Dear Harry and Meghan,
The team here at Flight Free UK urges you to consider the climate impact of your flights. We applaud your recent announcement that you will have no more than two children for the sake of the planet, but we plead with you that your commitment to environmentalism could be demonstrated further through your lifestyle and actions.
While aeroplane travel remains rare among the global population (only around 5% have ever been on a plane), and here in the UK only 15% of people take 70% of flights, for those who can access air travel, those flights make up the largest part of their carbon footprint. The IPCC recommends that our individual carbon outputs don't exceed 2.3 tonnes per year. And when you consider that just one transatlantic flight emits up to 3 tonnes*, you can begin to see that flying, to the extent that some of us do it here in the West, has no place in a sustainable future.
A commercial flight from London to Nice produces 350kg of CO2; by private jet, that figure is likely to be eight times higher. We understand that your position in society requires a certain level of security, but we urge you to consider making a different choice. Could you travel by train? Eurostar emits a tenth of the carbon of the equivalent flight, and with direct trains from London to the south of France, such a trip is perfectly feasible. There must be arrangements that can be put in place to ensure your privacy. Of course, another option is simply to not make the trip – a difficult, but arguably necessary, decision, given the climate breakdown we are facing.
It is easy to believe that carbon offsets make a flight carbon-neutral. Unfortunately, this is rarely, if ever, the case. There is no guarantee that carbon poured into the atmosphere today can be balanced by future absorption, no matter how many trees we plant. Trees take a long time to grow. And how many carbon credits are currently burning in the Amazon rainforest?
Perhaps worse, carbon offsetting gives us license to continue flying, because we believe we can neutralise those flights. There is no silver bullet – the only way to realistically ensure that CO2 does not contribute to our warming climate is not to emit it in the first place.
Here at Flight Free UK we are running a pledge which asks 100,000 people not to fly next year. We are hoping to start a movement that shifts the social norm away from flying. How powerful would it be if you, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, decided to join such a movement? We can look to Greta Thunberg as an example of someone who walks their climate talk, having travelled to the climate summits in New York and Chile by yacht. Our words have more power when we lead by example. Though there will always be those who shout ‘eco-hypocrite’, isn’t it better not to give them that ammunition?
So, our plea to you is to lead by example. Continue talking about climate change and the environment, and back it up with robust action. Flying less is a massive part of that, and a good place to start is the #flightfree2020 pledge. Could you do it?
*Emissions data for return flights from the UK per passenger:
New York 1.9 tonnes CO2, Miami 2.4 tonnes, Caribbean 2.5 tonnes, LA 2.97 tonnes
Data from flightemissionmap.org
Signed: Anna Hughes, Flight Free UK\ Dr Lucy Gilliam, Transport & Environment\ Dave Hampton, Founder @Champions4Earth\ Dr Kate Rawles, Outdoor Philosophy\ Chris Watson, Editor of Beyond Flying and co-founder of the International Climate Safe Travel Institute\ Lola Perrin, Founder ClimateKeys\ Dr Roger Tyers, University of Southampton\ Dr Milena Buchs, Leeds University\ Georgina Stevens, Be The Change books\ Dr Jennifer Rudd, Swansea University