weekend musical experience. And now that your degree is under your belt, what about a bit of blogging yourself?

Anonymous said...


Boeing, Air New Zealand 747-400 and Rolls-Royce Announce Biofuel Flight Demo-> http://www.boeing.com/news/releases/2007/q3/070928b_nr.html

Virgin plans to fly 747-400 (GE engines) on biofuel in 2008 -> http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/engineering/article1695912.ece

anf finally this http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/10/worlds_first_100_percent_biodiesel_jet_flight.php (the photo is an old cranky old L-29 Delfin).

>>john m