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One of the best ways to reduce your carbon emissions is by quitting flying. It's by far the most environmentally destructive means of travel. Most of the time it's more energy efficient to travel by train, ship or car. And at a time when climate change is destroying life on earth, there just isn't room in the carbon budget to accommodate it. So we should all minimize the number of flights we take.
Now I'll be the first to admit I'm a hypocrite. I've flown a lot over the past few years. I'm certain I've flown more distance than the average American. And as I write this, several US states are setting daily record highs. Which is why I'm quitting flying effective as of this post. Not just for 1 year, not for 2 years, but until the climate crisis is averted or until there are environmentally friendly ways to fly. I realize that might seem bold of me, but ignoring the climate crisis seems even bolder.
I'm not the first person to make the decision not to fly. The flygskam (flight shame) movement started in Sweden in 2018. It was first popularized by Greta Thunberg. Later, a number of Swedish celebrities pledged not to fly further increasing the movement's popularity. It went on to spread across Europe. I encourage all of you reading to also pledge not to fly to help save the planet.
Since I believe in the principle of harm reduction, here's how to avoid excess carbon emissions if you do decide to fly despite flygskam.
Flying premium means you have more space than economy passengers do. But it also means you take up more floor space, making your carbon footprint several times greater than those who ride commercial. To avoid this, fly economy every time.
Private jets are bad for the same reason as flying premium is bad. But private jets are several times worse than flying premium, again because of the floor space per person. So don't use a private jet, if you're rich enough to afford one.
Some airlines offer carbon offsets. It's debatable how effective these are in actually offsetting emissions. But again, we're doing our best to focus on harm reduction after you've decided to take the flight. You can also buy carbon offsets from websites that aren't associated with airlines. Just be sure to do your research first to avoid getting scammed.
Now you might be wondering how practical it actually is to just not fly on planes. Can society function with far less air travel? Luckily the Covid-19 pandemic has given us a clue.
Because of Covid-19, airlines cut up to 95% of their trips in April of 2020. Now I don't know how sustainable that 95% is. But it at least shows that, no matter what the airline industry says, it's feasible to cut back massively on air travel. Another way of putting that is a lot of air travel going on right now is non-essential. And Covid-19 may have helped many of us frequent flyers realize that we don't actually need to fly and there are alternatives to flying. So take that into consideration next time you think about flying.
But maybe the environmental reason isn't good enough. After all, flying makes up less than 3% of total carbon emissions. Well if you live in the United States, I have one more bonus reason for you to avoid flying. That is, all the changes made to airports since 9/11. I'm agnostic with respect to how much this applies to other countries. But for the TSA, I recommend Bruce Schneier's blog post on Reassessing Airport Security where he spells out many good reasons that the airport security implemented since 9/11 is mostly a futile waste of everyone's time and money.
Now you might be thinking "So what if airports waste money on security. What does that have to do with me?". The answer is it affects your privacy and freedom in airports. Your bags and your person will be invasively searched by metal detectors and full-body scanners. You can be put on the no-fly list without being given a reason and without any real recourse.
The last time I flew, I felt like I was being interrogated by the TSA. They asked me questions which I can't imagine were relevant to their job. They also left a nice little note in my luggage letting me know they snooped through all my stuff and I didn't feel any safer for it. Actually, it made me feel less safe. It was a pointless charade of security theater.
So if you want to avoid your privacy being invaded, being under suspicion to thwart a threat that is one-fourth as likely as getting hit by lightning, then boycott flying. Again, I'm not the first person to think of rejecting flying because of freedom and privacy reasons. My Political Science instructor was the one who first put the idea in my head. After some research, I also found a post on Axis Of Logic calling for people to boycott flying to preserve their freedom. I'm not promoting Axis of Logic, but I do respect this particular article. The Boycott Flying link is dead, but you can still view the site archived by the Wayback Machine.
Whether you're a climate activist or you just care about your own personal freedom, you now have several good reasons to avoid boarding that next flight. For me personally, I care about the environment and my own personal freedom and privacy. I find both points of view individually convincing. So as I said before, I'm quitting flying altogether until the climate crisis is averted. If and when the climate crisis is averted, I'll probably avoid flights to places that I can reach by land until the TSA stops groping passengers.
I encourage you, dear reader, to join me by avoiding flying as much as you can possibly tolerate for the sake of your own freedom and for the sake of life on earth. Thanks for reading.
1: How Greta Thunberg and Flygskam Are Shaking the Global Airline Industry
2: Swedish Celebrities Quit Flying
4: Airlines Cut 95% of Flights
5: Reassessing Airport Security
6: Axis of Logic Article
7: Boycott Flying
Unless otherwise noted, the writing in this journal is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.
Copyright 2019-2021 Nicholas Johnson