Wednesday, 9 July 2014

This is Generation Ecocide

I normally don't like to get publicly ranty about flying. I made a personal decision to stop flying (i.e. using aircraft) eight years ago, it seemed a no-brainer if I wanted to reduce my environmental impact which I did, and do.

Most of friends still fly, my family flys, [nearly] everybody I work with flys - I'm not surprised, I love visiting far-off locations and I love flying. I love the view out the window looking down on land and ocean from above, I love the kiss of strange warm air as you step out of the aeroplane, I love being able to travel across the globe in a few hours - transported as if by magic. When the daily grind wears a little more coarsely, the thought of a quick jet to exotic climes has a lot of appeal. But I don't fly because I made an ethical decision not to. (I've written about this before).

Choosing not to Fly

I decided early on though that I wasn't going to evangelise about the issues, people generally know the facts already - or at least enough of them to make their own ethical decision. If someone asks, I'll tell them the reasons for my choice, but their choice is, well, their choice. Even amongst permaculture friends and colleagues, who I might expect to feel more similarly to myself, I hold my tongue generally.

But in the last few weeks or months it seems that I've been offered, or have just seen, a few opportunities that have interested or excited me, but which I have forgone because to have pursued them would have meant flying and contravening my ethical decision. I've also seen others pursue these same opportunities and I guess that it's pissed me off a bit, which admittedly is my own business to deal with, we choose how we respond. But the further provocation of adverts for Easyjet everywhere I go has pushed me into being more vocal. The relentless promotion of short city breaks, the essential appeal to the 'ease' of 'jet' travel, and the new slogan 'This is Generation Easyjet' which makes these cheap flights, signifiers for a lifestyle group to which we are encouraged to identify - these have all also pissed me off. Everytime I see 'This is Generation Easyjet' I think 'This is Generation Ecocide' - so I detourned one of their ads to make the above image (from a French ad which relates (celebrates?) holidays in the sun to being addicted to natural antidepressants) and shared it on Facebook.

One response in the comments to my Facebook post was 'Generation Ecocide? For going on holiday? Really?' and that provoked me into longer comment on the issue of flying, so the below is my attempt to answer the commenters question.

Choosing not to fly, if you currently do, can produce a significant reduction in your personal carbon footprint (minimum effort for maximum effect).

(It doesn’t matter if this flying is for holidays, work, exciting teaching opportunities etc.)

• What is ecocide?

‘Ecocide is the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.’
(proposed amendment to the Rome Statute, by Polly Higgins of Eradicating Ecocide, April 2010)

• Does climate change cause ‘extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory’?

‘In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems  on all continents and across the oceans’
(IPCC, ‘Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’)

• Do greenhouse gas emissions contribute to climate change?

‘Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.’
(IPCC, ‘Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis’)

• Is flying a significant generator of greenhouse gas emissions?

‘Aircraft emit gases and particles directly into the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere where they have an impact on atmospheric composition. These gases and particles alter the concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide CO2), ozone (O3), and methane (CH4); trigger formation of condensation trails (contrails); and may increase cirrus cloudiness-all of which contribute to climate change’
(IPCC, ‘Aviation and the Global Atmosphere: A Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’ (1999))

• Is flying to go on holiday a significant generator of greenhouse gas emissions?

Average greenhouse gas emissions per air passenger:

- Domestic Flights (166.9 gCO2e/pkm)
- Short-haul Flights (95.2 gCO2e/pkm)
- Long-haul flights (109.0 gCO2e/pkm)

(DEFRA, 2012 Guidelines to Defra / DECC’s GHG Conversion Factors for Company Reporting: Methodology Paper for Emission Factors)

Therefore a return flight London to Naples (1617km x2 = 3234km) produces per passenger: 539,754.6 gCO2e (0.539755 metric tons of CO2 equivalent)

A return flight London to New York (5,572km x2 = 11,144km) produces per passenger:  1214,696 gCO2e (1.2147 metric tons of CO2 equivalent)

• What’s a ‘safe’, equitable, annual carbon emission total for an individual?

‘to achieve a 450ppmv concentration target, average carbon emissions per capita globally need to drop from about 1 tonne today to about 0.3 tons in 2100.’

(IPCC, IPCC Third Assessment Report: Climate Change 2001: Working Group III: Mitigation)

So: if you’re still flying, that alone constitutes an un-sustainable lifestyle, using more than your fair share of the atmospheric commons and contributing to ecosystem degradation and the death of living systems, ecocide.

TL:DR  If you're not 1 planet living, you're contributing to our one planet dying.

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