Why I Stopped Flying – and Why I’m Quitting Again

I had finally made my choice: never, ever would I have to fly again, in my life. The climate-conscious me high fived with my flight-traumatized self. Ahh. As easy as that – train travel, here we come! Two weeks later, by a lake in the Swedish countryside, I heard myself faintly pointing out “Umm, Los Angeles you said? That’s…pretty far…from here.” My newfound love nodded. “Yes. Pretty far. It’s pretty far from here.” Never flying again? Not so much. That didn’t really happen as I had planned it, at all.

Slow travel for the soul

Let’s start with some background. I’ve never really been a fan of flying. The last 15 years or so, I’ve always traveled by train for my trips between Sweden and Italy, for example. The first time was when going back home to Stockholm after a year as an Erasmus student in Padova; to make the transition back to “normal” life (whatever that is, or was) a bit slower, I took the train. Along the way I stayed a few days to visit friends in München, and I took a summery evening walk in Copenhagen between train changes – the wonderful things you are able to do when traveling like that. And later when I finally arrived in my hometown, I was a bit more prepared and ready for the shifts to come.

Since then, I never really went back to flying within the continent – except for when my then work “required” it. And even when my work “wanted me to fly”, I would try different measures to avoid it – the whole trip itself, or the flying part of it. When traveling to Oslo, I would ask to go by train instead. I’d prefer the six hours train ride over the 50 minutes flight at all times – I would walk to the station from work at lunchtime or whenever the departure time was, sit down on the train. Have six consequent hours of either working, reading, resting….to later arrive, walk to my hotel (or the office, if a morning train), and feel relaxed all along the way.* I always claimed that the 50 minutes flight was a “time-scam” – you have to get to the airport, quite a ride in both ends (and expensive too), be at the airport an hour or so before departure, do all the security checks etc etc– so that all in all, in the end it takes more like four hours, from door to door. Four hours that you can’t really “use”, since they are all “broken up” in small fractions, I would argue (trying to get my colleagues on the train too, so to speak). And then I hadn’t even started talking about CO2, sustainability, environmental impacts yet.

For full disclosure, I also developed a deep fear of flying along the way. On an “intercontinental” trip in 2012 we had an incident with the plane I was on, and since then I basically didn’t want to set my foot on a plane again.** My then employer even sent me to “flight therapy” afterwards (even though that trip had nothing to do with my work), but it didn’t really do the thing for me. Probably because – due to my environmentalist self – I actually didn’t have a strong will to change my no-fly feelings, at all. Incentive zero, simply put. After “finishing” the therapy, I still put myself onto an airplane a couple of times, for work. More to show them my good will, after their attempt to help. It always caused me so much stress though, so that I really wanted to just…stop.

Quitting it altogether – and starting again

A couple of summers ago then, I talked to some friends, who basically didn’t fly, as they explained it. They travel from France to Sweden to study music and dance every summer in their little “house-bus”. And to hear them so easily stating this “well, no, we don’t fly”, stuck with me. I finally understood that the choice was completely mine to make. That I didn’t have to fly, ever again, if I didn’t want to. Said and done. I flew high in spirit with this “new me” – the not only “I usually don’t fly”-me, but the “I might never again fly”-me. And I loved it.

About two weeks after this little, as it felt, life-changing conversation, I went on a retreat and met Anna though. Only to understand – when it all was “too late” – that she lived an ocean and a continent away. Darn! So. For love, I took up flying, again. Not just any flying, but long haul flying. Like, super long haul. “Fortunately” enough, there were direct flights between Stockholm and LA, so that’s what I did (to everyone’s great surprise) – I put myself on an 11 hours long flight. Two round trips in that first year, and then the trip that brought me here to stay, as it turned out.

So now what?

And now I’m finding myself here, in a country far far away from my family and friends. I am slowly adapting, learning how to sway here (people – changing countries like this, it’s not that easy, at all!). I miss my old home, a lot. My family, my friends, my music, dancing…the nature. All of it. And…I want to go there, to live in it all, for periods of times at least. Until we eventually might move “back” there, who knows. But. I don’t want to use love as an “excuse” to basically ruin the world as we know it. I don’t feel that it’s fair of me to use up the amount of resources it takes to transport a person this far, by plane, over and over again. Even love is not a big enough excuse for that.

The numbers

A return flight between LA and Stockholm emits 8.6 tons of greenhouse gases (GHG) per person, including RFI (Radiative Forcing Index, an index used to account for the higher impact of the gases being emitted at high altitude), or 3.2 tons without RFI, according to utslappsratt.se (same numbers for LA to New York: 3.9/1.4). The average American emits between 15-20 tons COin a year (depending on source and method), the average Swede between 6-10. According to the WWF we all need to be down at four tonnes each by 2030, and down to one in the long run, for the earth to be able to handle it. Even if those numbers and calculations differ a bit, the message is still quite clear. For any individual’s “CO2-budget”, flying makes out a big chunk of it – and stopping the flying is the single action that will have the most effect on that very same, individual, emission-level. When people claim that flying only stands for so-and-so few percent of the whole world’s CO2-emissions, then that is overlooking that most of the world’s people don’t fly (yet). To compare the air travels of the “few” to the meat eating of a big part of the world’s population and other more common behaviors therefore is a flawed perspective, taking into account that the (demand for) air traffic is ever increasing (not to say that it wouldn’t be great or wouldn’t make a difference if more people ate less meat and so on – on the contrary these, too, are things we will all need to adapt to to get down to the 1-2 tonnes eventually, that’s just another point).

So, what to do?? Swim back to Europe and forget all about it? Stay here for forever after, forgetting about all the loved ones back there? Noooooo, I don’t want to do that! But, then what??

Is there another way to do it?

Well. And this might start to sound absurd for you all now. But I want to try to have it all. I am looking into ways to cross the Atlantic, as in, cross the ocean, as a way of traveling between my two homes without the flying part. There are a few options out there; straight up (luxury) cruises – which I am not overly interested in, as I don’t think they are even anywhere near a sustainable way of traveling – and cargo ships that takes on passengers, as the two most “common” ones, it seems. This last option is at least more “sustainable” in the sense that they carry cargo firsthand, and are not there to transport people overseas just for the party of it. Those trips take about twice the time as that of the cruises though. Of course, in either case, I need to get to the east coast of this continent first, which is doable by train. And then taking the train from the arrival port in Europe up to Stockholm. Depending on the time for the ship to cross the ocean, all in all this will take between 12 days to…over three weeks. Now, if one has the airplane trip in mind as the “standard”, then that sounds outrageously long. But if one choose to consider the flying completely unsustainable, and therefore not really an option– then it’s just a matter of looking at those trips in another way. 

This is clearly a choice that will require resources, on the personal level. First of all, from what I’ve been able to find so far, this will be quite an investment, financially speaking. Thus calling for a lot more planning and saving up, than the easy method of clicking away on one of the many cheap offers from the airplane carriers (isn’t it weird how cheap it is to fly? We can talk more about that later. Suffice to say here – it shouldn’t be that cheap. And wouldn’t be, either, without huge amounts of subsidies and tax reliefs. WILD). And then the obvious – a lot of flexibility, time wise. Where I’m guessing the trick is to not see those weeks as pure “transport-weeks”, lost forever. But instead, to do something of them. To write, to see it as an adventure, and make sure to use it, to almost see it as “work”, in a broader sense.

Is this doable? Yes it is! Or wait, is it? The processing is on…

And this is where I am right now, researching, figuring things out. So far, I’ve considered doing the cruise-thing as the first trip, even if not a sustainable way to travel in itself, mostly because of the time aspect. Since I’ve never been on the sea in this way before, it feels better to start with one week on the ocean, rather than two, as it seems the cargo ships takes as a minimum. And then investigating a bit more how these cargo ships works, and what it’s like to travel with them as a passenger. Still lots to do here. And every now and then I (already) feel overwhelmed by this all, and the fly option feels just so much easier, and more…”logical” – everyone else does it, right? So why not me, too? I even have these special circumstances to handle – doesn’t that give me sort of a Green Card in terms of “it’s OK, you can fly”? Since so many others do it, just even for fun, as a weekend getaway to somewhere Far Away, just like that? Why should I go so far to act differently, when so many others don’t even give a…carrot for it?

The only answer I can give right now, is that I think it matters what I choose to do. No, me not buying an airplane ticket won’t stop the very same planes from doing their flights, anyway. The earth won’t be saved by the possible hustle I’m putting myself through, in order to be able to meet my newborn niece on the other side of the world.*** But. I do believe that my actions matter, still. I have already seen that we inspire each other, more than we think. I have seen that what I do impact the choices of people I meet, and vice versa. And, no matter what “the others” do, I simply don’t want my dollars to speak in ways I do not support. Thus. I am re-making the choice I did a couple of years ago. If this will be an absolute choice or not remains to be seen. But I truly believe that we all must do more, to show that we want this earth to still be here for future generations, if we are serious when we say we do. 

Choice by choice, day by day. Are you in? 

#vihållerosspåjorden
#istayontheground

– hashtags to check out if you’re on social media and want to feel in good company. ☺

∞∞∞∞∞

Update: After the above, I decided to go with the cargo ship-alternative anyways. Because…cruise ships…not my, or the earth’s thing. But after weeks of back and forths with two agencies, it became clear that this option wouldn’t work for me this time. For the trip East, there were no spaces left when I finally got the answers I needed, for the trip West there was one ship that had one spot left and that would have worked…only that for immigration reasons I needed to know for sure that I would be back into the country before a specific date…and even though there was a ten days margin with the ship that was available, the agent advised me that there were no guarantees that I would be back in time (even if delays of that magnitude are rare, they said). So, in the end, cruise-shipping it became.

∞∞∞∞∞

* In all honesty, I have been through quite a few train delays – the “worst” one, time wise, was actually on one of those Stockholm-Oslo trips for work that I argued so fiercely for. We were supposed to arrive at nine in the evening, getting a good night’s rest before our meetings in the morning, but ended up arriving at our hotel at five in the morning after instead, after climbing out of the train in the middle of nowhere, waiting for buses in clouds of mosquitoes etc etc. Quite an adventure, actually (and quite something to talk about with our clients in the meetings the day after – or, the same day, as it turned out!). But. Train delays of all sorts – they don’t come near the stress of flight delays, in my experience. I’d rather get stuck on a train, arriving late, than missing a flight due to the first flight being late, and trying to understand where your new gate is, arriving in a new unknown airport for an unforeseen flight change and so on. Airports are just too stressful in themselves to really make it for easy solutions when trips get interrupted by weather and whatnot. Also, my biggest arrival delay ever was on that flight home in 2012, so, in my world – delays included – trains still win, all days of the year.

** A side note on this – I have noticed that whenever people hear about this incident, they start sharing their own scary stories of things they’ve been through, on airplanes. I would strongly suggest, if you read this, that you don’t do that. Just as I wouldn’t start describing the most scary spider I’ve ever seen to a person who just told me they suffer from spider phobia. It can take me a long while to recover from these, often very vivid, descriptions of your own nightmare trips. Spare them for other people, please. Thank you!

*** See!? It doesn’t make sense to travel to meet a baby, and at the same time take part in destroying the very future we are leaving behind for them to live in. It’s just not logical.

∞∞∞∞∞

A few reading suggestions:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/theworldpost/wp/2017/11/02/plane-pollution/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.e953a9360267

There are7 billion people on our planet, but the billion with the largest carbon footprint includes the most frequent fliers. I belong to the top billion. So do many of you. If all 7 billion had a carbon footprint as large as ours, global carbon dioxide emissions would increase from the current 38 billion tons per year to 150 billion tons — a trillion tons every seven years, according to “Bending the Curve,” a 2015 University of California report. That trillion would translate into a catastrophic spike in global warming — an increase of 33 degrees Fahrenheit every seven years.

 

 

 

https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/science-and-impacts/science/each-countrys-share-of-co2.html

And for anyone reading in Swedish, this is a short and illustrative description of why such very different numbers can be presented when discussing these topics:

https://www.svt.se/nyheter/inrikes/sa-mycket-vaxthusgaser-slapper-vi-ut

 

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