Back in 2017 I saw Ronnie Lee’s (ALF’s co founder) post on facebook, an article talking about the devastating effects of the avian industry and I felt very guilty. Until that moment I was flying around the globe without guilt because I believed that being vegan is the best thing I can do to help the environment since animal agriculture is the leading cause of climate change and all transportations combined emit less CO2 than animal agriculture. At the same I had decided not to procreate which is the ultimate decision to minimize your CO2 and so, I had convinced myself that I was already doing my best.
However, this does not mean that flying is harmless. On the contrary…
Since that day I only flew once (Greece-Portugal) and by offsetting my flight‘s carbon emissions but I later felt that this was like cheating my values (as I felt when I realized at the age of 23 while watching Earthlings, that I was fighting for some animals’ lives while eating some others so my journey to vegetarianism and later to veganism had just begun) so I decided I have to stop flying. It’s been 2 years I am not flying but I am still traveling – Ι will never be able to live in one place and stop moving around since even a recent genetic test I took, among others stated: “Evolutionarily your genotype was useful due to increased exploratory foraging patterns and increased migration distance in ancient civilisations.“. I actually live a nomadic life ever since, maybe because of that exact decision…I have pledged flight free for 2021 and I will keep my pledge for as long as the climate needs. You can read my pledge here.
So I decided to interview the founder of this movement, because I believe that it’s important to “listen” to her thoughts first hand and understand why this change in our lifestyle is so important and to talk about the challenges of this pledge.
I hope you will find this post inspiring and share it in your social media to raise awareness on that topic which is rarely talked about in the animal rights movement (think for a moment the vegan celebrities who fly around the world to give speeches) an in environmentalist circles (mostly its greek version because this has not received any attention from the greek media), as if it’s something that we can’t avoid (while majority of our trips are made to fullfill our egoistic plasmatic needs, one of the many lessons that I took from Harari’s book “Sapiens”).
Update 2/2021: It is worth to watch the video of Todd’s testimony, an ex-pilot explaining why he left his dream job after realizing how he was contributing to the climate crisis. If he can do that life chanfe, how is it that people can’t quit flying?
– When (at what age) did you decide to stop flying and why?
I gave up flying in 2008 (I was 27 years old). I had been really worried about the climate crisis for a couple of years, but like so many others I thought that flying occasionally couldn’t be such a big problem as long as I did other things right for the climate. In fact, it was not until after I stopped flying that I fully realised how huge the climate impact from flying is.
– What else have you changed in your lifestyle in order to help the environment?
I think about the climate in everything I do. We don’t have a car in my family, we’re vegan and we keep our consumption low. For example, I rarely buy clothes and when I do I buy things that will last for many years, or second hand. We also buy organic things and food as much as possible.
I don’t do everything perfectly though, and I think that the most important things we as individuals can do for the climate is to focus on the things that make the most difference, but also to talk about the climate crisis with others, so that we become many who realise that we need big system changes.
– Before pledging flight free, were you someone who was flying often by plane? Do you miss traveling by plane now?
It depends on who you compare with. 80 % of the world’s population has never flown, so compared to most people I was a very frequent flyer. I traveled by plane a couple of times a year between when I was 20 and 27. Before I was 20, I had only traveled by plane twice in my life, the first time I was 15. I have never left Europe and probably never will, but I am happy staying here, and there are so many other ways to explore the world. I read a lot and watch documentaries. And since I started the flight free campaign, I have gotten to know people from all over the world through digital meetings.
– Someone can say to us “OK ladies, it’s easy for you to pledge flight free because you traveled a lot in your life so far, isn’t that a little bit unfair for people who have not yet been able to see the world?”, what would be your answer to that question?
I do understand that many young people and people that have not been able to fly before, want to fly and see the world, but our future that is at stake. If we don’t do everything in our power to reduce emissions now, we may not even survive on this planet. The more we do right now to save the climate, the bigger the chances are that they will have a world to explore in the future. Also, so many people are already suffering from the consequences of global warming, and they have not contributed to it, which is much more unfair.
The good thing is that giving up flying does not mean giving up traveling or experiencing things, it just means doing it in another way.
– What would you say to people who live in the States or in Australia but have families in Europe or Asia? How is it possible to stay flight free if you have family so far away from your base?
I do understand that it is much more difficult for people who have close family members on another continent to give up flying completely, and I am very grateful that I’m not in that situation myself. I would really like to be able to tell everyone they should go see their families as often as possible, but I can’t. The situation right now is so urgent, and it is the next few years that will determine the future of humanity, so try to see your family as little as possible right now (they will also suffer from the consequences of the climate crisis). As an example you can travel more rarely and stay away longer, and it is better if one person who lives abroad fly home to meet the family, then that the whole family fly to visit that single person. If you can travel by other means, do it!
– The problem with considering flying as the best option to travel, in my eyes, is that the prices are so high when traveling by boat, train or bus. Have you tried to reach private shipping / railways / coach buses companies to ask them if they could help your campaign by putting down their prices?
I agree that it is a big problem that flying often is cheaper, but the problem is not that traveling by other means is too expensive, the problem is that flying is too cheap, as aviation fuel is not taxed. Even more important than reducing prices on traveling by other means is to find political solutions to make flying cover its environmental costs, or even better, make regulations of how and when people can fly. Traveling for fun during an urgent crisis should not even be possible. Just like we have had to stop flying to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, we need to do it to prevent a climate collapse. Unfortunately, I don’t think we will be able to change the system unless more individuals realise what is at stake and show that they want a strong climate policy, and to achieve this our campaign is a powerful tool.
** Example In Greece and in Spain, if you compare the prices between taking the ferry (so bring your car along) and going by plane/rent a car, the 2nd is always way cheaper. Pledging flight free sounds like something only privileged people can advocate for. Which are your thoughts on that?
I agree that it is a problem that it is easier for privileged people to choose to be climate friendly (that the world is so unequal is a huge problem), but everyone who can afford to travel at all are very privileged from a global perspective. Unfortunately, going by car and ferry are not good options for the climate either, the best thing for the climate is to go by train, or bus when train is not possible. Or avoid traveling far completely and find experiences closer to home. I personally could not afford to travel abroad by train since I gave up flying but I’ve still had amazing holidays here in Sweden.
– It’s true that traveling changes us, it’s the best way to get educated, get to know other cultures and people with different cultures, see the world is something everyone wants to do. Harari in his book though writes that it’s a selfish need, I would say it plasmatic. What do you think? How do you see traveling?
I think that there are so many positive things about flying and I totally understand that many people would like to see the whole world. But at this point, when our future on this planet is at stake, and we only have a decade to cut the global emissions in half (or even better to zero), it is simply not possible to keep flying, no matter how much we would like to do it. It does not make sense to fly when people are dying from its consequences.
– How many people have been pledging flight free each year, since the beginning of your campaign? Do you see an increase in the number?
For 2019 around 15.000 people made the pledge here in Sweden. For 2020 26.000 people from many different countries made the pledge. How many that will pledge to be Flight Free in 2021 depends on how many of those who make the pledge that also engage in spreading the campaign. I would be grateful if everyone who reads this will help spread it by sharing on social media and by talking to everyone you know about the campaign. We would also like to publish flight free stories from people all over the world on our social media and websites. If you would like to do that or help us spread the campaign in other ways, please get in touch: email@example.com.
And don’t forget to make the pledge yourself https://flightfree.world/.
(Important note: There are 3 options for the current pledge: 1) For 2021, 2) Pledge flight free for leisure so to only travel for business / emergency reasons and 3) For as long as the climate needs this)
Thank you for your time and keep up the good work Maja!
A Rapid and Just Transition of Aviation
Shifting towards climate-just mobility