Anna Hughes, vegan and director of Flight Free UK, discusses the importance of taking action for the environment through our diets and our travel choices.
It’s widely acknowledged that a vegan diet is many times lower in carbon emissions, water use and land resources than eating meat, so it follows that the motivating factor for many vegans is reducing their impact upon the environment. There are lots of other things we can do to reduce our emissions in addition to being vegan, such as using green energy, avoiding fast fashion, limiting our family size and not driving. Probably the biggest impact thing to add to this list is to stop flying: the quickest and easiest way to reduce your emissions.
The Flight Free UK campaign inspires people to fly less by taking a year off flying. We see it as the Veganuary of aviation: a short-term challenge that can lead to longer-term behaviour change. It's about breaking a habit, seeing what else is out there, and trying different ways of doing things. Taking a year off flying doesn’t mean you can never fly again – but it can inspire a different way of thinking, and can lead to a reduction in flights in the future.
In the same way as being vegan doesn’t mean starving or being forced to eat only lettuce leaves, not flying doesn’t mean not travelling. There are many other ways to travel that are much less polluting than aeroplanes: roughly speaking, train travel has a tenth of the emissions of flying, and coach travel is around a sixth. Ferries are pretty low emission too, especially if you travel as a foot passenger or with a bike. With the whole of Europe on our doorstep, there are so many holiday destinations to choose from – check out our website for inspiring tales of journeys without flying to destinations near and far. In addition to European travel, there are stories of train journeys across China and boat journeys across the Atlantic ocean. The thing that links all these stories is how much of an exciting, enriching journey it can be when you don't fly.
It’s important to acknowledge our impact upon the planet. Our consumption and emissions here in the west are unsustainably high; if everyone lived as we do in Europe, we’d need three planets to sustain us. In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that to avoid climate breakdown we need to limit our personal emissions to just 2.3 tonnes CO2 each, per year. Much of the global population is already below that figure. But here in Europe, our average carbon output is 7 tonnes. When we consider that our holiday flight to Tenerife (per passenger) emits nearly a tonne of CO2, a return journey to New York stands at almost 2 tonnes, and winging it to Australia generates around 5 tonnes, we can see that there’s not much room for flights in a sustainable future.*
There are many things that keep us flying: for one, there's no tax on aviation fuel which keeps flights artificially cheap. Campaigning to make alternative transport cheaper and more accessible, with more services and better booking systems, is a key part of this. Perhaps in the future there will be a green way to fly, with electric planes and sustainable fuels. But that doesn’t help us right now, and now is when we need to take action on the climate.
We have a lot more power as consumers than we sometimes realise, and a large part of the Flight Free campaign is about bringing people together to create a social shift. Five years ago, if you asked for a vegan dish in a restaurant, the best you might hope for would be a puzzled look and a side salad. Now, you get an entire menu! The same can apply to the way we travel. In recent years, the climate impact of aviation has become much more talked about, and as a result some domestic flight routes across Europe have been cancelled, train routes and night trains reintroduced, and airport expansions refused. We as consumers can drive these changes: the way we live our lives can be a political statement as well as simply a lifestyle choice. Most vegans can probably identify with this.
The year 2020 has been an unusual one in many ways, and perhaps this forced period of staycations and remote working has shown us that we needn’t rely on flights as heavily as we once did. Crucially, we’re at a crunch point for our planet, with less than a decade to slash our emissions in half, and being climate aware has never been more important. More and more people are choosing not to fly for climate reasons. Could you join them?
By Anna Hughes director of Flight Free UK
For more information about the climate impact of flying and the Flight Free UK campaign, visit the website.
*emissions data from flightemissionmap.org
Photo: Anna Hughes
The views expressed by our bloggers are not necessarily the views of The Vegan Society.