Not everybody flies, but for those who do, flights will make up the most significant part of your carbon footprint. To put it in context, one transatlantic flight generates more CO2 than eating meat for a year, or a year’s worth of driving, and more than a resident of India will in an entire year.
The aviation industry only contributes 3% of global emissions so it can’t be that bad, can it?
Taking all greenhouse gasses into consideration, aviation is responsible for about 5% of global emissions, and is the sector that is set to expand the fastest, with predictions of it reaching 10% by 2030. It seems small when compared to shipping or animal agriculture, but that is because it serves a very small proportion of people: less than 10% of the world’s population has ever been on a plane. Here in the West, where we fly a lot, flights make up the largest part of our carbon footprints.
Isn’t it those businessmen flying for work all the time who are responsible for most of the emissions?
Flying business class is approximately three times more carbon heavy than flying economy class. This is because business class takes up more space, so each person accounts for a greater proportion of the plane’s emissions. (So if you do fly, it should always be in economy class.)
However, business flights make up a relatively small percentage of total flights taken each year. In 2017, only 9% of UK flights were work-related, whereas 64% were for holidays (ref: ONS)
What about green fuel and electric flights?
Green fuel, or bio fuel, takes land space to grow, and biofuel plantations are a significant driver of deforestation. So while burning biofuel produces fewer greenhouse gasses than burning kerosene, the process of generating many biofuels is highly destructive.
The technology for viable electric flights is still many years away – battery size, efficiency and range are all issues that need to be addressed to make electric flights commercially viable. And producing electricity (and lithium batteries) is not without environmental impact.
Isn't being vegan more effective than stopping flying?
Being vegan is an excellent way of reducing your environmental impact, as a plant-based diet requires a fraction of the resources in terms of land use and water than a meat-based diet. In terms of carbon footprint, however, while being vegan can save one ton of CO2 per year, you could use that up in a single flight.
Why do I have to change? Shouldn’t it be up to the government?
System change is essential for making the large scale shifts that we need to be sustainable. However, individual change can lead to system change. The government will be more likely to implement changes if they can see there is a public demand for it.
Does this mean I can't go on holiday?
Not at all! Travel is still possible (and in many cases, far more enjoyable) without flying. Go to our Be Inspired page for inspiration and ideas.
So why is flying so cheap?
One of the reasons that flying is comparatively cheap is that there is no tax on aviation fuel. This is because of an international agreement made in 1944 by which it was agreed to keep kerosene tax-free in order to give a boost to the fledgling aviation industry. The agreement has never been overturned.
The hard truth is, there's no such thing as a cheap flight – someone always pays, and that's currently those living with the effects of climate change.
What about carbon offsetting?
Carbon offsetting is when you pay money to schemes whose activities absorb the equivalent CO2 to what your flight produces, e.g. by planting trees. Most carbon offsetting schemes have been shown to be ineffective in terms of their ability to absorb the necessary carbon, or they simply pay into existing schemes which don't actually compensate for your flight. In any case, there is not enough space on the planet to plant enough trees to make up for all the flights that take off each day.
In addition, carbon offset schemes often mean that people feel that they have dealt with the impact of their flight, so they continue to fly. The best way to offset carbon emissions is to not produce them in the first place.
The plane will take off anyway so there’s no point in me not flying
Flights work on a supply and demand basis. You just have to look at the weekends with international sporting fixtures to see the extra flights laid on to cope with demand. In the long term, lower demand leads to less supply. We are already seeing this in Sweden, where the no-fly movement has been longest established – in the early part of 2019 flight bookings were down and rail bookings were up.
What about global tourism and the jobs involved with aviation?
Not flying doesn’t mean not travelling (see our Be Inspired page for tales of flight-free travels) so there is still plenty of opportunity to support international tourism without flying. However, many countries are now suffering from over-tourism (e.g. Bali and New Zealand) while our own tourism industry here in the UK is struggling. Supporting our local tourism industry is just as worthwhile as supporting that in Laos.
In addition, the aviation sector is not the only industry that provides jobs. Expanded rail travel, for example, could provide equivalent employment opportunities.
The target of 100,000 makes our pledge about taking collective action. Often, we feel that our individual actions don’t make a difference, but when we see others making a change, we feel more inspired to make that change too. By taking part in our pledge, you know that you are one of 100,000 people doing the same thing.
For some, our target is too small – approximately 100,000 flights globally take off every day. But the target needs to be achievable in order for the campaign to be a success. If we aim too high we are setting ourselves up to fail; however, if we can reach 100,000 people this year, we could establish a much bigger target in future years.
On the other hand, some say our target is too large – 100,000 people is an awful lot! But having a substantial target shows a determination to act on this issue, and we hope that such a target will galvanise people into taking action as well as attracting media attention.
Why only for a year?
Asking people to stop flying forever is unlikely to appeal. But an air-free year can be a good way to break an established habit and enable people to start to see other alternatives. Having a time limit focuses the pledge as well as makes it an achievable aim. Commitment to something in the short term increases the chances of longer-term behavioural change.
Why UK only?
Flight Free UK is part of an international community of flight-free movements. It started in Sweden in 2019 and has now expanded to countries across Europe as well as to the USA, Canada and Australia. Each country is different, with different social and political attitudes towards flying. We aim to grow a community of people who feel united about an issue, and we will have a more compelling voice with government if our signatories are all UK residents.
Why aren't you focussing on the more polluting countries?
It’s true that many other countries are far more polluting than the UK. But in terms of aviation, Brits take more flights than in any other nation in the world. It is also far easier to guide and influence other countries and regimes if you lead by example.
For example, in Sweden, where airlines are amongst the greenest in the world, the no-fly movement is influencing them to be even greener.
If I don’t live in the UK can I still show my support?
Yes. When you sign up, select your country. Your pledge will be counted towards the total of that country, and will also be counted towards the international total.
Can I set up my own campaign in my own country?
Yes, absolutely! If you want to set up your own campaign, please get in touch.
I already don’t fly. Should I still sign up?
Yes, please do! Your voice will give the campaign credence and will show others that there is a desire to take action on this issue. People are more willing to change their behaviour if others show they are willing to do the same, so your signature will hopefully encourage others to also take the pledge.
Can’t I just fly less?
Fewer flights is absolutely the aim of the campaign, and just reducing your flying by one flight per year can substantially lower your carbon output. However, for this particular campaign we are asking people to abstain completely for one year. This is partly because of the fragile state of our climate and the need to take immediate and meaningful action, but it’s mostly to demonstrate that there are legitimate alternatives to flying. This challenge requires real commitment and, for some, a significant lifestyle change, which is more likely to promote greener transport choices in the future.