Greta Thunberg just sailed from the UK to the US on a compact, carbon-zero yacht. Mostly she is being lauded for her activism and personal commitment. Some grumpy ones are less enthusiastic, seemingly missing the point and looking for any excuse to pull her down. So let’s get some things out of the way.
Greta Thunberg did not sail to save a few hundred kg CO2e from 1 person's flight, but so that you in your millions would question flying. https://t.co/JSi9ANv914— flyingless (@flyingless) August 29, 2019
My opinion is that people in the climate movement should do everything they can to reduce their own personal emissions.— Dr. Genevieve Guenther (@DoctorVive) August 16, 2019
I am persuaded by the research showing that our doing so increases our public credibility and inoculates us against the charge of moral hypocrisy.
That is about culture change and how we achieve it.
I’ve written before about why flying is a major climate issue beyond the simple carbon cost of individual flights. The people leading from the front on climate activism have that analysis firmly in mind when saying we need to stop flying so much. I don’t think the point here is to shift from flying at will to no flights. It’s about learning the systems involved and being willing to change our behaviours as part of a big societal shift. Just like we will have to learn about the pace of driving an electric vehicle that needs more time to fill up than a petrol car, we need to learn how to travel more slowly and deliberately, and less often.
Greta’s journey was an invitation into a conversation about how to do that. One of the key points we need to get to grips with fast is that we cannot offset non-essentials. We are so far along the track now that we need all the tree planting to repair the damage from what we have already burned. Future carbon budgets should be prioritised for what really matters. What that looks like depends on what we do now. Maybe it means expats still get to go home to visit family every couple of years, or maybe it means we have only enough leeway to fly in medical supplies or send aid.
At the moment, most people aware of the need for change are still relying on green tech to obviate the need for radical change, and see our lifestyles as being able to continue on much as they are now. People like myself believe that we will eventually be forced to Powerdown by the climate itself and that it’s better to do this now while we have the resources, time and stability to do it well. Maybe our future lies somewhere in between.
Greta’s invitation to change what we are doing is in our hands. We can work with what is in front of us, and remember that there are commensurate benefits in the short term as well. This isn’t about deprivation, it’s about learning how to live well as we change. People are already starting to talk about how slow travel increases quality of travel and life.