Flights are the fastest-growing polluter in transport, and 95% of the world’s population has never been on a plane. In his latest Going Green column Robert Butler asks: Do the rest of us have a right to fly?
Back in October 2006 Tony Blair gave a big speech about climate change in which he urged us to act now or the consequences would be “disastrous” and “irreversible”. He said nothing was more serious or more urgent. What was required—naturally—was leadership. Two months later he was asked if he was going to show some leadership by not flying to Barbados for his Christmas holiday. “I personally think”, he said, “these things are a bit impractical actually.”
He may be the first politician to turn his holiday in Barbados into a question of practicality. When it comes to flying, we split between those who believe asking individuals to rethink their choices is a bit impractical (ie, completely impossible) and those who believe, things being what they are, that there’s no longer a choice. The former prime minister’s leadership style didn’t include leading by example, but there’s an increasingly vociferous group of people who are doing just that—and a good number of them are artists. They are the flight refuseniks.
The first green voice to take against flying was Henry David Thoreau, author of “Walden”, who made a pre-emptive strike in 1861. “Thank God men cannot as yet fly”, he wrote, “and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.” The grandfather of today’s refuseniks is the artist Gustav Metzger, Holocaust survivor and student of David Bomberg, whose work last year “Reduce Art Flights” (or RAF) hit out at artists who measure their international success by the airmiles they rack up. Other artists, notably David Cross of Cornford & Cross, have given up flying. Cross also gave up his car in 1983, his television in 1985, his motorbike in 1989, his credit card in 2000, and his mobile phone in 2007.