It’s a clear, cool evening at Corpus Christi college, Oxford. Groups of students walk across the lawn looking for a rowing club meeting or a foreign languages seminar. The quad is small, understated – none of the grandeur of the college’s more famous, more dramatic neighbour, Christchurch: no dome, no film-set backdrop, no huge brick towers, just a quaint grass square surrounded by the classic buildings that give Oxford its tourist-attracting charm. And in a quiet room to the west of the quad, people are gathering for the Oxford Waste Society's latest event: a talk entitled 'Travel Without Flying'.
Evelina Utterdahl, known as Eve, walks the talk. Vegan, member of Extinction Rebellion, nature lover, anti-consumer, her laptop is plastered with stickers from all the causes she supports. Having always had a love for the natural world, much of her adult life has been spent exploring it, visiting more than 70 countries over the course of half a decade. Initially, Eve would fly. That is, after all, how one explores the world, and if you are to pursue a career as a travel writer, you need to travel in order to write.
But something changed. After reading a column about the climate impact of aviation, she realised the damage her globe-trotting was doing to her beloved planet. ‘I knew flying was bad for the environment but I didn’t know how bad. Then I saw the numbers, and that’s not something you can unlearn.’
‘I decided that day not to do it any more. I didn’t want to be part of the problem.’
And that was that. Eco-warrior Eve became even more of a champion for the environment. Amazingly, her decision not to fly hasn’t changed the amount she travels. She is still the digital nomad, just spends longer getting from place to place. ‘People ask me how I can get to such-and-such a country. We forget that international travel was around far before aeroplanes. If I can't get there by train I’ll take a boat!’
On a recent trip to Iran she was offered a TV appearance back in Sweden. It would have been a quick flight, do the interview, then a prompt return to Iran. But she decided to forgo the appearance, even though it would have been great for her career. Sometimes living to your values is more important. ‘With flying, you forget what it takes to get from place to place. It’s so easy – we come to expect to be there instantly.’
The small crowd in the room are captivated by Eve’s stories. She speaks passionately, though is careful not to tell people what to do; this is about presenting the facts and letting people make their own decisions.
And the facts are scary. Climate change is affecting people across the world right now. IPCC forecasts give us just over a decade in which to bring our individual carbon footprints to between 1 and 2 tonnes per year. If you eat meat, that’s it. A return flight to Tenerife is 1.5 tonnes – your entire annual budget blown in a single weekend. And that’s before you’ve done any of the things you actually have to do to live.
The only way to get serious about this is to stop flying. Sure, we can look to green technology for planes. But as Eve points out, ‘It takes fossil fuels to make biofuels. And the development of electrical planes is going to take more time than we have.’
In Evelina’s home country of Sweden, flying is the big debate. Several celebrities have openly decided to quit flying. Train vacations are a thing; there are even petitions calling for operators to offer overnight train travel to Europe. There are social media accounts calling out the big influencers on their excessive flying habits.
And it’s essential that we shift the norm away from flying. For ages, travelling has been about going somewhere else. 'But what about being where you are?’ asks Eve. ‘You know, Scotland is one of the most beautiful places on earth – and I have seen a lot of places! We are so lucky with Europe. Everything is so close, and with our passports we are free to travel as much as we want.’
So, how has not flying changed Eve’s life? Completely, and in a positive way. ‘Quitting flying is the best decision I ever made,’ she says, and it’s easy to believe her. ‘You are so much more present when you don’t fly. And your travelling means so much more: not flying is the same as standing at the top of a mountain I just hiked up. It’s so much better because I fought for it.’
Would she ever fly again? ‘I can’t say never but right now I feel like I wouldn't start flying again even if there were environmentally friendly options because I enjoy this slow life so much more. But the truth is it will take a very long time until that will be able to be a reality so I probably won't fly again.
'No experience or career move of mine is worth jeopardising the future of humanity.’
Despite Eve saying that she’s not out to tell people what to do, it’s clear she has the ability to influence. Confident, passionate, and unashamed about her values – her opening gambit on Instagram is, ‘Former jetsetter who quit flying for the environment’ – she is often contacted by people who say her example has encouraged them to change their lives too. And with almost 50,000 followers, there are a lot of people to influence.
‘Just by doing what you do, it can have an impact,’ she says in response to one audience member who asks what difference one person can make. ‘You know, all I do is share my stories, and people really respond to that. You’ll be surprised at how many people you influence just by living your life in the way you believe. It really does make a difference.’
And with Eve, you really believe it can.