The travel diaries

13th December 2019

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This weekend I'm off to Dublin to see two old friends. It promises to be fun. At least, the bit when I am actually there will be – bookending the beers, banter and burgers is a painstaking 10-hour journey. This is because I'm not flying; as one of my pals says, I'm “doing a Greta“.

I'll get in the car at 3am tomorrow morning for the three-hour drive to the ferry port near Stranraer (no trains at that time in the morning). I'm then quite looking forward to a couple of hours aboard the boat, reading my book and drinking coffee. Then there are some ferry-to-train logistics to overcome – and then a two-hour train from Belfast to Dublin.

I'll do it all backwards on Sunday, leaving mid-morning in order to get back home by midnight. A flight would have bought me more time with my mates and saved me money – and also have been much, much easier to plan (booking trains across the border is incredibly difficult; I can only imagine what it'll be like after Brexit).

I have found the whole thing stressful. Eco-anxiety is now a thing, but in relieving my concerns about climate change, have I just added to my pile of everyday stresses (travel logistics and costs, time away from family, not enough time with friends)? At least I'll be saving carbon – though less than I'd hoped, given that solo six-hour round trip in the car. I do wonder how many other people would bother.

Take the government's workforce. In the Greening Government Commitments 2016 to 2020, the very first commitment (1a) under reducing greenhouse gas emissions is “Reduce the number of domestic business flights by at least 30% from the 2009 to 2010 baseline.“ The latest report, for 2017-18, showed a 28% reduction (4,800 fewer flights). Not bad. But look at the detail and the picture is more mixed. For example, 11 out of the 12 departments actually performed worse in 2017-18 than they did the previous year, with five reporting more flights than the baseline year.

There were excuses. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office cited “planning for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in 2018, as well as specific projects with the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development involving travel between London and Scotland (where much of DfID is based)“. Hang on: “Between London and Scotland“? By train it's around four hours from London to Edinburgh, and just over five to East Kilbride (where DfID has its offices). Why are so many people flying when there is a perfectly good train? Defra has seen a “reversal in performance“. In 2016-17, it posted a 29% reduction in domestic flights against a 30% target by 2019-20. In 2017-18, this had fallen to 14%. Defra staff numbers have swelled since the EU referendum – is Brexit fuelling climate change via increased flights? That's a bit of a leap, but the way things are going, the government is likely to miss its target. Defra's annual report for 2018-19 shows it has clawed back some of the gap, with flights down 19% compared to 2009-10, but it's a long way from 30%.

We have to be careful when we flight-shame. There is a difference between someone who flies without thinking it through – a study in the Journal of Air Transport Management, published in September, found that 48% of the flights taken by a group of frequent flyers were unimportant – and someone who doesn't have the time or money to avoid flying.

As the US-based nature writer Emma Marris tweeted earlier this year: “Don't shame people for making less environmentally responsible choices because they are broke, busy, stressed, etc. Our systems MUST change to make the green option the easier/cheaper option. Personal sacrifice, guilt and shame will never get us where we need to be.“ I'll be looking at political parties' manifestos to see how they will be helping me to fly less without the stress. Perhaps there will be time in the 10 or so hours I spend on public transport this weekend?

David Burrows is a freelance writer and researcher.

Picture credit: Shutterstock


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