This Opinion piece is by Kelly Liberet, who lives in Regina. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.
I was at the airport the other day to see my mother off on her way to visit family. Her flight had already been delayed four times at that point. By 5 a.m., we were already in the midst of a huge, slow-moving mass of people.
Given the tremendous amount of air travel disruptions this past Christmas, I was surprised to see so many people still travelling by plane — hordes willing to once again put their faith in an industry that is not only unreliable, but also wreaking havoc on the environment.
I gave up flying about 20 years ago after having lived several years abroad. By that time, I thought I’d be perfectly happy if I never again had to set foot on an airplane or have to deal with lost luggage, cancellations and the impossibility of reaching an airline for answers.
In my younger life, I’ve had many chances to fly to other countries, immerse myself in other cultures, and recognise that there are other ways to live. That kind of travel is an invaluable, life-enriching experience.
But we’ve come to take air travel for granted, using it for frivolous trips like destination weddings or unnecessary business trips. Many of us escape our frigid weathers for hot holidays where tourists don’t ever meet the locals or interact with the community, instead lining the pockets of a few resort owners.
Help the earth and stay put
I started falling out of love with air travel years ago. It was incremental, which is often how we come to eventual epiphanies.
One key element in this progression was a photo that accompanied an article about travel and the environment. It showed someone holding a placard saying, “If you want to help the earth, STAY PUT.”
It shook me. I have not flown since.
Air travel is responsible for about two per cent of global CO2 emissions. If aviation were a country, it would be among the top 10 emitters in the world. To make matters worse, aviation emissions are growing fast, with passenger numbers expected to double to 8.2 billion by 2037, according to the International Air Transport Association.
Anyone who has been to an airport has experienced the ear shattering noise and that terrible, thick diesel stench — a pollution that never stops, day in and day out, as thousands of flights circle the globe.
Unfortunately, air travel has become entrenched as the primary mode of travel even within our sprawling country, because governments keep cutting train and bus services. Successive governments have given lopsided power to the airline industry by creating a travel monopoly in Canada.
People like my mother, who would prefer to take public transport like a train or a bus than a plane, have no options to do so.
Personally, I don’t regret not flying these past 20 years. It has been good for me to get grounded, in both the literal and figurative sense, and put my energy into the friends and family who live right here. Perhaps one day I will want to visit family that live abroad, but for now, I feel it’s more important for each of us to make a sacrifice for the environment.
Everything we do is either part of the problem or part of the solution. When you recognize that, it becomes much easier to say no thanks to all that air travel.
There may be bigger fish to fry when it comes to stopping ecological damage. But this is something each of us has the power to do individually. Maybe if we all tried to fly more sparingly, and demanded high-speed train service and the restoration of publicly-owned bus services, we would eventually be able to travel with less frustration, and protect the environment at the same time.
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