Sunday, June 19, 2016

On not lightly encouraging flying

I've been thinking a lot recently about big political changes that I'd like to see happen.  Different policies on immigration, on climate change, on the structure of our social welfare system and more.  I've come to believe that, for change to happen, the general public has to believe that they will still have good lives after the change is made.  No matter how much they are lobbied, the politicians are unlikely to change their stance without that.  The people who elect them simply wouldn't stand for it.

And so, every time I see someone who wants change encouraging others to enjoy the opportunities of the status quo, my heart sinks a little.

It happens so much with climate change.  So many people I know who are firm believers in climate change - people who lobby politicians, campaign for fossil fuel divestment, join marches and sign petitions - frequently and enthusiastically encourage others to fly.  People who live outside their home country encourage others to go see their beautiful homeland; people who live overseas encourage their friends and family to come visit them; people who hear of great deals on flights spread that news through their networks.

And every time I see it happening, my heart sinks :-(

I long for a world where those who call for change choose to live that change in the present.  Not only because that feels consistent, but because doing so models to other people that life in that new world could be OK.

And one thing that Martin and I have learned by trying to live like we were in a low-carbon world is that flying is crazy-expensive.

The planet can currently absorb around 1.2 tonnes CO2e per person per year.  A round-trip flight between Auckland and UK emits around 11-12 tonnes CO2e: nearly 10 years of an individual's entire carbon budget!  It's hard to think of anything else an individual would do that causes anything like that level of carbon emissions.  Eating a kilo of steak or driving 100km every day for a year (embedded emissions for each being around 7.5 tonnes CO2e) doesn't even come close!  And it's not just the long flights that are crazy-expensive in carbon terms: even popping over to Melbourne to see a show emits 1.3 tonnes CO2e.  That's just over what the planet can absorb per person per year.

Figures like this have led Martin and I to make the hard decision of really limiting our personal flying.  We've committed to no more than one internal flight every three years and we're not sure if we'll ever be flying internationally for pleasure again.  Instead, we look for other ways to achieve the goals that people like us usually meet by flying.  We have fun holidays close to home; we keep in touch with friends and relatives overseas through phone, Skype and email; we learn about other cultures and about what life is like in other places by following the blogs of people who live in other places, by reading good literature and by listening to the BBC World Service.  And it works well: you really can have fun, stay in touch and even gain deep insights about the rest of the world without flying.

We also never encourage people to fly just because we think they'd enjoy going somewhere, or even because we really miss them.  But we do encourage everyone we know who does fly somewhere to tell us what it was like.  We want to maximise the value of their expensive flight by making sure they pass on what they've seen and heard and experienced.

I don't think there is never a good reason to fly.  I don't foresee a world without international travel.  But I can no longer justify flying for fun - as a necessary part of a 'good' holiday - or even flying to see the world, and I'm pretty ambivalent about flying to maintain relationships with friends and family.

And so I wish others who also care about climate change would stop encouraging flying.  That if they live far from home, instead of asking their friends to come and visit, they would commit to really communicating what their new home is like so their friends wouldn't need to come and visit.  That if they're overseas or talking to others overseas, instead of encouraging people to visit NZ, they'd communicate really well what life here is like so that people didn't have to come and see it for themselves.  And if they hear of great deals on flights, that they'd just keep that information to themselves, and feel a bit sad that such deals exist.

We need to put our energies into communicating that a low-carbon lifestyle can be rich and full and satisfying.  As that message spreads, the idea of change will become more palatable, and the politicians and business-leaders will be much more willing to listen, knowing their constituents can get behind it.

Please don't encourage gratuitous flying!

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