Thank you for signing up to be Flight Free in 2020.
Can you sum up what motivated you to sign the pledge? How long have you been aware of climate issues?
We’ve known about climate change for much longer than it’s been in our faces in the news. It was called ‘the greenhouse effect’ for a long time. I’ve been an environmental advocate and campaigner since the 1970s, back in the days when the only recycling available was the Friends of Earth van trundling around supermarket car parks on a Saturday morning to collect people’s used newspapers. So before we had the slogan, ‘reduce, re-use, recycle’, before we had recycling, when we had the slogan, ‘Live simply that others may simply live’ the only option (and the best) was ‘reduce’.
How often have you flown in the past?
I haven’t flown for leisure/pleasure (it’s a dubious ‘pleasure’ in any case) since the mid- to late-1970s. In the 1980s I took a few flights for work – one long-haul return in 1985-6, one short-haul return in 1988. In 1989 I changed my work and haven’t been in a plane since then. I started teaching about climate change and wider sustainability issues in the early 1990s, and continued until I retired at the end of 2012.
Now I travel by public transport whenever I can, my car usage is minimal, my holiday/leisure travel is by boat and train, and if I can’t get there by those means, I don’t go. Ships aren’t always wonderful, either, so I pay for carbon offsets when I go on a ship (not perfect by any means, but better than nothing).
Only around 50% of the UK population actually flies, but most of the flights we do take are for leisure. What do you think would be the most effective thing in reducing them?
I think part of the ‘secret’ of changing behaviour is to make a firm decision and label it: “I don’t fly” . . . end of. Then you’re not faced with repeated micro-decisions . . . Do I take this flight? Is this one ok? Can I justify that one? For me ‘I don’t fly’ is in the same mental decision-space as ‘I don’t eat meat’ – the possibility no longer crosses my mind, it’s not one of the options, it’s never even under consideration.
How does being flight-free affect your life?
I don’t have family or close friends (except one) living anywhere beyond the European mainland, so I don’t have emotional pulls to take long-haul flights. If there was someone close to me who was ill or dying, in the USA or Australia, say, then I don’t know what decision I would make. I think it’s not possible to imagine those decisions in the abstract. I have one close friend now living in California . . . we phone and Skype. It’s not perfect, but she’s alive to the climate change issues too . . . she lives where they will be flooded by sea-level rise.
Is it daunting or exciting to have taken the pledge?
Not flying doesn’t feel like any kind of sacrifice. There are many more beautiful and interesting places to visit than I can possibly fit in during one lifetime – I don’t need to go to those that aren’t accessible except by plane. And some of those wonderful places, together with their flora and fauna, are being destroyed by excessive human presence, as well as by climate change. It’s enough to know that the beauty exists – it’s not necessary to go there. And in any case we all need to travel less in total, and travel more slowly overall. ‘Distance x speed’ – by whatever means – racks up the carbon emissions. We need to reduce both.