Fly, you fools? The unbearable flightlessness of being

I’m travelling to Paris this week. It’ll be my first time there, so even though it’s a work trip and I don’t know how much free time I’ll have to explore, I’m excited.

I’m also relieved.

When the invitation for the trip was first made, I didn’t know who would make the travel arrangements or how much say I could have in them. If somebody else is kind enough to be booking (and, more importantly, paying for) the transport, it’s not really cricket to start making demands, is it?

Even so, the second thing to cross my mind about going was, What if somebody books me a flight?

(The first thing to cross my mind was, Is a month enough time in which to dust off my Duolingo account, and have they added a French module on ‘attending a construction industry symposium’?)

I started 2019 by writing about my fears for the future of the planet. In June, my first time attending the AECB conference reassured me that enough people have similar worries, and are motivated to take action, that any actions I take individually can in fact contribute to a greater good.

From that point on, I decided I would do my best to cut down on the already-meagre number of flights I take. And as the last couple of months have passed, aiming to make it through the whole of 2019 without catching a flight seemed like a sensible and worthwhile goal.

Please don’t mistake that last sentence as anything approaching a profound personal sacrifice, however. It’s not as though I’ve been presented with a dilemma like getting invited on an overseas stag do for a best friend. On the contrary, a conspicuous lack of time and an abundance of work has made it suspiciously easy not to plan any trips requiring air travel.

And then there’s the matter of next year.

The ‘flight free’ movement - where people pledge not to fly in 2020 - has started to come across the air traffic control radar of my conscience. I’d love to join in, but with some close family and friends starting new lives in the USA, I struggle to see how I won’t choose to set foot in North America again at some point next year.

By not flying in 2019, I’m trying to make myself feel better about not pledging to go flightless next year. It’s either that or I try to copy Greta Thunberg. How much work could I get done on a two week catamaran journey across the Atlantic…?

When Roberto Bautista Agut made a surprise run to the semi-finals of Wimbledon in 2019, he had to postpone his stag do. As reported in this BBC Sport article, his friends were already in Ibiza … and nobody batted an eyelid when they all flew to London to see him play.

It’s not very lads lads lads of me, but I found myself wondering if - faced with a similar situation - I’d have been willing to stand up and say, “Actually, I don’t think it’s right to fly over just to see a tennis match.”

And so there we have, in two tweets, the two sides of the internal conflict that I - and many others - feel. The knowledge of the impact that even one flight has on carbon in the atmosphere, versus the desire to say, “Actually, why shouldn’t I be able to take a flight once in a while?”

That’s why it is so interesting to read about what practical steps some climate scientists take in their everyday lives. Comparing ourselves to other people isn’t healthy, but when it comes to saving the world there doesn’t seem much harm in judging our efforts against people with the greatest insight into the problem.

After all, doomsday is upon us, but it doesn’t stop us buying platitudinous ‘Love, Laugh, Live’ decor.

We need to start somewhere in learning how to do better. And in a world where flying is so much a part of everyday life, and where a spokesperson from Friends of the Earth has to avoid pissing people off by saying nobody is trying to deny families an annual flight to Spain for their summer holiday, expectations are almost impossibly difficult to recalibrate.

The difficulty of recalibration means six guys fly to London because their friend is still in a tennis tournament. The difficulty of recalibration means, had someone told me they’d booked a flight to Paris for me, I’d have said, “Thanks very much”  and got on with it - albeit carrying a burden of guilt.

Aware that would be the case, I chose to try and avoid such a situation occurring in the first place. So I suggested going by train, and the logistical convenience of the Eurostar terminal in Paris being less than two miles from the hotel meant the subject of climate breakdown and aviation emissions never even entered into the conversation.

Which was fine for this occasion. But going through life finding ways to avoid awkward conversations is no way to live. So there’s the next step: talking about it openly. This blog post is a start.