Flying off on holiday? You disgust me.

Be more like Superman – saving the world with zero carbon emissions.

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.

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6 thoughts on “Flying off on holiday? You disgust me.

  1. Pingback: Last Week Today: 12 September 2014 | WhyDev

  2. Pingback: Saturday Morning Reading #27 | A Pett Project

  3. Whilst I somewhat agree with the author, I think it’s important to address the wide range of lifestyle choices with a high carbon cost, as opposed to focusing on a single issue such as this. For example, cutting back processed meat, reducing consumption and switching off lights / applicances that not in use are among the things that can be done in a more holistic approach.

    So, looking at the bigger picture, I don’t think those who use planes perhaps unneccesarily should be demonised, as many other of their lifestyle choices may be conscientious and respectiful of people and the environment.

    • Thanks Tom, a very fair comment. It’s worth saying that a flight is a disproportionately large emitter of CO2 – so would probably make more difference than switching off the occasional light or eating a bit less meat. Having said which, you’re right to highlight that it’s only one thing worth doing – I’d also mention insulating homes and cutting back all meat, not just processed.

  4. I hope the steak comment was meant to be humorous- I took it as such.
    I rarely if ever consider the environmental cost of my airplane travel, simply because I am usually travelling across the ocean, and usually moving for work, two situations which make the use of a plane (as opposed to a ship of some sort I guess) a matter of course. The example of inter-european travel is a good one though and certainly worth thinking about more carefully, especially where there are viable alternatives, like trains.

  5. Thanks for the comment Moctar! I agree that flying is sometimes essential. However, I also find that most of my colleagues don’t sufficiently consider:
    a) Whether they need to fly at all.
    b) Whether they could try to combine trips to minimise the number of times they fly back and forth across the ocean.

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