Just one short-haul flight? The Telegraph’s correspondent was indignant, and so were the readers. “What kind of eco-Marxist insanity is this?” was the gist of most of the comments below last week’s piece about a suggestion that we restrict ourselves to just 1,500km of plane travel every three years.
Every three years? That seems generous. In the last ten years I’ve made just one return flight. Admittedly it was to the Canary Islands, which is 3,000km each way. That was in 2018. But choosing not to fly – for environmental reasons – hasn’t meant forsaking overseas trips. By ferry and train, I’ve travelled south to Ibiza, west to Portugal, east to Berlin and north to Oslo. They were fascinating and comfortable journeys with lots to see.
My sudden – some might say rash – pledge to give up air travel came at a time in life when I was jetting around the world endlessly. In the early 2000s, work as a travel writer meant I was flying long-haul every month or so. I went to Australia three times in one year. Not a bad gig you might think. But anxiety about my impact on the climate grew. Finally, in 2008, I had a Damascene conversion. I was in the Peruvian Amazon writing a piece for a magazine called ‘How to Spend it’, for those with so much money they don’t know what to do with it.
One morning, sun rising over the mighty river, dolphins leaping around me, I was overcome with emotion. It was a moment of transcendence such as I’d never experienced before and it came with a strong message: stop jetting here, there and everywhere. And so, since then, I haven’t. No doubt I’ll be accused of virtue-signalling and insanity in the comments below. But I am happier with myself. More content.
Thankfully, even among the apoplectic comments on last week’s story, there were one or two kindred spirits: “No one with a conscience flies that much for pleasure any more,” said one. He was cruelly mocked.
I’m not a hair-shirted zealot. Drastically reducing flying hasn’t stopped me enjoying life. I’ve discovered that slow travel – and living – is far more relaxing and pleasurable than the high life. Long-haul journeys always left me jet-lagged for days, my body-clock a wreck. Travelling by train and ferry instead gives one an appreciation of distance, the unfurling of the miles as the sun arcs across the sky. I’m discovering more of Britain too. The rugged scenery and splendid beaches of Wales and Scotland, the myriad islands around our shores with their seabird colonies and intriguing histories. In my jet-setting days, I went on safaris in Africa but I’d never spotted otters or puffins in the UK.
“It’s no hardship for you to stop flying, because you’ve already travelled the world,” you might say, justifiably. True, my historical carbon footprint is the size of a Yeti’s and I feel the need to make amends. Maybe it’s my Christian upbringing. I’m not suggesting that you stop flying if you don’t want but I do think that measures to limit aviation and promote overland travel, such as those in France, where domestic flights are being cut, are to be applauded. In my opinion this is wise stewardship of our shared planet, not an attempt, as some believe, to exert control.
If we want the planet to remain habitable for future generations, I believe we need to avert climate catastrophe by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Cutting back on flying is one small part we can play. And who knows what the future holds. Maybe in 50 years’ time we’ll be zipping around Earth in hyperloops or cruising in luxurious air-ships. I feel sure we won’t be taking off in fossil fuel-powered planes though.
I don’t have a car and don’t eat meat. I’m almost vegan. I don’t have children. I cycle and recycle. I live in a small space, a narrowboat. Yes, it has a diesel engine but I only cruise about 100 miles a year. Solar panels provide most of my domestic electricity and I hope they will power my propulsion one day too. Since I made all these changes, life has been richer and more rewarding. A quiet and simple – some might say ascetic – 3mph life, mostly in the countryside, brings me more contentment than racing around the planet eagerly seeking the next buzz. Call me mad if you like, but give the pared-back slow life a try before you do.