Update: a lot has happened in the world since I wrote this post. I’m still committed to reducing my environmental impact, but a blanket ban on flying just places too many of the world’s problems on my own shoulders.
I have decided that I’m not going to fly on aeroplanes any more. We’re in a climate emergency, and this feels like an appropriate and proportionate decision to make in response.
The last time I flew was in March 2020, coming back from Belgium. In the three months prior I’d also been to Kuwait City, Barcelona, Reykjavik, and NYC. Given the glamour traditionally associated with international flights, it’s difficult to talk about this in a way that doesn’t sound like humblebragging. But I don’t particularly like flying: I don’t like airports, I don’t like not being able to stand up and move around regularly, I don’t like the recycled air, and I don’t like the food. What I do like is travelling to new places and meeting people face-to-face. From now on, with no planes, that’s only going to happen via train or automobile.
There are, of course, people who have flown a lot more than me, but if we look at the big picture I was definitely in the top 10% of flight-takers, and some years (like the one I spent 24 hours in Florida) I would probably be in the top 1%.
Prior to the pandemic, if I wanted to be paid for speaking at an event, I had to be there in person; remote keynotes were not very common, and where they did happen, they often commanded a lower rate. These days, especially as people realise the environmental impact of travel, I suspect that might have changed forever. At least I hope so.
This decision, of course, not only affects me professionally but personally as well. Team Belshaw enjoyed holidays in New England and Iceland in 2019 — two places it’s very difficult to get to from the UK other than by air. We’re also quite fond of Gozo, a little island just off Malta that we’ve visited six times in the last decade. Regardless, we’re going to have to find new places to holiday. At least, if I’m tagging along.
It’s important to note that while this decision may constrain the decisions other members of my family can make, I am not making decisions on their behalf. When I stopped eating meat in 2017, the rest of my family continued until my son came to his own decision to stop in early 2020. It was his prompting that got us both to stop eating fish in February of this year.
There is one exception to this decision: health emergencies. If a friend or family member is seriously ill, I will take the fastest form of transport to go and see them. Likewise, if I am seriously ill and need help in a specific place, I will consider flying for treatment.
Other than that, I’m done. I’m writing this mainly to point to for those who may ask me in future to attend an event that would have only really been feasible for me to fly to. But I’m also writing it as a public declaration to keep me honest when I see cheap flights advertised. (How can the UK government seriously be cutting air passenger duty after declaring a climate emergency?!)
So if I’ve sent you a link to this post because you’ve invited me to an event or gathering, thank you. I’m not declining to come because I don’t want to attend, but because, as Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”