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Poppy Okotcha on responsibility and privilege

Model and horticulturalist Poppy Okotcha shares her motivations for taking the flight free pledge.

05 May 2022 2 min read

Back in the spring of 2019 I had a penny drop moment.

Lots of learning had culminated with listening to Gem Bendell’s ‘Deep Adaption: A Map For Navigating Climate Tragedy’.

Knowing we are facing climate catastrophe that is devastating lives (most dramatically those contributing least to the problem), is very different from believing and acting upon that belief.

I switched from knowing to believing. The grief that came with that belief was immense. I have made both major and minor lifestyle changes since, one being that I simply no longer feel comfortable flying.

I can’t fly knowing I’m choosing to use my privilege in a way that will hurt others now and into the future. To me a flight is not worth the loss of human and nonhuman lives. For me, it’s that deep.

I used to work as an international model, which involved a huge amount of air travel. When I stopped flying I took trains and buses instead. Sometimes getting to a job took more than a day and sometimes, because flights are so subsidised, I had to fork out of my own pocket to cover the extra travel expenses that clients wouldn’t.

I used my privileges of time and capital. I chose to pay personally for my travel, in time and money, over cost to other future and present lives on Earth.

The most epic trip I took by bus and train was from London to Berlin, then from Berlin to a permaculture project in a town outside Seville, then back to London via Berlin. It became a sort of pilgrimage. I learned to live in the journey rather than the destination.

I saw so much of Europe, met kind travellers. Out of the train window, I waved at strangers, saw sunsets on marshlands with flamingos in France and sunrises over dusty hills in Spain. I went from autumn in North Germany to summer in Southern Spain, I saw the seasons changing on the earth as I moved. I heard languages change around me, felt culture shift, tasted foods change.

This experience of travel connected me to place. I felt the size of the Earth and all the people filling her. She felt small and homey.

If aviation transformed overnight into a carbon-negative industry, I’d still choose to travel on land.

Flying is a perfect example of how, when it comes to climate change, the actions of the privileged few can harm so many of those contributing the least to this problem.

In my eyes going flight free is a responsible use of privilege.

In the world we live in, of course, not everyone has this choice; going flight free can be costly and time-hungry. But some of us do, and while we push for changes that make it possible for everyone, it’s a huge power to be able to choose to go flight free or at least travel more consciously if we can.

Here are some questions that I ask myself before travelling:
  1. do I need to make this trip?
  2. can I make this trip with other people either by sharing a ride or taking public transport?
  3. is there a less carbon-heavy transport option, for example, the train?

I have family scattered over the globe: my dad in Nigeria, and others in South Africa, America and Europe.

So I get that not flying is not for everyone, and there is no shame or judgement in that. We exist within systems that are rooted in profit over human and planetary wellbeing, so we can only do as much as we can with our given situations. As with all these things, there is no one-size-fits-all and that’s ok.

If we have a particular set of opportunities and privileges that are conducive to making this choice, it’s there, if we want it.