Flight Shame and Compromise
It frustrates me endlessly that for a country with the relative wealth and geographic size of Canada, we do not have an adequate passenger rail system for moving people across our landscape. It bothers me that whenever I want (or need) to travel long distances within Canada, the only realistic options are to travel by airplane, to drive myself in a personal vehicle, or to take a bus (if there is even a bus available for the route I’m intending to travel).
Given the fact that everyday we are presented with more and more evidence of the climate crisis, we cannot continue to shamelessly fly around the world in ignorance when those actions have consequences for the health of our entire planet. I don’t think that it is morally okay for people to continue to fly for leisure or recreational purposes given the massive emissions associated with air travel and how climate change will disproportionately harm people who will never afford the luxury of a flight. Flying is a privilege for a society rooted in excess, convenience, and servitude to the fossil fuel industry.
I recognize that some air travel will be necessary in the interim as we seek to transition our economies and industries to more sustainable options, but air travel should be restricted for only those who desperately need it (e.g., refugee immigration, family deaths, emergencies etc.). All unnecessary air travel should be limited or avoided in the meantime, and any flights that do happen should have their emissions offset as much as possible.
Over the last three years (since the beginning of 2019), I have attempted to minimize my carbon footprint from air travel as much as possible because I recognized that my lifestyle up to that point had been extremely carbon intensive and I hadn’t reckoned with my own personal contribution to the climate crisis. I calculated the emissions produced from my flights over the prior few years and I had added roughly the same volume of emissions to the atmosphere as one person’s typical life across an entire year. Seeing these numbers convinced me that I needed to fly less.
That being said, I am having a tough time with prioritizing what flights I can allow for myself, given the commitments I have to the people I care about. For example, my wife Maeghan is visiting her family in Kelowna over the holidays this year. She is choosing to fly, and it would be nice if I could join her, but I don’t think that flying to Kelowna for a short visit is worth the emissions produced from that trip. Yes, we could have opted to drive ourselves or take a long-distance bus, but I don’t feel safe traveling on the highways during the winter. I wish I could travel longer distances within Canada without feeling like I’m committing crimes against humanity because the only realistic option is to opt for carbon-intensive air travel.
In the coming year, I know that I will likely have to fly for two trips — a close friend’s wedding which I do not want to miss, plus my own honeymoon with Maeghan since we recently got married ourselves and haven’t had the opportunity to celebrate it in that manner yet. I don’t necessarily feel the need to travel far and abroad for our honeymoon, but that’s partly because I have had many opportunities to travel and see the world up until now. Maeghan hasn’t had that type of experience yet and I feel like she deserves it. I recognize that neither of these trips — the wedding or our honeymoon — are necessary even by the slightest definition, but I have commitments and obligations to the people I love. This means that I may have to compromise on my own personal values by flying, and I will have to live with the emotional toll of those decisions.
The point of all of this is just to say that I wish Canada had a proper passenger rail network so that we didn’t have to fly as much as we do. Both for convenience, and for the sake of the millions around the world who will suffer because of the emissions produced from our decisions to fly.