For over a decade I have lived a mile from an international airport without using it, because I have decided not to fly unless absolutely necessary. I have a lot of conversations about this, and it seems that most people don’t really know about the impact of flying. The industry endlessly repeats the fact that its contribution to total global emissions is in the single figures – 2 to 5%, depending on who you ask.
That makes it sound like a minor thing, which is of course the reason why the industry repeats it. The low figure sticks in people’s brains and is there for easy retrieval when challenged on flying. But if we’re talking about our personal contribution to climate change, global totals are the wrong place to look. The vast majority of the world’s people don’t fly, and that masks how disproportionately damaging it is.
If you fly, aviation will not be 2-5% of your overall footprint. It will be much higher than that. To speak for myself, I’ve worked hard at bringing down my household’s carbon footprint. One return flight to Kenya would double my impact. That single trip would be equivalent to everything else I do for the rest of the year – diet, energy, driving, and shopping all put together.
I am often asked what we can do to reduce our carbon footprint, and top of the list is flying. If it’s something you do, choosing not to fly is likely to be the single biggest lifestyle change you could make to avoid climate disaster.
If you love travel and never setting foot on a plane again sounds like too much to ask, take one less flight this year. Think about it seriously, and see if you can reduce it further next year. (Hint: you can) Investigate non-flying options. British and European readers don’t need to fly to explore widely across the continent – if it wasn’t for Coronavirus, this week my family and I would be returning from Sweden by train.
Perhaps you could commit to not flying for leisure, or taking just one flying holiday a year. If you haven’t got the flying bug yet, commit now to not getting it. Avoid luxuries that will lock you into flying habits, such as buying a holiday home in the south of France, or taking up skiing. If you’re invited to take part in ‘frivolous flying’, such as a weekend city break with friends, or a stag/hen do abroad, maybe you could politely suggest somewhere more local or that’s accessible by train.
Some people have to take a plane to see family, and everyone needs an adventure from time to time. Black and white approaches aren’t necessarily helpful, and I look forward to taking my children on a plane at some point. Maybe there will eventually be sustainable options for long distance plane travel. But until then, the Western middle class entitlement to fly has to be challenged. We all have the right to fly, but that doesn’t make it responsible or wise. It has to become much more normal not to fly.
Flight Free are a campaign that raises awareness of aviation and encourages people to pledge a flight free year. Their new video is a useful summary?