We all know that there are relatively few things we can do in our lives that will increase our carbon footprint as much as taking a flight. In this guest blog, Flight Free UK Director Anna Hughes lays out some flight-related facts, how it compares to other lifestyle choices and the pledge her organisation is asking people to take.
There’s no doubt that we will only address our environmental challenges by doing things less. A finite planet simply cannot support a continued upward trajectory of consumption and emissions, and while we’re very good at talking about innovation as a way out of our rising emissions, the quickest and most reliable way of reducing emissions is not to produce them in the first place.
Every additional person in our population puts more strain on our limited resources, but our high-consumption, high-carbon lifestyles mean that here in the west, we each put more strain on our limited resources than the global average.
There are lots of things we can do – eating less meat, using renewable energy, driving less, consuming less – and my focus as director of Flight Free UK is on encouraging people to fly less.
There’s not much else you’ll do in your lifetime that will raise your emissions so much and so quickly as taking a flight. To compare flying with other lifestyle choices, if you were to avoid animal products for a year (a worthy and excellent way of reducing cruelty and emissions!) you would save in the region of 1 tonne CO2. Flying on holiday to Cyprus would produce roughly the same. If you give up your car, that will save around 1.7 tonnes CO2 annually. But at 2.3 tonnes per passenger, that return flight to LA blows those savings out of the water.
The great news is that not flying doesn’t mean not travelling. It’s perfectly possible to live a fulfilling, exciting, well-travelled life without hopping on a plane. We are so lucky here in the UK to have the whole of Europe on our doorstep. Taking the Eurostar to Paris or Amsterdam saves 96% on your emissions. Travelling by TGV to Barcelona saves 91%. A ferry ride to Dublin is 85% lower than the equivalent flight.
One of the most wonderful things about slow travel is how it enriches your journey: the sights you see along the way; travelling shoulder-to-shoulder with people from different cultures; seeing a new city with every interchange; getting a feel for how everything connects. We are told that travel helps us understand the world and other people. I agree, but I would argue that flight-free travel does that so much more profoundly than air travel.
Of course, for some people, being completely flight free is not feasible – many of us have family overseas, and sometimes your work might require a flight. But overall, we must reduce our emissions, and reducing the number of flights we take is a great way to do it. At Flight Free UK, we challenge people to take a year off flying as a way to break a habit and try out the alternatives. Think of it as the Veganuary for aviation! If a full flight-free year doesn’t suit you, there’s the option to make a custom pledge, where you could choose not to take any holiday flights, for example.
Certain things come down to government – e.g. taxing aviation fuel and reducing the price of rail travel – but many things are down to us. And if we show government and industry what our priorities are with our consumer habits, it can influence change.
We are conditioned to do things in a certain way, to consume more, to purchase the latest thing. It sometimes takes a concerted effort to break out of that, but sometimes all it needs is awareness. I was once the person who upgraded their phone every two years because I was told I should. But when I stopped to think about it I realised that was ridiculous, and now I’m still happily using the iPhone 5 I purchased six years ago.
It’s the same with flying. If the people around you fly, it feels normal, expected even. But only around half of Brits fly in any given year, and globally, it’s more like 5-10%. The trouble is, we all suffer from the negative effects of climate change – one of the deep injustices of our environmental challenges.
We can all do something about it. Consume less, consume consciously. And one of the things we can buy less of is an airline ticket.
Anna Hughes is the Director of Flight Free UK, an organisation that challenges people to take a year off flying to reduce emissions and shift the norm away from aviation.
Guest blogs do not necessarily represent the views of Population Matters.