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Sarah Nicolls: the 'twelve year' tour

Pianist Sarah Nicolls is going on her "12 years" tour, giving recitals around the country about the climate crisis. Here, we hear her motivations for signing up to the Flight Free Pledge

07 Oct 2019 3 min read

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.

My awareness of climate issues began in 2018. I worked for an environmental arts charity for 6 months and as I read more and more about the environment, I became fairly alarmed.

Then the IPCC special report came out and that was it. 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.

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 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.

We need to educate people about what they’re doing and tax 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, that flying to get to that beach is increasing the risk of climate breakdown, which will be devastating for their child.

Oh, and a complete ban on airport expansion would surely help, too.

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.

It feels exciting to have taken the pledge. 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.

Some of my friends and family really listen and think about my decision to go flight free. I think having taken a pledge helps, because it brings it right into conversations about holidays especially.

Some of my friends and family do think it’s annoying. Some sort of confess to me that they’re flying somewhere. I tell them I’m not judging but I think that people are very rapidly becoming aware themselves.

I will carry on talking about not flying and try to spread the facts, and also talk about divestment, as fossil fuels and flying are totally inter-linked. And I will also talk a lot about my flight-free trip to the Arctic!

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