Would you give up flying to save the environment?
‘My name’s Anna Hughes and I’m an environmentalist.’ It feels like a confession, or something that should be mentioned in a whisper. My whole life I’ve been aware of environmental issues, and as I’ve grown older and learned more about the world, more and more of my decisions have been taken with the environment in mind. I no longer buy fast fashion – most of my clothes are from charity shops. My water usage is very low – I have a composting toilet and I rarely wash my hair. I’ve been vegan for six years, I’ve never owned a car, and I don’t fly.
Up until now I’ve been happy to live to my values, and let others live to theirs, being a ‘secret’ environmentalist or at least a ‘quiet’ influencer – my friends and family are aware of my beliefs, and perhaps it rubs off on them a little, and so far I’ve felt that’s good enough. But not any more. We are on the cusp of climate breakdown; all the warnings say that runaway climate change is a mere decade away. We absolutely have to act, for the good of the planet, and for the very survival of the human race. Tackling this is not going to be easy: it requires a complete overhaul of our current lifestyles. No more ‘I recycle so I do my bit.’ For many of us, it involves changing almost everything about the way we live.
Such is the urgency of the climate crisis that I’m no longer satisfied with my own individual actions. I’m now talking openly and emphatically about climate change, and I am trying my hardest to encourage others to make those sustainable choices, too. That was the motivation that led me to launch Flight Free UK. The campaign asks people to pledge not to fly in 2020, if 100,000 others make the same pledge. Aviation has the fastest rising emissions of any industry, and is in the top 10 polluters on the planet. Every flight you take massively increases your carbon footprint. Even if you take measures to live sustainably, a single flight can wipe out all other savings.
There are many campaign groups that promote reduced flying as a lifestyle choice, but the unique thing about this campaign is the threshold of 100,000 signatures. It’s about inspiring people to feel part of a social shift. As one person, we often feel that our individual actions don’t make a difference. What good is it us saying we won’t fly if everyone around us continues to do so? But if we can say that we are one of 100,000 who have made the same decision, then our action suddenly becomes far more powerful.
The campaign is based on the Flygfritt movement that started in Sweden last year, which persuaded 14,500 people to take a year off flying. It has contributed to the general trend away from air travel in that country, with flight bookings down, rail bookings up, and government policy starting to reflect the climate concerns of travellers.
If we can emulate that here, and show that many people are prepared to change the way they live in a bid to save the climate, then perhaps we can influence our own Government’s policy, and industry too. At the moment, aviation enjoys massive tax breaks, and alternative forms of transport are often prohibitively expensive. If we show there is a social movement that demands low-carbon travel, we can urge the Government to put measures in place to address this.
There are many reasons why people feel unable to give up flying – family on the other side of the world, or work commitments, for example. But there are no two ways about it: one return trans-Atlantic flight emits two tonnes of CO2. We are told we need to limit our personal carbon footprints to between two and three tonnes annually if we are to stand any chance of avoiding climate meltdown, so that one flight uses up almost your entire allowance, and that’s before you’ve done any of the things you need to do to live, like eat, house yourself, or clothe yourself.
Climate change is the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced, but is all too often ignored, or not associated with our lifestyle choices, and certainly government policy does not address its urgency. We all need to take action, and change begins with us. So, think about it. One year off flying to save the planet. Could you be one of the 100,000?