Australians who swore not to fly again: ‘If you get on a plane, you’ve undone a year of good’ | Travel

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After the 2019 bushfires, 38-year-old Clara* made a drastic decision: she vowed to stop traveling by plane.

“I had a two-year-old coughing up blood from all the smoke in the air in Canberra,” she recalled. “My morning routine was to open the air quality app to see if we could go out that day.”

Clara, who doesn’t want to use her real name because she thinks it could jeopardize her job, has already done everything she can to reduce her impact on the climate: she composted, reduced her driving and tried to reduce , reuse and recycle as much as possible. But the bushfires have clarified the need for “stronger” action. “I have no choice anymore,” she remembers thinking. “I can’t do this for my kids anymore. I can’t let them live in a world where they have to check an air rating app before they go out.

A kangaroo jumps through a haze of smoke during bushfires around Canberra on January 5, 2020. Photography: Lukas Coch/EPA

Googling led her to an organization called Flight Free, which encourages Australians to stop flying. Without consulting her husband – “which, in hindsight, would probably have been a good thing to do” – Clara signed up. She has sworn not to set foot on a plane for the next 10 years.

“I just wanted to channel the rage, anger and despair into something constructive.”

Clara is one of around 100 Australians who have made the Flight Free Pledge to give up air travel. Members can swear to stop flying for a year to test it, or go all-in and boycott air travel for the rest of their lives. Some, like Clara, choose their own schedule or change the commitment to suit their situation. There is no one who publicly calls the pawnbrokers to account; it is a simple promise, made with the aim of combating the escalating climate crisis.

While Flight Free is a small organization in Australia, the movement is much larger overseas. The first Flight Free was founded in Sweden – also the home country of flygskam, or “flight-shaming” – in 2018. Globally, there are 10,000 donors in 62 countries, and Flight Free is one of many organizations calling on the public to fly less or not at all. Celebrities such as Taylor Swift and Kylie Jenner have recently come under fire for their blatant use of private jets, and in the UK there are growing calls for a frequent flyer tax to be imposed.

Although Flight Free has been operating in Australia since 2019, it’s no coincidence that it’s been slower to take off domestically.

“Because of our physical location on the planet and our lack of fast rail infrastructure, it’s a big challenge,” admits Mark Carter, co-founder of Flight Free Australia. “Unlike Europe, there aren’t really any practical alternatives to flying here.”

weekend app

Carter hopes Flight Free Australia will encourage more people to reduce air travel and potentially help advance future regulatory changes. As well as raising donors like Clara, Flight Free Australia does a “mixed bag” of anti-aircraft lobbying work and seeks to raise awareness of industry contributions to shows.

So how do you stop flying in an island nation where major hubs are thousands of miles apart and many remote areas are inaccessible by land for part of the year? “There are no quick or easy answers,” Carter says. But he believes that extreme circumstances require extreme responses.

“The climate emergency puts us in a non-normal world,” says Carter. “Being in an abnormal situation means we have to do things differently.” He compares inaction to watching TV while his house is burning. “It’s that way of looking at things.”

Wendy Catling and her husband Peter Miller, who have sworn not to fly for the rest of their lives.
“I don’t think going on holiday is justifiable if it causes so much damage,” says Peter Miller, pictured here with his wife Wendy Catling. Photography: Ellen Smith/The Guardian

Melbourne-based Flight Free participant Peter Miller sees things the same way. He knows Carter “pretty well” and their conversations convinced him to join the movement.

“I don’t think going on vacation is justifiable if it causes so much damage,” Miller says. “Going on holiday to Fiji and emitting all that carbon, sitting alone on a beach and having a drink seems a bit absurd to me.”

Miller and his wife have both committed to flying for the rest of their lives, although they can choose to travel if a loved one dies overseas or in similar “serious” circumstances. It was both an easy and difficult decision for the couple, both 64 years old.

For one thing, Miller had the privilege of traveling earlier in his life. But now that he is nearing retirement, the promise means his golden years will be very different from what he had imagined.

“It’s a pretty big impact on how we thought we would live at that time. But nevertheless, we are very committed to this.

Instead of visiting Europe (“which would be nice,” says Miller), he and his wife are vacationing in the country, exploring the vast swaths of Australia they haven’t seen yet. The couple have already taken a few trips to Tasmania on the overnight ferry – a “little inconvenience” compared to the 75-minute flight, but not too expensive.

“If you spend a lot of time trying to minimize your carbon by adding solar power or having electric cars or one of those things, that’s fine,” Miller says. “But if you then get on a plane and go to London, you’ve just wasted a year of good.”

Griffith University aviation professor Tim Ryley agrees that on an individual level, stopping flying is the single most effective thing we can do to reduce our carbon footprint.

Although aviation only accounts for a small percentage of Australia’s total carbon emissions (power generation is by far the highest), “it is harder to reduce than any other emission” , says Ryley.

Electricity can be switched to solar power, fuel-guzzling cars can be swapped for EVs, and beef patties can be swapped for lentil burgers, but there’s currently no way to fly without having d ‘environmental impact. (Even airline CEOs admit offsets are “a fig leaf.”)

However, Ryley sees an Australia without planes as an unrealistic prospect. “Aviation is clearly not environmentally sustainable, but it is economically and socially sustainable,” he says. “It helps economically – freight, that side of aviation, tends to get ignored. Even if everyone stopped flying individually, you would still have companies delivering things from overseas.

Life without a plane also poses “the social challenges of people with family overseas, as well as across Australia”, says Ryley. If the environmental argument has any merit, “the demand and interest in flying, especially in a post-Covid world, probably wins out at the moment.”

Virgin Australia Boeing 737-800 parked on one of three runways at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport on April 30, 2020 in Sydney, Australia.  When Sydney Airport temporarily closed the east-west runway to make room to store grounded planes due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
About 100 Australians have taken the Flight Free Pledge to give up air travel. The movement is much larger abroad. Photography: James D Morgan/Getty Images

The pandemic has made the first two years of Clara’s engagement relatively easy, but she’s aware the choices will get tougher from now on. Already, the decision to ban air travel has come with some sacrifices. To avoid having to make interstate business travel, Clara has actively sought positions that do not require travel.

She and her husband’s parents live down the highway, so a visit to the grandparents means a long drive, not a short flight. Clara’s husband would love to take the kids on a ski vacation to Japan at some point, but that’s out of the question unless they can take months off and go boating, a prospect they don’t. have not excluded.

All this leads Clara to wonder if she is taking good care of her children.

“I wonder, ‘Oh my God, are my kids going to be deprived because I’m making this decision for them?’ But then I counter that by thinking “Well, why are they going to be more angry – the fact that they missed going to Japan for a ski vacation, or the fact that they have to live on a planet where they can’t really breathe more?'” In the end, she wants to know, “I did everything in my power to make things as bad as possible for them.”

Besides, explains Clara, “My parents lived most of their lives without ever setting foot on a plane and had a perfectly happy childhood.”

*Name has been changed

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