To fly or not to fly

Many of my sustainability colleagues fly all over the world. They work on projects in Australia, live in China or enjoy exploring nature in faraway places. I don’t. I stick to the Netherlands or to destinations I can reach by train, boat or bus. Why? Because I believe in not only talking about sustainability, but also in acting sustainably.

The carbon footprint of flying is huge and that is why I said goodbye to it. Whenever the topic of flying comes up and I talk about my nonflying behaviour a heated debate erupts. Some arguments work, while others are not that convincing. Why would I (not) fly?

Convincing arguments

For love

My parents went to South Africa last year. If one of them got attacked by a lion I wouldn’t hesitate to fly to Kaapstad. Love is integrated in the concept of sustainability for me and is very powerful. It might even trump environmental concerns.

The benefits might outweigh the costs

I believe in causing positive changes in my direct environment. I know the Dutch culture, cool people and issues I can work on and this is why I’m most valuable here. But, some people make such a huge positive impact if they travel, that I can’t blame them for flying.

Take for instance the Dalai Lama. He travels the world bringing his message of peace. To me, the positive impact he brings outweighs the environmental impact he causes.

Do you think this is the case for you? Make sure that you don’t use this argument to greenwash your flying behaviour. Discuss your options with a critical friend or colleague. Should you go to that meeting in Shanghai in person, or would Skype work fine as well?

Unconvincing arguments

To explore other cultures

Other arguments don’t convince me at all, but might be a reason for you to fly. Such as exploring other cultures and learning more of the world through that. Some people feel that I’m restricting myself by not traveling great distances.

I don’t agree. I believe I still have so much to explore in the Netherlands. My refugee volunteering experience opened my eyes to a different Nederland than I knew. Through the eyes of the guys I met I experienced my country as a tough one, in which the odds are stacked against you. This is radically different compared to my own privileged position.

By being open for new experiences your own country can be as exciting as traveling to a land far, far away.

It is fast & cheap

Another unconvincing argument is that traveling by train, bus or boat takes up too much time and money. Lucky me, I have (or better said, I make) time and money! Time can be as effective as you want. Slow(er) traveling enables you to finally read books that sat on your desk for ages or to organise your email. Even better, just sit, take a deep breath and enjoy the view. Relax.

The ‘it is cheap’ argument angers me. It is absurd that such an environmentally damaging practice is so cheap. One of the reasons for its cheapness is that airlines pay zero tax on fuel. Subsidising a practice that causes 4.9% of total worldwide greenhouse gas emissions is irresponsible.

Especially because nearly 200 nations signed the climate change agreement in Paris last December. They pledged to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, and preferable below 1.5. If they want to achieve this, it is time to start paying the true cost of flying.

Paying the true cost of flying

Transforming the flight sector to incorporate all their environmental and social costs is challenging. The Netherlands tried to tax flying in 2008, but our policy was cancelled within the year. This was mostly because of economical arguments. This is not reason to stop trying though. We can do it, especially now that 200 nations pledged to keep global warming at bay. If they would set a carbon tax  for instance, their airline carriers would have to start offsetting their emissions.

Want to think of ways to change the aviation industry? Or do you think you can convince me to fly? Let’s grab a cup of coffee and talk about it.

Besides trying to choose the most environmentally friendly ways to travel, I rarely eat meat and hate the sight of cars in residential areas. Why do they take up all the good spots in a city? But well, that is a start for another article. 

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