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Flight Free for 2020: Sarah Nicolls

Pianist Sarah Nicolls starts her "12 years" tour next year, giving recitals around the country about the climate crisis. Here, we hear her motivations for signing up to the #flightfree2020 pledge

FlightFree UK
07 Oct 2019 3 min read

Two hands with red nail polish are holding up the Flight Free Uk pledge. Sun is shining on the hands and there are blurred trees in the background.

Thank you for pledging to be flight free in 2020! Can you sum up what motivated you to sign the pledge?

I hadn’t contemplated giving up flying until Molly Scott Cato mentioned she had. It was literally like a lightbulb went on in my head. Everyone knows about giving up meat but giving up flying wasn’t something I was aware of at that moment. It just made sense immediately. I knew flying was 50 times more polluting than driving and most flights we were taking were avoidable.

How long have you been aware of climate issues?

It all came to me in 2018. I worked for an environmental arts charity for 6 months and as I read more and more about the environment, I just became fairly alarmed. And then the IPCC special report came out and that was it. I just decided to make art about the climate emergency - I needed to do something and I was paid to do piano recitals, so bam, I just put those two things together.

"I decided to make art about the climate emergency - I needed to do something and I was paid to do piano recitals, so bam, I just put those two things together."

It was hard but it really paid off - the best feedback I’ve had for my show ’12 Years’ is that it’s the first time people have *felt* the issue of climate change. And once people feel, they’re much more likely to act.

How often have you flown in the past?

I’ve flown a lot for gigs, also for holidays and travelling. I guess some years I may have flown 8-10 times. Most years probably more like once or twice.

Only around 50% of the UK population flies in any given year, but most of the flights we do take are for leisure. What do you think would be the most effective thing in reducing them?

Educating people about what they’re doing and taxing aviation fuel. I think a lot about the moment where a parent is packing sun cream to take to the beach in Spain. They want to protect their child and keep them safe. But they are completely missing the bigger picture. Oh and a complete ban on airport expansion would surely help, too.

How will being flight-free next year affect your life? Do you have any plans for holidays or travel?

The most exotic trip I’m having to plan now is getting the train to the Arctic Circle for a gig! It’s going to add 6 days to the gig time to get there and back but I’m really looking forward to the journey. Obviously it’s not practical for everyone but since I can, then I really think I should. We don’t feel distance when we fly. This way I will really know how far I’m going, and maybe feel the temperature changes along the way too! Our gig (I’m working with a Norwegian cellist) takes as its starting point the plans to drill for oil in the pristine north of Norway and will use responses of the locals in interview form, with music underlaid. We are developing the show and it runs like a public meeting - “thanks for coming, sorry we have a lot to get through, not so much time, we don’t exactly have all the answers..” This framing seems to work very well for how we genuinely feel in the face of the climate and ecological emergency and we’re just being honest. Giving up flying is a concrete step that most people can take.

Is it daunting or exciting to have taken the pledge?

Exciting. The only daunting thing is, what happens if my brother who lives in America also gives up? Then I’ll be faced with the tougher moral dilemma.

What reaction do your friends and family have to you going flight free?

Some really listen and think about it. I think it helps because it just brings it right into conversations about holidays especially. Some think it’s annoying. Some people sort of confess to me that they’re flying somewhere. I tell them I’m not judging but I think that people are just very rapidly becoming aware themselves.

What might you do to influence others to go flight free in 2020?

Carry on talking about it, try to spread the facts. Also talk about divestment, as fossil fuels and flying are of course totally inter-linked. Take the train to the Arctic and talk about that a lot!

Catch Sarah on her 12 Years tour from March 2020. Find out the full details on her website.

Sarah stands with her arms crossed wearing a bright green dress. In the background an 'inside-out' piano spins on a frame.
Sarah lets her inside-out piano do the flying for her

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