Check out our Podcast page to hear the full 95 minute interview with Flight Free UK campaigner Anna Hughes. The interview covers topics as wide-ranging as cycling in Amsterdam, playing trumpet in a ska band, working in a cocktail bar, being inspired by the Youth Climate Strikes, and giving up flying – but gaining a huge amount in return.
This is a guide to the conversation between Dave and Anna, with details of the songs that she has chosen. And here's Dave in the studio at Marlow FM. He has signed the #flightfree2020 pledge!
00:00 The 'Watt Next? All things being Eco' show kicks off with excellent track 'Is there something I should know?' by Duran Duran
04:55 “Let’s talk about climate change!” says Anna. It’s a conversation we have to be having. My whole life I’ve been aware of this stuff and my whole life I’ve been embarrassed to talk about it – it’s not a fashionable thing to be talking about, but it’s really important. And now it feels, with the Youth Strike for Climate and Extinction Rebellion, that people are finally talking about it. Dave: It’s difficult to talk about these things. But it is *not* talking about these things that has got us in this mess.
06:00 Dave asks, “Have you been a lifelong cyclist?” Anna: I’ve always been a cyclist – it’s my default option for getting around. I don’t own a car (I’m not anti-car, I’m just anti-I-can’t-live-without-my-car). The bicycle has so many benefits beyond environmental ones.
07:55 Dave: I’m loving the light touch on everything – there’s a lot of realism with it all. Anna: I hope so – it’s not about being extreme and giving up everything, it’s about seeing things differently and seeing what you can gain e.g. I am richer of pocket and richer of experience through not driving a car, and I am very healthy and I’m really good at finding my way around places because I don’t use a satnav, and I see that as a massive benefit. And I have nice interactions, happening to bump into people – that doesn’t happen in a car. You’re not inside a box. You’re part of the community.
09:45 Background on Anna Hughes: cyclist and adventurer, cycled 4000 miles around the coast of Britain and sailed around the same coastline two years later. Books Eat Sleep Cycle, Pedal Power, and Peaky Climbers. Speaker and writer, narrowboat dweller. 'Get Outside' champion for Ordnance Survey inspiring others to enjoy the great outdoors.
12.33 Dave: ‘The power of example is the only way we’ve got to peacefully change the world’ e.g. the youth strike – that started with one girl quietly protesting, and now look how that’s caught on.
17:49 We play 'Holding On' by Gregory Porter/Disclosure. This is for Anna's twin sister Sarah, who sings jazz and loves Gregory Porter. This is the 'hit parade' version.
22:10 Dave: Tell us about your first book, Eat Sleep Cycle. Anna: I wanted to go on a cycling adventure and see how far I could get without flying. It didn’t sit right with me to fly halfway round the world to get to know another country when I didn’t know much about my own. So I travelled 4,000 miles around the coast of Britain and discovered a huge amount about my country as well as about myself, and had an absolutely fantastic time.
27:40 Dave: then two years later you sailed around. It was easier, presumably? Anna: No way! UK waters are choppy. I was sick every day for three months.
31:50 We listen to Everything Everything 'Distant Past' – Anna: I just adore this song and love how weird it is. An 'in' to my psyche!
35:13 Dave and Anna discuss UK tourism: there is more than enough of Britain to keep us happy. We don’t need to fly in order to explore/experience new things or enjoy ourselves. The default for holidays seem to be exotic faraway holidays – but what about where we are? We’re constantly after something else.
36:30 It’s possible and fairly easy to access a lot of places in Europe without going on an aeroplane: rail travel and boat.
36:49 Anna: A friend of mine took a coach to the Costa del Sol from London Victoria. He felt much richer for his experience – you’re not time-travelled in a sterile environment, parachuted into this new place. Slow travel is so enriching. It's about seeing how the landscape changes, meeting people. You will understand people far better if you don’t fly.
40:30 We talk about the Flight Free campaign. The idea is that you pledge not to fly, if 100,000 people also make the pledge. We must start reducing our carbon footprints significantly. It’s got to the point where we can’t just make noises about recycling anymore, we have to be thinking about the big stuff.
41:30 Anna: If we are to be sustainable in terms of our carbon output, our individual footprints need to be between two and three tons annually. One flight to New York produces close to 3 tonnes [I got this wrong! It’s actually close to 2 tonnes]. If we think about it in those terms, we realise very quickly that flying is unsustainable. Taking a flight is the single fastest and greatest way of increasing your carbon footprint.
42:28 Anna: I haven’t flown for years, and have always been content living my own low-carbon lifestyle. But I now feel an urgency. I’m no longer content living in my own low-carbon bubble, that’s not good enough any more. We ALL need be thinking about this stuff far more, which is why I’m running this campaign, to get people thinking and talking about it.
43:25 Dave: the timing is very good: awareness is rising. Anna: It does seem that there’s a momentum, and I hope that continues, because we’re not nearly there yet.
43:55 Dave: so what is the 100,000 threshold all about? Anna: It's easy to think you individually don’t make a difference. But with this you know it’s not just you, there are 100,000 other people doing it. Hopefully this will inspire to take part who wouldn’t otherwise.
44:50 Anna: It is just one year. So instead of going to the Canary Islands for your holiday you might go somewhere else. It’s about taking on a challenge, looking at life slightly differently and seeing what experiences you have as a result.
46:10 Dave: What about shipping though? Can you go on a cruise? Anna: No, sorry, cruises are off! Terrible for the environment!
46:50 Dave: And if you only get 99,000, that means everyone can fly! Anna: Yes – we hope that people will believe in it enough that they will still do it, but having the threshold will hopefully encourage people to bring others on board.
47:57 Anna: leading by example is so important. Some early well-known sign-ups are Rupert Read and Sian Berry.
50:33 Dave: the Swedish Flygfritt campaign inspired the whole thing.
51:15 Time for more music: 'Too Much Too Young' by The Specials.
53:05 Anna: I wanted that one for two reasons: first, because I used to play in a ska band, and we often covered that song, but also because the subject matter is very relevant: it’s about not having kids. I’ve chosen not to have any. Over population is a very significant problem, and it's one that environmentalists tend not to talk about.
58:04 Back to talking about flying, and the alternatives: Rail travel in this country is so expensive. It’s therefore totally understandable why people fly! It’s cheap and it’s quick. Because aviation isn’t taxed in the same way as other things are. We really need to have the carbon cost of travel reflected in the price of the ticket. One of the aspects of the campaign is about perhaps influencing that: making rail travel more affordable, or at least having aviation more realistically priced.
59:16 Anna: in terms of comparing rail travel and air travel, we need to remember we’re not comparing like-for-like. For example, a journey to Copenhagen took two travel days as opposed to a couple of hours flying, but those two travel days were spent visiting three new European cities, meeting people and going on a ferry in the train! (which completely blew my mind). So it was more expensive than flying but it was full of so many extra experiences.
1:00:43 Question from a listener: have you been to Amsterdam?
Anna: Yes, and it's wonderful. There is a separate space for pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles, which is the way it should be because they all have different requirements. The Dutch design their cities with people in mind rather than traffic, so transport in the Netherlands works. It could also work here, it just (!) needs sustained political will and money. The Netherlands used to have all our problems too, but they made a conscious choice to invest in roads that worked for people. So everyone is just a road user, and most people choose the bicycle. You don’t get agro from drivers because all the drivers also ride a bike!
1:05:53 The next song is 'Bloodstream' by Ed Sheeran. Anna: I chose this because I met him when he played in a bar I worked in, before he was famous, and I could just tell he was going to be big.
1:10:43 Back to the campaign. Anna: Quite a few people have said, 'Why not Flight Free this year, in 2019? This is such a pressing issue!' It's because firstly, it will take a long time to get to the 100,000 and activate the pledge. Secondly, because some people will already have planned their travel for this year, and they need time to be convinced that this is a good idea and to then make plans.
1:12:06 Anna: I’m really happy to talk about this a lot, to speak about why it’s important, to bang on about the benefits, then allow people make their own minds up because it’s not going to be for everyone.
1:12:34 Anna: I have a friend who did a self-imposed flight ban a few years ago and took a year off. She has family around the world so she just didn’t see them that year. The benefits of staying grounded were far more wide-ranging than she thought. She got to know her partner more, they discovered things about their local area, and she got to know herself more, because when you place restrictions on ourself you really discover what you’re made of.
1:13:38 These are positive constraints. It’s not “I'm not going to do this," it's, "I’m going to do this instead.”
1:14:05 If someone signs up and something unforeseen happens, you can always just not do it. It’s discretionary and self-policing.
1:16:13 Testimonials: A good way to spread the message is to show who’s signed. It’s helpful to declare it on social media to help spread the word.
1:17:32 Celebrities making the pledge would help boost it.
1:17:57 Dave: I'm picking up from you that this isn’t about sacrifice, it’s about doing things differently. Anna: people say to me, why do you restrict yourself? Not flying and being vegan sounds like a very boring lifestyle. But just because I don’t fly doesn’t mean I don’t travel. Just because I’m vegan doesn’t mean I don’t eat well. It’s not about being restrictive, it’s about seeing things differently.
1:19:30 Dave: What’s the single message you would like to get out tonight? Anna: Be the One. It’s so easy to feel that your individual actions don’t make a difference, so not to bother trying. But you should do it anyway. Don’t feel that what you do doesn’t make a difference because it absolutely does. Throughout my life I’ve lived the way I believe, and it does rub off on other people. And that can really snowball, e.g. Greta Thunberg is just one girl who did a climate strike. Look what happened last Friday: thousands and thousands of young people did the same, and this is what happens when you take action.
1:22:03 'Be The One' by Dua Lipa
1:25:17 'The Chain' by Fleetwood Mac
1:29:25 Anna has left the building and is legging it to the station!
1:29:50 Oasis Champagne Supernova