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The elephant on the travel desk

by Gavin Haines, travel writer (BBC, Telegraph, Positive News)

FlightFree UK
16 Oct 2 min read

It’s all very well giving up meat, buying second-hand clothes and not driving a car, but if you’re also a regular down at Heathrow Airport (the UK’s single biggest emitter of carbon dioxide) then you definitely can’t call yourself an environmentalist.

That was the situation I found myself in until recently. For while I have gone to great lengths to reduce my carbon footprint lately, my aviation-reliant job as a travel writer has been making a mockery of my eco credentials. My flying habit has been the elephant in the room – and this summer I decided to address the elephant.

My wife and I gave up flying for our holidays last year. We have since gone Inter-railing (following a similar route across Europe to one we took many years ago as students) and this summer we cycled up the Dutch coast to the island of Texel, where there are beaches that wouldn’t look out of place in the Caribbean. It was one of the best holidays we’ve had.

Now I’m quitting air travel for work. It’s a tough call because it clips my wings as a travel writer, but it’s also the right call. As we reach a climate tipping point, jumping on a plane to scribble a few words about destinations that are often reeling from climate change seems absurd. “I swam amidst bleached reefs and considered my own contribution to their downfall – I’d flown 6,000 miles to be here.” That’s how I felt on my last trip to the tropics. Who’d publish that? Not Conde Nast.

At this point, you shout: hypocrite. And yes, it’s all very well me giving up air travel having belched out more than my fair share of CO2 already. But doing the right thing today shouldn’t mean getting a kicking for the stuff we did yesterday. We all have the capacity to change and we shouldn’t fear being labelled a hypocrite in doing so.

The first test of my no-fly rule came earlier this month when I was asked to cover an event in the South of France. I accepted the commission on the condition that my employer paid for me to go by train (perversely this was more expensive than flying). He agreed and I had a stunning ride from London to the Cote d’Azur, watching the landscapes, weather and vegetation change as the TGV sped south. It was far more civilised than the easyJet flight I took the year before.

There is one issue I haven’t worked out yet: seeing my brother. He lives in Vancouver and if we want to see each other, which we do, at some point one of us will have to cross a continent and a sea. Doing a Greta would take about two weeks and wipe out my savings, so maybe I will have to make a compromise at some point in the name of brotherly love. It’s the only thing that would get me on a plane now.

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