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To Fly or Not to Fly

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

Anne-Sophie debates the issues around flying and its impact on the planet. She herself is a Swiss-French-Norwegian student so inevitably flies frequently in life. In this article she gives an overview of the impact of flying and a discussion on the decisions we face, particularly as an international student.

Whether to keep our habits of flying off to Barcelona for a concert, flying to Paris to visit a friend on Erasmus or even go home for Christmas has become a hot topic in the recent months. As we become aware of the urgency of climate change and of the behaviour change we need to adopt in order to limit global warming, some efforts seem easier than others. This is an issue which makes me particularly uncomfortable as I am a Swiss-French-Norwegian young woman studying in the UK. You can only imagine my yearly carbon footprint. Flying is a luxury most of us have grown accustomed to, questioning our very lifestyle triggers somewhat of an identity crisis.

In this article I will try to explain not only why it is crucial to change our behavior but why it does not mean that we should stop travelling all together.

The aviation sector: environmental impacts

In 2016, aviation was accountable for 3.6% of the total EU28 greenhouse gas emissions. This statistic may not seem like such a significant number; however, it is only the tip of the iceberg hiding a much bigger issue. The number of flights is expected to grow by 42% from 2017 to 2040 according to the European Aviation Agency.  A frightening increase in energy use which does not make sense in a world where we keep pushing the boundaries of a planet with limited resources.

Although the evolution of technology has helped improve the efficiency of planes by reducing the carbon footprint per flight, the noise and light pollution has an increasing impact of wildlife and on human’s wellbeing.

The environmental impacts can clearly not be ignored anymore. Nonetheless, in our crusade to sanction aviation we should not be too quick to demonise it and end up overlooking the multidimensional realities related to flying.

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Flying less shouldn’t mean we can’t travel anymore

The value of flying

The democratization of flying has had enormous positive impact which should not be overlooked. For the “Easyjet generation” flying has helped bring cohesion and peace in Europe. By bringing individuals closer we have a better understanding of each other’s culture and realities. It helped individuals realize that the life of someone in Greece is not that different from the life of someone in the UK. We watch the same movies, listen to the same artists.

We all go to work or to university, face the same struggles to find employment and wonder what our future is made of. It has allowed us to work together, pushing the boundaries of innovation by allowing people to travel and share valuable knowledge, skills and experiences. It has helped us realize that we are part of the same world, all interconnected by our human existences and our shared global environmental issues.

Thanks to flying, the European Union is not just an abstract concept but something tangible and understandable by everyone.

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Flying is usually integral as an international student

The future of travelling

People are not and should not stop moving and discovering new horizons, but the way we do it has to change.

Take the train or boat when possible. Depending on your destination, sometimes it is not only more environmentally friendly to take the train but also faster! It is a lot less stressful than having to go to the airport early, go through security and the endless “tax-free” zones in order to travel. You can take a train or bus anyway to get to the city center, across borders and pretty much anywhere.

It is sadly often more expensive to travel by train. However, encouraged by the global green movements happening around the world in past years, governments and companies are starting to get the message and bring out more affordable offers. There is still a long way to go to having affordable tickets, but it is a start. Pressure should continue to be put onto finding less carbon greedy alternatives such as hydrogen planes or solar planes. This, paired with political awareness of the need to have more affordable train tickets and maybe find a way, which would not limit the freedom of movement of ones with less financial means, to have plane tickets with prices which account for the negative externalities associated with them.

All in all

It is not about stopping to fly altogether but have a reality check about what is indispensable for us. Sometimes we travel for work and must get to places quickly, we live abroad and need to see our families, or just have hopeless wanderlust and consider it necessary for our wellbeing. We all must be aware of the impacts of the decisions we take. We weigh the pros and cons and ask ourselves how we can travel in a more sustainable manner?

There aren’t easy answers to these questions but limiting flying where we can would be a starting point.

About the Author: Anne-Sophie is a Swiss-French 3rd year university student in Human Geography and Environment at the University of York. She is passionate about sustainability and the opportunities raising from its challenges. She follows that passion wherever it leads her. You can find her Instagram @thehungrytravellingsisters.  

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