When we put together the preview edition of Transition Free Press, one of our first Talkback pieces was on the highly contentious, high carbon taboo subject of flying – a sticking point for many people engaged in radical energy descent. As the spectrre of The Third Runway has again loomed into view, here is Chris Hull, co-founder of Transition Norwich, on why he gave up his addiction to flying and what it brought him in return.
I fell in love with a city, located 3000 miles from home, and I became addicted. Each time I left my other place, I longed to go back. I felt an immediate sense of aliveness and vibrancy on arriving, and each time I returned home to Norwich I felt empty again. Something was missing.
Over a period of years, this resonance with my other home was so strong that I began to wonder whether I really belonged there. The thought of upping sticks passed through me more than once, but tugging against it were all my family and friend and campaigning connections in Norwich. After a process of examining what it was that attracted me, I began to realise what was going on.
Not long after this in 2005 I was unexpectedly elected as a Green Party County Councillor, and with it a whole set of new responsibilities and transparency of values kicked in. By this time the awareness of flying in aeroplanes as a destructive pastime had really taken hold – and so now, I was faced with another dilemma. Having let go of the idea of moving home and country, and promised myself I could survive and keep my attachment going by annual visits, I was now faced with the shame of knowing how destructive such visits would be, given the necessity of travel by air.
Here I need to digress a little. Volumes have been written on the ifs and buts of flying, some of it sound, and some of it highly misleading. The essence of air travel is speed and distance – that’s the whole point of it. Anything travelling at high speed and over a long distance will use extremely large amounts of energy.
Try pushing a car. Then try pushing a jumbo jet. Then imagine this jet being propelled at 500 m.p.h. for hundreds or thousands of miles. Actually in my case, travelling to my special place involves, per person, about 3.5 tons of emitted CO2. So getting on this aeroplane and traveling for about 6 hours each way, I, personally would be responsible for emitting the same amount of CO2 as my house now emits in 7 years. To make matters even worse (for my conscience), there is something called the ‘forcing factor’ when emissions are made at high altitude – which roughly translated means that carbon emitted at altitude, has 2.7 times the effect as that same emission would have on the ground. Put another way, this one trip would involve more carbon emissions than an average Tanzanian in their entire lifetime. And when it is widely regarded that a truly sustainable, long term, per person per year emission rating is 1.1 tons, there really was no way I was going to continue my addiction.
So then began the painful process of letting go of my attachment to this place, and of the dear friends I had made there. Actually, I still feel connected with my friends, thanks to the wonders of e-mail and Skype. The whole process has helped me realise just how difficult it is for us as individuals to kick the carbon habit, and how, over time, our lives have become dependant to such a degree on using energy and carbon. It wasn’t exactly like coming off an addiction to ice-cream, more like coming out of a relationship. Sometimes I still feel that pang to impulsively arrange a trip. But then I really do get that image of struggling sub-Saharan people in drought areas, partially brought about by our addiction to carbon and guzzling energy (no co-incidence that all the major NGOs working in those areas campaign vigorously on climate change issues).
Oh yes, and I’ve grown to really appreciate Norwich too!
My special place, by the way, is Boston – that’s Massachussetts, not Lincolnshire.
Image: Greenpeace-owned land in Sipson village next to Heathrow airport