I recently realised that my entire near term memory is taken up by Covid and lockdown. Contemplating experiences earlier than this, such as going to a festival, feels like remembering my time at school - memories of memories. So I was extremely grateful to be able to go on holiday to Greece last week with my close family and enjoy a good dose of sun, frappés and beaches. Just what the doctor ordered.
As it happens we got a lot of sun. Athens reached 41 degrees Celsius at one point while Hydra, the bougie island where I was staying, was only slightly better. Being outside in the middle of the day, away from the protective coat of air conditioning, was quite unpleasant, but this was a sidenote to a more harrowing story. When we arrived there had been some talk of wildfires but things quickly got worse and the North West of Athens started burning. While we were spared the smoke filled horizons that Athens residents had to endure, one of our evening meals was rudely interrupted by small amounts of ash raining down on us.
We all agreed that this was terrible (Yes, terrible). A taste of what's to come thanks to climate change (Quite right). Hopefully this is a wake up call (I'm nodding vigoruously at this point). See you next year then?
Wait, what? Are you sure this is a wake up call if that's your response? Don't you think that your travelling here on a plane is part of the problem? To me it seemed insane to be on holiday enjoying my ice coffee and air conditioned room while wild fires raged on in the distance. I felt as if I was desperately evading a reality which was screaming for my attention.
For this and other reasons I let the people I was with know that I would prefer not to return next year. While luckily most people were understanding, there was a recurrent rebuttal that went something along the lines of: 'You cannot live your life in fear and anxiety. Depriving yourself of any enjoyment because of them is (if you'll pardon the pun) unsustainable.' I would like to address that rebuttal here.
First of all, I am not depriving myself of anything. Don't get me wrong - I love reading and relaxing on a beach, but I don't need it to be happy. I'm just as content, if not more so, having a beer with friends at St Catherine, going on a hike or visiting the sewer museum (it is really bloody good).
I will gladly admit that I am anxious about the future. From what I have learnt about climate change since an early age, it has been clear to me that this will be a fight for a survival on both a personal* and civilizational level and one which neither I nor the governments of the world are prepared for despite recent pledges for net zero emissions. Given the circumstances I think any other mindset would be irrational, and the rational response to this feeling is to do something about it such as fly less and go on more carbon friendly holidays. In short, there is little nobel about my decision since I am not depriving myself of any luxuries and I know I will be happier if I live a life which is coherent with my fear of climate change.
My goal is not to guilt people for flying. It should never be up to individuals to change their behaviours in order to solve a systematic problem. We live in a sick society where we are constantly made to want to consume useless shit through advertising, and indeed not consuming can almost be seen as immoral. My mum pointed out that the residents of Hydra, like many other people around the world, rely on tourism and if we didn't go on holiday they would suffer - how perverse is that? Not consuming and polluting means the suffering the others, just as it does if you do. In case you're wondering, my solution would be to just give these people money. It's simplistic but that's what the Just Transition Fund is for and I'm sure we can find some money left over after we pay off the Poles.
I should also address another criticism which I would undoubtedly recieve at work were I to bring this up, which is that me not flying changes nothing. It's not just that my individual action is a drop in the ocean, it's that inter-EU flights are covered by the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). As explained in this position paper ('Should we restrict air travel for the sake of the climate?') 'a flight replaced means that an emission right costs less, that another emitter in the EU will purchase more rights, and that there will be no net reduction in CO2 emissions.' I'm not a homeopath so I won't argue with facts, but the issue is more nuanced than that. Trying to reduce my flying is a way of expressing the urgency of the problem that we are facing, and that lack of urgency is one of the reasons we have been so slow in addressing the climate issue. I should also stress again that I would feel better if I flew less.
I'm not saying that I will never fly again. I know that I'm unable to sustain that level of coherency. Even now as I clean up this draft I've noticed that I care less than I did when I initially wrote this 3 days ago. Growing up has however given me a better understanding of what I want in life and the confidence to pursue my goals and desires, of which avoiding flying is one of the latter. So I hope you look forward to next year's article, 'Glamping in Rochefort'!
* Admittedly I think that as a well off resident of Northern Europe it probably won't be a personal fight for survival. Given recent events in Liège it is however not unlikely that I will see where I live in flooded, which is a good reason to go for flats above the 2nd floor.