No fly zone: I didn't catch a plane for a year and saved 19 tonnes of Co2

(The Guardian, 4 Nov 2019) A year without air travel taught me the path to carbon neutral won’t be easy, but I learned I could inspire others to act.

What is the single thing that you could do that would most reduce your carbon footprint? Take your bike to work rather than your car? Dig up your lawn for a vegetable garden? For me, an academic scientist living and working in Auckland, New Zealand, I reasoned that the most significant thing I could do was to stop flying.

In 2017 I flew 84,000km. I made twenty day trips to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city. I travelled to the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia to attend conferences and work on joint projects with other scientists. All of this made me accountable for around 19 tonnes of carbon dioxide that year, nearly three times that of the average Kiwi.

I was flying as if I didn’t believe in climate change. Even though I am not a climate scientist this was not a good look, so I committed to not getting on a plane at all in 2018.

Globally, aviation accounts for something like 2-3% of greenhouse gas emissions. While it is not our largest problem, it is one of the most carbon-unfriendly activities that we individually have control over.

My pledge not to fly garnered a variety of reactions. Cynics would almost immediately point out that my plane would fly anyway and conclude that my gesture was just empty virtue signalling. This is a variant on the argument that New Zealand’s farming sector often falls back on: if we cut our dairy production, someone else will gratefully pick up the slack.

This is only true if no one else follows your lead. For my year, if I could persuade 300 other people not to get on that plane, then it wouldn’t fly. Tonnes of carbon would stay in the ground. So as I criss-crossed my beautiful country by train, bus, and ferry, I shared #nofly2018 on social media.

External link

The Guardian, 4 Nov 2019: No fly zone: I didn't catch a plane for a year and saved 19 tonnes of Co2