Ben Chu: 2007: the year I took the pledge not to fly

Share

It didn't start out as a firm goal. But by the time I'd got to August without once having boarded a plane, I decided to follow through with it: 2007 would be a non-flying year. Why would I subject myself to such an ordeal? Blame The Independent. Working for an environmentally campaigning newspaper tends to prick the conscience. When you find your head crammed daily with facts such as "flying is the single most polluting thing an individual can do" and "aviation is the fastest growing source of greenhouse emissions", strolling up the gangway of a budget airline starts to feel a tad irresponsible.

Don't misunderstand me. I enjoy the freedom and opportunities plane travel brings as much as anyone. And over the years, I have probably been responsible for enough carbon emissions to drown an ice shelf full of polar bears. But there comes a time when you have to put your money where your eco-platitude-sounding mouth is. After reading about www.lowflyzone.org, a website that encourages people to take a "pledge" not to fly for a year, other than in an emergency, I saw my runway to redemption.

So how did it go? It wasn't the ordeal you might imagine. At the risk of performing the newsprint equivalent of thrusting my holiday snaps upon you, let me briefly describe how my girlfriend and I spent our time off this year. In May, we rented a cottage in the Lake District. Last month, we hiked from London to Canterbury along the North Downs Way, staying above Kentish pubs along the way. If that fills you with horror, let me quickly add that we weren't confined to the British Isles. In August, we took a two-week rail trip around Europe, visiting Brussels, Munich, Venice and Paris. I won't irritate you any further. And I'm sure you're heartily sick of reading articles about the joys of train travel and the comparative hell of airport waiting lounges. I would merely add that with a little imagination, cutting down on leisure flying is quite bearable.

There was, however, one difficult moment. In September, a friend from my university days was getting married in the Poitou-Charentes region of France. Another friend, Steve, kindly offered to give me a lift down in his car, taking the ferry from Dover. But at the last minute Steve decided to stay in France after the ceremony, in order to use up some of his holiday entitlement. Fair enough, but it meant there was to be no lift home. The solution? "Tell you what," said Steve. "I'll book you on to a Ryanair flight from Poitiers." Oh dear.

After admitting to "the pledge" and explaining that I'd be taking the train home, Steve pointed something out: "The Eurostar will be 150, and a flight's only 50". He was right too. When I acknowledged this economic logic and yet remained unyielding, he looked at me as if my purchase on sanity was slipping. If you want to leave people lost for words, I would recommend going against your own economic self-interest.

But though I managed to resist the lure of Ryanair, the thought occurred to me that Steve had articulated the problem perfectly. It is no use expecting self-denial to get people off planes. If air travel is cheaper, or more convenient, than the alternative, people are generally going to choose it, no matter how "green" they claim to be. The public have to be hit where it will make a real difference in their behaviour: the wallet. The future of the planet will depend not on our consciences, but our bank balances.

Of course, taking the train was not against my economic interests in the larger scheme of things. It is hardly going to be to my economic benefit if, over the coming century, there is mass crop failure in Africa, perennial drought in China, forest fires in the Mediterranean, and violent hurricanes assaulting the Americas all disasters that the scientific research on climate change predicts with increasingly terrifying clarity. Anyone who believes we can go on living our lives in the manner to which we have become accustomed while such cataclysms pound the planet seems to me to be living in a fantasy. No; the problem is that the true cost to me, Steve, and everyone else on the planet, of our polluting lifestyles, has not been factored into our economic transactions.

More environmentally friendly means of transportation such as trains and buses need to be heavily subsidised to bring down their price. But first and foremost, the price of aviation fuel needs to rise dramatically to push up ticket prices. So does that of petrol. And the world's governments need to co-operate to make that happen. Never mind non-flying pledges, if you really want to leave your friends lost for words, tell them that you're in favour of sky-high fuel prices.

b.chu@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner / Caretaker / Storeman

£15500 - £17680 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A position has become available...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Sales - SaaS B2B

£60000 - £120000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This conference call startup i...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital and print design a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A pack of seagulls squabble over discarded food left on the beach at St Ives on July 28, 2015  

Number of urban seagulls in Britain nearly quadruples: Hide food and avoid chicks to stay in gulls’ good books

Tom Bawden
 

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms