Anna Hughes

For the record

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For the record

On August 16, 2019, Posted by , In Writing, With No Comments

It’s curious how and why people are misquoted. We read newspaper articles and make the reasonable assumption that the facts are there, and that the person quoted actually said what they say they said.

I used to dismiss protests of ‘context’ as a wriggling out of saying something you wish you hadn’t said. But context, I have come to realise, is golden.

I am currently in charge of running campaign group Flight Free UK, which is asking 100,000 people to pledge to take a year off flying next year. It’s not about telling people not to fly, it’s not about shutting down airports, and it’s certainly not about shaming people. It is presenting people with information about the climate impact of aviation and inspiring them to join a large group of people who will together abstain from flying for one year. Yes, we hope that people might then choose to stop flying for good – but that’s up to them. Yes, we hope that airport expansion won’t go ahead if we can demonstrate that lots of people are waking up to the desperate need for us to reduce our emissions. But if we are to put a definition on it, it is about flying less.

How important is this wording? Very important. It’s a positive campaign about people making a positive choice for the environment. It’s not about restrictions, or taking away choice, or liberty, or being prescriptive, or saying you can’t do something.

I was recently asked to give a couple of soundbites for an Evening Standard article, which I did. The article is here, and goes into great depth about the author’s eco-guilt at his own hypocrisy for occasionally using a plastic straw.

I’m quoted at the end:

Anna Hughes, who leads the UK’s no-flying movement, says that climate emergency means we have to change everything about the way we live, and that some people refuse to see that — so perhaps it will take shaming to make them understand. ‘We can’t afford to be forgiving — because our children will not forgive us,’ she says, adding that it’s worth setting the bar high. ‘Zero waste is ultimately impossible, so most of us doing our damnedest is better than a couple of us getting it absolutely spot on.’

It makes me sound like a hard-line climate zealot, happy to point the finger at people doing it wrong, and not giving any room for error. I was a little surprised to read it – and even more surprised to check the email I’d sent and find that yes, I did say those words. All of them. Even in that order.

The only thing I can really complain about is the description of the Flight Free 2020 campaign as ‘the UK’s no-flying movement’ – because it’s not, not really. It’s a pledge to take a year off.

But the rest comes down to context. In my original email I used the words ‘We should never shame each other’, though here it sounds as though that’s exactly what I want.

I guess the only thing to do is accept that journalists will use whichever sound bite suits their article – and I should know, I’ve done it myself. Should I be more guarded next time? No, I don’t think so. It’s impossible to know which handful of words will be quoted, and to an extent, giving an interview does licence the author to shape your responses in a way that will serve their purpose.

I suppose all that can be learned from this is, don’t believe everything you read. And give those who cry ‘context’ more of the time of day.

Full text from the original email I sent is below.

“Something that I often see people say which I think is really powerful is, better for lots of people to do the best they can, than a few be perfect. In terms of sustainability, if most of us are 80% sustainable that’s better than a tiny few being 100% sustainable. No one is ever going to reach that 100% and stick with it, as it’s so easy to fail, then feel terrible and beat yourself up. So no, we shouldn’t be aiming for perfection. Zero waste is ultimately impossible, so most of us doing our damnedest is better than a couple of us getting it absolutely spot on.

But we also need it to be easier to reach that near-perfection. E.g. I don’t buy bread or snacks any more, I make my own, simply to avoid the plastic packaging (and because it’s cheaper/more satisfying/tastier/better for me). But sometimes I crack and just want some crisps or ready-made hummus. I should be able to buy that hummus in a vegware pot that biodegrades once I’ve finished with it, or be able to put my crisp packet in the recycling and know it’s actually going to get recycled. Sure, I feel guilty about this stuff because I could have made a different choice, but I want to be able to live my life and sometimes eat crisps without feeling guilty.
Mostly, it’s because most people *don’t* feel guilty about eating crisps or buying goods in plastic packaging (even things like bananas which come in their own natural packaging – THE SKIN), simply because there’s a false picture that goods in plastic are more hygienic or more convenient, or whatever the logic is.
We should never shame each other into being the best we can be. It’s about positive encouragement and information that will lead to behaviour change, which I’m trying to achieve with the flight free campaign.
It’s unavoidable that younger generations will worry about their future, and it seems likely that eco-anxiety will increase as a result. Expecting young individuals to bear the brunt of climate budgeting will absolutely have a deleterious impact on mental health. That’s why we need to address these issues now so it doesn’t reach that point. Government seems to be implementing the ‘head in the sand’ agenda when it comes to the action needed on climate change. At the moment, the projected climate budgets of 2.3 tons per person per year could still afford a comfortable life. If we keep going as we are, that will reduce to something where bearing the brunt is exactly what future generations will be doing.
With regards to calling out individual hypocrisy on environmental issues, yes, we should – but in the right way. I won’t comment on our famous flying friend campaigning for XR from LA, except to say, I don’t do her job, and it would be very difficult to do that job without getting on a plane. I don’t do Chris Packham’s job either, and his flights are probably very necessary for his research and work. What *isn’t* necessary, though, is taking lots of other people on safari (see a recent tweet advertising a trip in continental Africa). You can’t support declaration of climate emergency on one hand then encourage lots of people to fly to another continent on the other. Because climate emergency means we have to change everything about the way we live. And some people refuse to see that, so perhaps it will take shaming to make them see it. In one respect we can’t afford to be forgiving – because our children will not forgive us.”

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