When I first found Todd on Instagram, I couldn’t believe it. “Someone who is still paying off a debt because of the expensive studies to become a pilot, actually left his dreamjob and fights now against the aviation industry? It can’t be!“, it’s what I said to myself… but then I contacted him and I realized he is so genuine, he speaks with his heart and he is very passionate. Do you realize the guts this person has? The courage, the strength…
Later on, I saw that he initiated Safe landing, along with other former workers and workers of the aviation industry and I was amazed by their group and their campaigning. These people must get popularity. Because I hear so often people telling me “I can’t stop flying because I love traveling so much” and I get it, because I do love it too but when are we going to acknowledge that it’s a selfish “need” and it’s highly detrimental to the ones who never get on a plane? Only when it’s going to be too late? If the very people who are making a living from that industry have the courage to not only stop flying as passengers but also change their careers, then what’s the excuse of all the other people who just want to keep traveling for their enterrtainment?
Todd’s story is very inspiring, because he first went vegan and then left his dreamjob…for the sake of the environment. Todd developed feelings of compassion towards non human animals after going plant based for health reasons and that’s what the Earth needs, more people who are not afraid to do radical changes in their lives and through those changes become better versions of themselves and an example for everyone.
The planet needs more doers like Todd.
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When did you decide to leave your job as a pilot and what trigger motivated you to take that decision?
The main reason I decided I could no longer do that job anymore is actually a series of events. The main thing was a conflict I experienced in South America, at a mountain in Peru called the Rainbow mountain, that’s 100 meters lower than Everest’s base camp where the snow had melted on top…while listening to the local guide telling us that Peru is the first country who is affected by the climate crisis and that was really a bitter sweet experience for me because on the one hand I could see a beautifully coloured Rainbow mountain but the reality is that it should be still covered by snow but since the snow has melted, they discovered its colourful beauty…
So, that was the beginning of me to start questioning the industry for which I was working and my job’s impact not only to the environment because of climate change but also through mass tourism because I had a very similar experience in South Asia (Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam) where you can see just tourists everywhere decimating the local wildlife…You see everywhere more McDonalds, more Costa Coffees…
Thus, when I came back to London, lots of protests were happening back then, it was when Extinction Rebellion emerged, among other movements so I felt compelled to understand the science. Meanwhile, I was bitten by a tick and diagnosed with Lyme disease which is quite a horrible illness…it was affecting my brain, my bones and my heart. I thought I would be quite seriously incapacitated for the rest of my life but very luckily the antibiotic treatment was very effective and in combination with the early diagnosis I recovered for that but it transpires that Lyme disease has become much more prevalent in the UK because of our warmer winters and hotter summers so this was another direct link to climate crisis.
However, it wasn’t until the pandemic happened, that’s when I really decided enough is enough. I could no longer continue to just stand by and not say anything, not speak my truth. So that’s when I became an activist with Extinction Rebellion and I just wanted to raise awareness around the lies from the industry and the government so that both aviation workers and the general public could understand a real impact.
What else have you done in order to align your values with your daily actions and when did these changes take place / what other decisions for your future have you taken for that matter?
When I had my medical revoked it was initially due to bad stomach and one of my doctors suggested that I stopped consuming animal products, so I started adopting a plant based diet six days per week, so during the first weeks I was doing that, I decided to watch some documentaries regarding the damage of the animal agriculture industry to the environment and the health implications of the consumption of animal products and I decided to go fully plant based and eventually after several months I continued to watch documentaries and I developed a new sense of compassion for the animals which I didn’t have previously and that led to me identifying as a vegan. This period was a process that helped me align my morals with my actions at that time and this also helped me understand the systemic issues and how the system has far reaching consequences on the planet and the biodiversity.
Now I have stopped flying not only as a pilot but as a passenger either and that has been one of the hardest sacrifices because I really do love flying, I love being in the air… I wanted to do it in my entire life so that’s difficult but the climate crisis is much bigger than anyone’s job title so somebody has to do something which is aligned with the Earth’s planetary boundaries and not enough people are doing it, in the aviation industry, so that’s why I decided to go down the path I have taken.
Other decisions for my future: I am now considering to move to some land and grow my own food. I need to learn some new skills and I think that as a community we need to relearn some forgotten skills and reconnect with the land, develop a relationship with mother Earth that I feel has been lost.
How have your loved ones reacted to these radical changes of yours?
None of my immediate family, or friends, really have had the capacity to spend as much time studying and understanding the climate and ecological crisis, as I have, or they haven’t seen it as much as a priority as I have, and, they find it quite difficult to understand some of my decisions but they know I am my own person and overtime they have softened and become more empathetic to what I am doing but it’s still a challenge but I know a lot of it is not personal, it’s more a collective denial that we find ourselves in, in this civilization currently, but it continues to improve and we continue to see progress in the collective understanding albeit too slow and obviously due to co-option by the corporations but I think they are more accepting what I am doing now, however it’s still a process and not an easy one.
Do you receive hatred from ex colleagues because of you being vocal against the industry and you no longer supporting the aviation?
I certainly did receive hatred and I was bullied. I was very unpopular to quote the science that I was quoting and share the articles that I was sharing, but I think that over the last 2-3 years the aviation workers have become more open to talking about these things.
Furthermore, I have also in some ways experienced some shame because perhaps now it’s not popular to say at a party for example that you are a pilot whereas in the past it was. I am still a symbol for many of my former colleagues and I have the ability to trigger them severely although its not my intention…But I also understand why. You build an identity around that job title and someone that represents my perspective can feel threatening. It’s got better of course but there’s still work that needs to be done.
Other former colleagues are approaching you in order to get some advices because they are also worried for contributing to the climate crisis by keeping their jobs?
That’s basically how our group “Safe landing” emerged! Naturally I was meeting other aviation professionals who either had studied environmental science in the university or had an awareness of the impact of the climate breakdown and we thus started to form a group and talk about these issues, the science, the limits of technology and the dangers of growth as well as about how we could support long term employment because we saw massive job losses during the pandemic and the poor treatment of the employees. Ultimately we believe that if the industry continues to grow, then we will see a much bigger crash to the job market because the policy will finally catch up with the science and if we continue to allow the growing of the industry while not getting prepared for the carbon budget which is running out, then the industry will suffer and it could be changes to the international law and we will face legal challenges so I think it’s a significant risk to airline industry and long term career opportunities so I believe that workers have the right to know. Safe Landing is a group campaigning for long term employment and we do this by challenging industry leaders to conform with climate science and reject dangerous growth.
Do you believe that there is any way that the aviation industry can truly become sustainable?
I think it’s possible for any industry, any service, to be sustainable potentially, but we have to think holistically about all the other industries, all of their resources (where do these resources come from etc) and that’s not a simple process obviously. The reality is that in the next few decades there is no possibility for the aviation industry to become truly sustainable because even if in twenty years time, we had hydrogen aircraft which can’t fly as far as the current long haul aircraft but could fly medium range, in twenty years time, so that’s 2042…then even the planes that we make until that year they will be flying for another 25 years, so that’s 2067 and we are still flying double the amount currently we have of fossil fuel powered aircraft and there is no way that we can scale up the production of hydrogen or other alternative fuels, without burning more fossil fuels, because we just do not have the renewable energy capacity to even supply basic services such as hospitals, housing etc. so we shouldn’t be prioritizing a luxury form of transport when most of the world’s people (over 80%) have never been on a plane and they are the ones suffering most right now.
The short answer is: there cannot be a truly sustainable aviation for the majority of my lifetime, if not all of my career, in the context of the remaining carbon budget, in the context of us certainly going to pass the +1,5 Celsius degree, there’s a lot of tipping points that are already been bridged , that’s what the data is showing so I think we just need to degrow the industry, first and foremost, and if we do that, then we might be ought to ensure that in the future, when there is genuine technology available with the remaining carbon budget because of proven restoration of nature, natural carbon sinks, biodiversity increase and we might then be able to reconsider how we can then continue to fly in the future.
Unless we take the right actions now, then, there may not only be an aviation industry existing in the future, but there won’t be a habitable planet either…
What’s your opinion on carbon offset? Is it something to sugarcoat a sin or does it really minimize the damage?
Carbon offsets are extremely dangerous for many reasons, they lead to land grabbing and it’s been proven they have completely been ineffective. It’s a fraudulent way – in my opinion- of coercing a conscious consumer, someone who cares about the planet and that might still be flying, by offering them the option to offset their ticket when it’s actually ineffective. It’s a deception to that person, who is actually trying to do something good, and pay extra money, when the reality of what they (the industry) are doing is irresponsible and a form of corporate eco-side, in my opinion. So, absolutely no carbon offsets should be recognized as a mitigation measure. We need real tangible carbon emissions reductions and the only way to achieve that now is to reduce the amount of flying. That’s currently occurrent.
Have you organized a massive plantation of trees somewhere in order to carbon offset some of your emissions due to your former job as a pilot?
The short answer is no, because even if we were planting trees for every single ton of carbon for every single person’s carbon footprint for their rest of their lives, there is just not enough space on the planet for all these trees to be planted. So many companies like Shell are trying to deceive us by saying they will plant a forest while we continue to burn fossil fuels…Microsoft actually offset their emissions by planting a forest which actually burnt down in the wildfires that took place in the so called north America, so, I think once I understood the reality of the crisis, I have made enough personal sacrifices and I don’t need to become a holy person…I can only try my best within the limitations and capacity I have and so far I feel I am doing as I can, with my mental health, my debts and my ability to be somehow effective as an activist, so, of course I would love to move on to the land, and get involved to some rewilding projects, and of course to plant some trees, but probably not on the scale that I would ever offset my carbon footprint of my lifetime’s emissions, which I don’t even know how much it is exactly. I know I will continue doing my best within the capacity that I have, within this current system that we live where we are all guilty because we have been born into a system which is inherently dependent on fossil fuels.
Of course I recognize that my emissions are much greater than anyone’s of the majority, and in that regard I continue to try and build relationships and solidarity with our international family and our brothers and sisters and that’s a new era of my life I am currently focused: to build true solidarity and meaningful relationships with brothers and sisters around the world, who are suffering the most, and decolonize my mind, understanding colonization so that I can understand my own biases and be effective in what I do.
Thank you Todd for your time to answer the questions, thank you for the radical change you had the guts to do in your life, and thank you for being vocal. I appreciate your advocacy deeply and I wish you well.