I came to the understanding that flying was dangerous to our climate during 2019.
In October that year, I made a trip to Western Australian wildflower fields. What I saw there completely blew me away: remnant nature in all its glory. Driving through the forests, I was stopping the car every 100m because some new wonder had come into view. After 20 years in Victoria, I have never seen anything like this over here. Even Victoria is a revelation to me: that there are places unlike the deforested and farmed Scottish hills I grew up with, changed irrevocably by man, and that the beauty of unspoilt nature has not gone from this world. However, I think of WA as a Great Barrier Reef on land.
I want to return every year, however I have decided not to fly in 2020 and wonder if I can every justify seeing it again.
I read during my trip about how desperately dry Perth’s climate had become. The Water Corp’s promotion of water saving “Climate Change is Real”, explains that since the 1970’s, Perth’s rainfall has reduced by around 20%. It pushed home to me how current the climate emergency is. We don’t need to look at the fires here, the floods elsewhere, the sea ice melt, the methane exposed, the insect annihilation, the bird life gone, the acidifying of the ocean and the glaciers gone. We just need to look at long term dryness of the land and we know this ends in disaster. The IPCC calls this, drily, “significant reductions in agricultural production and severe consequences for ecosystems and some rural communities”. This means parts of our food bowl, natural flora and insect life give way to desertification and barren landscapes.
I went to WA excited about a holiday, but with a sense of depression that our government was not acting on our pressing need to reduce our emissions. I returned quite changed!
I had been following Greta Thunberg’s flight free travel to the climate conferences and the Swedish Flight Strike and it prompted me to research the carbon emissions my flight to Perth created. I was shocked, when I visited Find out how much co2 your flight will emit, that the CO2 emissions from my Melbourne—Perth return flight, at 480kg of CO2, exceeded the overall CO2 emissions for the annual life needs of an average person in 37 countries round the world.
So in 2020 I promised myself I would lower my emissions and see the beautiful nature within my reach from Melbourne. I would not shun what is close and fly over it; not go with the flow with friends and partners holiday intentions and enjoy what others from other parts of the world value here.
Summer plans a day-to-day prospect
I made my plans for summer: Driving through Gippsland to Croajingolong National Park in January and to Kangaroo Island in February. With two in our car, these trips will also create emissions, but given the multiplier effect of burning fuel in the air compared to on the ground, they will be less and we will not fly to Asia, I will not see my family in Europe this year, and I will not be flying for sports events. These are low carbon alternatives for me.
As I planned my holiday, New South Wales was already burning. I considered it unlikely there would be an impact. How wrong was I? In a regular fire season that we have become familiar with, the heroic local fire fighters can contain fires locally. But we had forgotten how deeply dry our land has become. We had forgotten that lightning strike rates have increased with even the 1% of warming globally. And we’d forgotten that hazard reduction has struggled to go ahead in the new climatic conditions.
And then Batemans Bay and Mallacoota were devastated by fire. This has been the most awful start to the year. I am horrified by what we have seen in our own state. As I sit and write in Melbourne the smoke is thick around us and we are getting a taste of the destruction that has gone on in the disaster zones 300km distant. Tennis players are choking on the air and running for oxygen, millions of animals have died with whole species decimated, and the sky is grey on a “sunny” day.
And Kangaroo Island has burned. 60% of it, I’m told by my upcoming host. She urges me still to come, and we will. Everyone is worried about their jobs, she tells me. Kangaroo Island is very dependent on tourists. The campaign to “bring an empty esky” and support the local businesses has not gone unnoticed, and that’s what we’ll be doing.
I look forward to my trip and my year without flying in 2020. Where next? The Grampians? Mel-Sydney by train? Echuca? The Spirit of Tasmania?
— Alex Mungall