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When climate responsibility breaks the heart

Claire Thompson's sons live half a world away, in New Zealand. In over a decade she has only seen them twice. This is her moving testimonial.

FlightFree UK
29 May 4 min read

It was 2005 when my two sons left for New Zealand with their father. They were aged 13 and 10. That same year I moved to Donegal in rural Ireland.

I've been aware of the impact of flights for a long time, having been involved in environmental causes and campaigns since the late 80s. Flying just doesn’t sit well with me. But with such young boys now living half a world away, that Christmas I bought a plane ticket. It was awesome to visit. New Zealand is a really beautiful country with very friendly people and a laid back culture. And it was great to see my kids. After 12 months my ex-husband and I reviewed whether they would stay. Having settled in well, they were keen, as they enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and the more outdoor life.

By 2010 I had stopped flying altogether. Making that choice meant I would not see my sons again until they were old enough to visit themselves.

My eldest came for a week in 2017 tagged on to a trip to Spain, and my youngest visited in 2018 for a couple of weeks. The eldest is now 23 – he was 13 the last time I saw him. It's some change to watch a teenager walk away and see a grown man appear back at the airport. As I said goodbye in each case, I was acutely aware that I may very well not see them again. It's a long way, and a lot of money.

It’s devastating not seeing my boys. I’ve seen them twice in all those years. It's very difficult but I feel more devastated that we are destroying any chance that those children have of a future. It’s my belief that facing climate change head on involves making big personal choices as well as applying massive pressure to governments and officials to face it too. We're heading for a catastrophe that we might not survive. My boys’ futures are more important than my need for seeing them. It is heartachingly hard. But tough times call for hard actions and sacrifices.

The rest of my family is also spread out, as my father lives in the South of France and my mother and siblings live in England. I’ve not seen my father since 2008, and that has been difficult too, as he is the one I have to thank for my love of wildlife and environment. It's ironic that the cheapest way to get to him in France is by flying. I've just not had the money to travel there by other means. I'd truly love to see him again. He's in his mid 70's now and every year that passes weighs heavily.

I flew to UK for a funeral a few years ago, but other than that I've not flown, and today, I'd miss the funeral. I don't want to comment on what others do, but I don't believe in the 'right' to fly at enormous cost to the planet. We have a tendency to think we are an exception, that our circumstances mean we can. Aviation is a major polluter and my conscience won't allow the support of the industry.

I know that some believe that taking decisions like this are martyrdom. I don't see it that way. I believe we all have a responsibility to face the hard stuff and make challenging decisions. Yes, it sucks. But that or extinction? If we all keep flying for winter sun, we're never going to achieve carbon neutral let alone negative. The era of the cheap flight needs to stop so that our children actually have a life to lead. Growing up in the 70s, no-one I knew travelled by plane. Now it's hen parties in Barcelona!

The climate breakdown we are in, the 6th mass extinction, means that we need to stop the exceptionalism and tackle the really hard things. We need a systems change away from our capitalist society. We need the governments to step up. It just cannot be Business as Usual. No-one gets a free pass. I'm nearly 50 now; if we don't do what it takes, our own children may not even see that age.

My boys are young adults now and getting on with their lives in New Zealand. They understand that I don't want to fly. On a daily basis, I just get on with it. I found it excruciating when they left and I miss them terribly.

I've boxed it up and shelved it all in many ways. I don’t talk about them much. I’ve removed loads of pictures from the walls. I don’t dwell too much on the past and I haven’t moved back to the UK. It’s painful to revisit old memories. But you do learn to live with the grief; it changes over time though never goes away.

Am I afraid it's all in vain? Should I say to hell with it? I just can't. My conscience won't allow it. I’m taking climate action wherever I can to protect my children's futures. At least I want to be able to say that I did what I believed to be the right thing.

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