Flying, it’s sort of amazing. You literally ‘fly’ – think about that; FLY. No road, no rail, no water, not even any strings holding it up like a Thunderbirds rocket – just a tin box hurling through thin air at 500 miles per hour at several thousand feet. But we don’t even fly for that phenomenal experience, we do it out of convenience. Flying is a cheap, fast and easy way of getting from A to B
, when B is particularly far away, and land or sea travel would take too long. Most of the time it’s actually far far cheaper than land or sea travel as well. We all do it, and it enables us to meet people and see places that we would not otherwise see. For instance, I really want to go to Stockholm, and I could go this Friday and be back on Sunday night for £90 with no prior booking. The flight takes 2 hours from London. Ninety pounds, to disappear above the clouds and magically descend in Sweden for the weekend. If I didn’t want to fly, the next quickest method of travel would be by road and ferry. Fuel would cost around £150 by current UK prices (1172 miles from London at 40 mpg), the channel tunnel would cost £110, and the ferry from across Denmark would cost £120, totalling £380, and it would take 22 hours (not including the time it took me to find this out), meaning I would have maybe a couple of hours in Stockholm if I wanted to be back for Monday.
But flying isn’t really that cool. Aviation is culpable for 2% of all global carbon emissions, and 12% of all global transport emissions. With the knowledge that only 5% of people in the world have ever been on a plane, this is environmentally criminal. Not everyone does, just those that can afford it, and we’re spoiling it for everyone. But what are we supposed to do? The incentive clearly isn’t there to not fly. It seems to be the forgotten climate sin, the one that’s ‘OK’ to do. Academia is particularly criminal, flying around the world teaching climate change. But then again, how else would it be? Flying is framed by the typical lifestyles we lead: 5 days work a week, 28 days holiday a year – we wouldn’t get anywhere. I, like anybody else, want to see the world before a) I die or b) it becomes changed by climate change. I even think it can be considered neglectful to not explore this planet – if everyone had discovered unseen corners of the world we might well be a far more peaceful and compassionate people.
But I also think there’s a couple of messages to be had from time/travel restriction. Firstly, explore what’s closer to us. I’ve seen parts of South-East Asia, Latin America and lots of Europe, but I’ve never been to Dartmoor, the Lake District or East Anglia. Despite being a Cornishman I’ve never been to Bude, or even stopped in Devon. I met a Canadian couple in Bali who told me Scotland was the best place they’d ever been, but I’ve only been once for a week. There’s lots to see right or our doorstep, it might not always be as exotic but maybe it’s just as important to learn about our own land. Secondly, travelling by land and sea enables us to see better how the world is connected. Probably the best trip I’ve ever been on was driving to Albania, simply because we’d actually driven there. It was a surreal feeling, realising that Albania was actually on the same world surface as the UK. Flying is more like teleportation – you disappear in one airport and reappear in another. It’s like going to a different world and we don’t quite get to realise that it’s the same planet we’re on. Besides there’s more of a journey involved in land and sea, and that’s often the best part of a trip – the unforeseen adventures. Lastly, maybe we need to change our work structure. Longer holidays and shorter working weeks. Failing that, we can always quit our jobs. Once I’ve got one, I intend to just that. I’ve recently taken an internal vow to never fly again. The most exciting part about it is that if I want to go to Latin America, I’ve got to see everything that’s inbetween.
It’s not often you get to say this kind of thing to people in person – it inevitably comes off sanctimonious and irritating – but you’ve chosen to read it, so it’s kind of OK: next time you’re planning a trip, think of the tonnes of carbon dioxide you’re releasing into the atmosphere. But more importantly, if you need another incentive – as most of us do, think of the process of travel. Hitching to Stockholm or driving a camper van around the world is likely to make a better story than getting a flight. If you need yet another incentive: loads of them seem to be crashing at the moment.