Thursday 26 August 2010

Flying is brilliant - Restrain yourself

Whenever someone says to me 'I hate flying, planes are really bad [for the planet]' I always find myself thinking 'no, I like flying, it is a brilliant, liberating thing, its just a shame it is bad for the planet'.

It is incredible to think that if I really desperately wanted to and had enough time and money, I could book a flight, get a visa and get out to Pakistan by the weekend to help out in whichever I can with those suffering from the great flood at the moment. Pakistan that is, somewhere 4000 miles away! Somewhere like many other distant locations, that really need our help. Flying is a brilliant invention and is regularly used for a lot of good.

Just one example: I am reading 'Stones into Schools' at the moment. It is the follow up to 'Three Cups of Tea' by Greg Mortenson (photo). He has dedicated his life to humanitarian causes in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He promotes peace through 'books not bombs'. There is no way in this world he could achieve what he has achieved without the aeroplane. Thank-you aeroplane.

But, it has become environmentally (and by extension socially) irresponsible to fly, just as it is irresponsible to constantly upgrade one's gadgets or drive cars when the bus is a viable option. But I hate the approach of environmentalists who continue to try to demonise flying, telling people that everything about it is evil and bad, or they tell us that the 24 hour coach journey is always a better option, or that Leeds is just as nice to visit for a romantic weekend as Barcelona. It is not. It is just unfortunate that the side effects of flying are so damaging to the planet. But, for me, overall, flying is a means to enriching people's lives (and not just their own).

OK, sometimes the motivations for flying should be questioned, tied up as it is in escapism, status anxiety and runaway hedonism. A fall in the influence of these three on people's behaviour, would probably bring a natural fall in flying. Creating this fall is not going to be easy.

As environmentalists I don't think we should try to kid ourselves that aeroplanes are terrible, awful things, we should be honest and become exemplars and ambassadors of restraint. We must restrain ourselves from the temptations of flying, just like we try to restrain ourselves from alcohol, chocolate and cigarettes. True, it is often a lot of fun to travel overland and holiday more locally, but not always. If you need to go somewhere (like on holiday) cheaply and in a hurry, flying makes a lot of sense to a lot of people. To suggest otherwise makes you look slightly odd and very easy to ignore.

A shift to an age of restraint would require huge developments in maturity and selflessness throughout our population. At the moment we exist in a polar opposite age of infantalisation which breeds hyper-invidualism and countless environmental impacts. Cheap flights and a culture of 'live for today and let tomorrow worry about itself' is the embodiment of this, we should celebrate maturity and foster selflessness by helping people to grow up. Of course the cheap flight providers don't want this to happen. I flew back from a Global Footsteps conference on Saturday aboard an easyjet flight that offered to sell me as 'entertainment' the following choice of reading materials: Hello Magazine, Top Gear Magazine, or the Daily Mail. There is not going to be much critique of materialistic celebrity obsessed consumer culture in that lot!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good to see this celebration of flying. I like the un-hair-shirt message of restraint too.

There are limits to what education can achieve in terms of will, but I do think it can remove barriers, mental and physical. Part of the task of reconciling Brits to our uncertain weather is to educate ourselves about how to keep the wet away from our bodies and how to take advantage of the unique things that wet weather brings. Once you know how to do that, you're free. My other half and I go long distance walking in the spring and summer in all weathers. Some of my best memories have been the extremes. Bent double by the wind on the top of Haystack in the Lakes. Dropping below the cloudline into a complete other world on the way down. Going up Cader Idris in the snow. With a pair of reef sandals and waterproof trousers, Britain is a stunning place.

That's not for everyone, and so we reach the limits of what education can provide in terms of motivation. At which point there needs to be all-season resorts for people with younger and older families - or simply people who want to loaf. Warm, light, sunny places under glass. With entertainment. And we need to - at least initially - subsidise our tourist attractions to stay open all year round.