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The fear of missing out

Flight Free Director Anna Hughes explains the importance of living to our values

22 Jan 2019 2 min read

Anna stands next to a lake in the Isle of Skye. Behind her are two modern houses, green fields and faraway mountains. The sky is blue with large clouds.
Anna in the Isle of Skye

A close friend got married last year, and I didn’t go to her hen night. It would have meant getting on a plane for the first time in ten years.

Usually this wouldn’t have stopped me: since I gave up flying I have still travelled, just by other means, by boat, train, car or bike, going to The Netherlands, France, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Ireland and all over the UK.

But the hen night was too far away, and so, for the first time, I actively didn’t take a trip I wanted to take. And I wondered that weekend, when all my friends were out there enjoying the sunshine and cocktails, whether I was just sacrificing myself for no good reason.

The plane had flown anyway: twelve of my friends were on it. What harm would it have done for me to go, too?

A lifelong environmentalist, I gave up flying because it’s the single worse thing I could do for the planet. In everything else I try to limit my carbon footprint: I’m vegan, I cycle everywhere, I have a solar panel for electricity, use a composting toilet and I waste little.

But one flight and all my good deeds are blown. I don’t see it as ‘I do all this other stuff so I’ve earned that flight’ – I can’t square the environmental impact of that one journey with my lifestyle. Had I joined the party, I would have at least doubled my carbon footprint for that year. In a single weekend! Though it was a shame to miss out, it was a positive decision to live by my beliefs. Compromise wouldn’t make me happy.

"Though it was a shame to miss out, it was a positive decision to live by my beliefs."

At the wedding, I realised I hadn’t missed out at all. I have spent many of my teenage and adult years socialising with these people: one more holiday wasn’t going to make much difference.

I adore my friends, and it was a beautiful wedding, and that was enough of an occasion. My conscience was clear.

It is easy to feel, at these moments, that individual actions don’t change anything. But apart from allowing me to be guilt-free, it does have an impact. My friends know I didn't join them because of the climate impact of that flight, and perhaps that will rub off on them. And as to the actual flight, it’s simple supply and demand. Flights are scheduled according to the number of people who want to use them. If fewer people were to travel that way, there would be fewer flights.

"It is easy to feel, at these moments, that individual actions don’t change anything. But it does have an impact."

That is why I am running this campaign. It might not ground any flights next year, but it might in the long term: by raising awareness of the issue and showing that a substantial number of people are willing to take action, more and more people might take the decision to not fly, the demand for flights would reduce, and supply would follow.

This is a demonstration of what’s possible when you think outside the box – and realise that we can make a positive difference to this world with our actions.