Why I Don’t Fly

By Cam Mather

After I had finished taping my latest podcast on “Two Beers With Steve” he was talking about being in Atlanta, and asked if I’d ever been there. I said, “No, I don’t travel.” There was a long pause as Steve tried to process the information. “You don’t travel. Oh.”

Lots of people don’t travel because they can’t afford it, or they don’t enjoy it, but we have made a very conscious decision to not fly. And yes, I do not relish airport security and being trapped in a shiny metal box hurtling through the air at 500 miles per hour. Those aspects of air travel certainly don’t inspire me to fly. But mostly I choose not to fly because I just can’t rationalize the environmental impact.

George Monbiot does a great job of examining air travel in his book “HEAT: How to Stop the Planet from Burning.” You can buy all the carbon offsets you want to try and ease your impact, but the reality is there really is nothing like flying when it comes to having a negative effect on the climate. It’s not just the massive amounts of C02 that are released by the jet engines to haul that 200 or 300 tons into the air. Where it’s released along with the other pollutants and particulates is also a major problem. Up in the troposphere aircraft emissions do much more damage and the vapor or contrails that form reflect light back into space during the day and trap heat at night and therefore have a greater overall negative effect.

Monbiot examines and considers all of the potential methods being discussed to reduce the impact of air travel, from modified engines, modified fuels, modified designs on the jets, but nothing will make a significant difference. And since most aircraft are used for many, many years, even if radical modifications are invented, there is still a huge fleet of airplanes with decades of usefulness in them before being ready to retire. Worst of all, air travel is expected to continue to increase over the next few decades and will become the leading contributor to climate change.

In England, where Monbiot lives, he points out that the government talks about its commitment to reducing greenhouse gases, but continues to build more and larger airports. And since no one gets credited with the carbon from international flights (i.e. neither where you leave from or land) England can make grand claims while still increasing air travel because the impact is not being included in its total.

I particularly like Monbiot’s statement that when you fly you are destroying the lives of people who will probably never fly themselves. People in the Maldives or Bangladesh who are already being impacted by rising sea levels don’t fly much themselves. This is a rich, developed country issue. We simply have got to fly less. Dramatically less.

Michelle and I have made the decision to stay put. No midwinter breaks to warmer climates. I’ll never make it to Machu Picchu in Peru. I’m afraid I’ll just have to miss any weddings that take place on another continent.

These are issues we’ll all be confronting as the price of kerosene (jet fuel) skyrockets with peak oil and the impact of air travel is debated. It’s not an easy decision to make. If you ran for a political party with this as your campaign theme, you wouldn’t get many votes. Monbiot makes a good point;

“Unlike almost all public protests which have preceded it, the campaign against climate change is not for abundance but for austerity. It is a campaign not for more freedom but for less. Strangest of all, it is a campaign not just against other people, but also against ourselves.”

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Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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