I’d like to take the opportunity to get some wiser brains than mine thinking on a bit of a dilemma I’m experiencing.
I regard myself as a person of faith, and I regard faith as something you should live in every aspect of your life and as far as my courage will hold that’s what I try to do.
I accept the scientific evidence for climate change, and for human behaviour being at the very least a substantial factor (and crucially one we can control) in causing it. I see the consequences of uncontrolled global warming as being pretty disasterous and particularly so for the poorest and most vulnerable in our world, who are already beginning to suffer, and will continue to suffer more and earlier, the effects of our poor caretaking of the planet. So climate change is an environmental issue and also, from where I’m standing, a social justice issue. As a Christian it also troubles my God-given conscience because we’re currently failing in our reponsibility to creation and to our vulnerable neighbours. And we’re basically doing so because its easy and we can and because the effects are at one step removed from us we can mostly just ignore our responsibility for them.
I’d like to take responsibility. I actually want to. I also think I have a duty to. I’d like government and industry and everyone else to take responsibility too, but the one thing I have direct control over is (some) of my choices. So I try to make better choices. Not always the best choices, I don’t always find the time or energy to even research what the best choices would be, but I do try to do better at least.
So enter flying. It’s about the worst thing one can do climate-wise. I don’t think we’re actually going to stop flying, and I hope ever more efficient (and even one day solar powered) planes will mean that we don’t really have to and can continue to get lots of the good, I mean really great, things we’re getting out of our global mobility, without drowning our poorer cousins and starving half the world to death. But, if we’re being straight with ourselves, the amount of flying we get up to in the developed world isn’t on. I never decided to ban myself entirely, but I decided a few years ago to try and ‘keep it down’. By now I’ve figured that within Europe if I can’t afford the time/money it takes to go overland then I can’t go. If I have to go to a work conference on the continent I’ll cover the time and price differential between the train and the low cost flight out of my leave and my personal funds and I’ll accept that’s what it takes to have a happy boss and a happy conscience. That still leaves long-haul. I’m likely to have to travel at least once to the States and possibly once to Israel to get this PhD finished. Maybe I’ll carbon offset those flights when it comes to it, even though I think offsetting is a nonsense and I slightly resent the idea that I can buy off my own conscience in that way. Probably I’ll square it with myself as something I can’t avoid, though I’ll always aim for the European conferences if I can get away with it.
Then comes the sideball. Since reducing my flying became an issue I’ve basically holidayed at home. It’s fitted my schedule and my friends and my budget and I’ve had fun. Then this year I get an invitation to Japan. I have a friend there teaching. He has a month off and I have the opportunity to do something properly exciting and a bit unexpected and drammatic and break what has been a fairly trapped feeling existence of late (trapped by work and stuff, not the avoidance of flying). To go I have to fly. I checked, the train would just take far too long, and be hugely expensive. If I never took a breather and never got off I could maybe get there, wave at my friend and head straight home utterly broke before I’d completely exhausted the leave I can scrounge for this. So if I go I’d have to fly, and there’s no excuse, nothing to be gained except a good time for me and a friend who’s asked for my company. I think probably the good and right thing to do is say I won’t screw the world just for a giggle. But (almost) everybody else is screwing the world just for a giggle and I resent just a little the idea I should miss out and face everybody looking at me like a gonk for saying I feel it would maybe be wrong to fly because they just don’t get it. Resentment is bad. And Japan would be awesome. Saying the plane is flying regardless is s**t that ignores the economic driver for fewer flights if we fly less for leisure. Carbon offsetting is a nonsense. This friend is a really nice guy and I’d have loads of fun. You shouldn’t ignore your principles just because it gets hard. Probably this holiday will do more for me than a conference in the US (and my research really won’t do anything more for the US at a conference over there than in a journal), but I’ve accepted I’d probably go to the conference . Nobody will understand and ….If I didn’t go and people did get why, it might make them think, which is what the world needs, lots of people thinking, though why would I inflict thinking about stuff on anyone I don’t know becasue now I’m really confused.
So the question is would it actually be wrong to fly? Is there any way of squaring it with my conscience and is bringing God into it relevant or melodrammatic. I fear this is one of those situations where I maybe know the answer and don’t want to accept it, but your thoughts would be welcome nevertheless.