Ever since we launched our campaign in early 2019 we've been asking people if they could take a flight free year.
The idea gained national media attention and we started #FlightFree2020 with over 6000 people on our pledge, ready to celebrate a year of flight free travel and climate action. No one could have predicted what would happen next.
2020 was indeed the year we all stayed grounded. But not through choice.
The coronavirus pandemic put a huge strain on all of our lives. It affected everything, and our campaign was no exception. Our events, publicity and news coverage quietly slipped away. No one was paying attention to the climate emergency any more, in response to this much more immediate crisis. Businesses collapsed, people lost their jobs, and many people lost their loved ones.
But there were positives. Clear skies were seen across the world, in many cases for the first time. There was a record drop in air pollution and emissions. The few months of absolute lockdown gave us a sense of ‘restart’, a glimpse of what we need to do in order to avert the climate crisis.
So what place does a flight free pledge have in a post-Covid world?
While Covid continues to dominate headlines, the climate crisis hasn’t gone away. Aviation remains the fastest way to raise your footprint above sustainable levels. We continue to burn fossil fuels even though there is already more CO2 in the atmosphere than the planet can handle. Flying continues to be the default mode of travel for many of us, with airline tickets bought without a thought given to the alternatives. Talk of offsetting and ‘sustainable aviation’ makes us believe that we can continue to live our lives as normal.
The purpose of #FlightFree2021 is first and foremost about reducing emissions by encouraging people to take a year off flying. But just as important is the social effect of that decision. We humans are easily influenced by those around us – we want to fit in with the crowd. The advantage of this is that change can happen quickly. If lots of people take a flight free year, many more will follow.
"We are influenced by those around us. If lots of people take a flight free year, many more will follow."
Having our freedom of choice taken away never leads to long-term change. As soon as the pandemic is over, many people will return to the skies – an understandable desire to get out of here after the year we’ve just had.
What we need is for people to make this a conscious choice: a positive, empowering decision that is not only good for the planet, it’s good for us. Travelling overland rather than by air is an enriching experience. In taking a year off flying, you discover the joy of travelling differently for yourself and the planet.
Of course, we don’t have to travel at all. What many people discovered during the lockdown is the beauty in our own back yards that we often overlook.
Perhaps this year has shown us that we don't need to fly as much as we thought we did. Businesses have adapted to conducting most of their business online. We swapped Greek Islands for our own coastal resorts. We stayed connected with family and friends through our laptops and phones. For many, it's been the inability to see our loved ones that has been the difficult part, not sitting on a plane. As one of our pledgers said, “I'd be happy never leaving the country again if only I could see my friends.”
So as we wish a not-so-fond farewell to 2020 and look forward to brighter things in 2021 – seeing loved ones, travelling, and enjoying the freedoms that have been denied to us – let's choose to do them without getting on a plane.
Last year, we all pulled together to address the crisis of the pandemic. This year, let's make it our joint mission to solve the climate crisis.