In order to reduce my carbon footprint, I try to avoid flying as much as possible. When I tell people this, they normally react with a kind of slack-jawed disbelief. Sometimes the reaction is mixed with amusement, as if I attempted to limit methane emissions by farting less. Sometimes it’s quite hostile, as if I slaughtered kittens to protect the mice living in my cupboard. These days, I tend to avoid the confrontation by providing other reasons for my odd choice, such as that I enjoy long bus journeys or am afraid of flying, flagrant lies that still somehow make me look like less of a weirdo.
This is one of the biggest and most depressing hypocrisies around. My friends and colleagues – bleeding-heart liberals, for the most part – accept all the basic premises of my argument. They agree that climate change is one of the biggest risks facing humanity. In fact, many have gone so far as to sign an online petition on the matter. They accept that radical government as well as individual action is needed to limit global warming to 2 degrees centigrade, a target agreed to try and limit the destructive impacts of climate change. And it’s common knowledge that flying is one of the leading contributors to climate change, accounting for perhaps 13-15% of UK greenhouse gas emissions, and polluting 5-10 times more than the equivalent train trip.
I often make this argument, but somehow it never seems to sink home. Friends and colleagues spend ages agonising about travel; balancing up the time taken, cost, and comfort of different routes. But nobody I know considers the carbon cost. These are people who spend their lives working in humanitarian relief, helping save lives after current disasters and trying to reduce the risk of future ones. But they never ask whether they really need that weekend in Venice. Or whether they can get to Berlin by train. Or whether they really need to fly to Papua New Guinea for that one-day conference. Their attitude tends to be that their work (or holiday) is so important that it would be impertinent to question it. There’s a kind of collective moral blindness; the fact that nobody else considers carbon emissions justifies their own carelessness.
Some flights are of course necessary. People need to travel for work, to see family, sometimes to keep up relationships. Environmental concerns can only be a part of the calculation. We’re imperfect, selfish people – I myself ate a steak only the other day. But the complete moral blindness regarding flights does concern me. Before flying you should carefully think about the options; weigh up whether it’s really necessary and whether there are alternative ways to travel. If you don’t, well, you disgust me.