Love Miles

5 Dec

In the spring, I will fly to Tokyo. It will be my first flight in two years, which is not at all impressive (in terms of emitting less carbon) by the average standard, but far less than most of my friends. Even among my climate-y friends we sit on a wide spectrum – some haven’t flown for 5 years or more and some are seemingly jetting off somewhere every month, chasing the UNFCC around the world.

I have come to accept that my relationship with flying will always be a tricky one, as my father and grandparents have always lived in Japan, and I have always lived here (well, since the age of 4). It does not seem an option for me, as it does for some of my friends, to swear off flying altogether. The Trans-Siberian railway, with the costs and time involved, isn’t really an option for me either at this time of my life.

So, although I have come to this book a little late, I was very excited to see that George Monbiot’s Heat dedicated a whole chapter to what he calls “Love Miles” – flights taken to see friends and family. I was hoping that he’d address the complexity of the issue, the various moral codes that make up our decisions, the personal consequences of being exceedingly “green”. But disappointingly, he doesn’t. Most of the chapter is alarming facts about the aviation industry in general and only a few sentences address the title of the chapter, thus:

“When you form relationships with people from other nations, you accumulate love miles: the distance between your home and that of the people you love or the people they love. If your sister-in-law is getting married in Buenos Aires, it is both immoral to travel there – because of climate change – and immoral not to, because of the offence it causes. In that decision we find two valid moral codes in irreconcilable antagonism. Who could be surprised to discover that “ethical” people are in denial about the impacts of flying?”

I don’t deny that this is a dilemma many people face – I know someone who has a “no flying except for births, weddings and funerals rule” as well as people who’ve skipped weddings because of the emissions involved (and been brave enough to say so). But framing “love miles” only in terms of “form[ing] relationships with people from other nations” is grossly over-simplifying the issue and betrays Monbiot’s uncomplicated roots. And since the number of flights to visit friends and family is not far behind holidays (and currently more than business trips), this is an issue we must address.

I am dual heritage. I am of no one country. That was the way I was born and I celebrate that I’m lucky enough to have an insight into two very different cultures. But the fact I was brought up mainly in the UK and the distance between myself and members of my family was a choice made on my behalf. There is no one-off wedding in this dilemma, no agonising over whether to relocate. I am of two countries. So, when it comes to seeing my family, what is the ethical option? I am fully aware of the environmental implications of flying and I can completely empathise with Monbiot when he declares all flights to be morally untenable. But what are the moral implications of someone like Monbiot telling me that I can’t see my father? Especially if that someone is telling me that, comfortably surrounded by their UK-based family.

Perhaps this issue hasn’t been addressed before because environmentalists in the UK are typically white and British born. But it’s an issue that’s only going to get bigger. “Mixed race” people are the fastest-growing ethnic minority group in the UK, making up 3.5% of all births in 2005 – plus of course, there must be plenty of white, “mixed nationality” babies that aren’t included in that statistic. On top of that we’ve got first and second generation immigrants… not all of these people will have family abroad, of course. But I bet a fair few do.

So, we can continue to paint all flights with the same brush, and pretend that by holidaying at home in the UK we can solve the problem, or we can open out the conversation and include those who have been globalised by birth – those who have no one home.

10 Responses to “Love Miles”

  1. Claire Bradnam December 6, 2010 at 10:40 am #

    I think you raise a really important point here. I haven’t flown for nearly 4 years now, and I remember the day when I realised that there may be some places in the world that I would never see. At the time I thought this was fine, but increasingly, it makes me feel sad that there are all those beautiful things that I won’t experience, or people I wont meet.

    I know we have to think about carbon emissions, but I can’t think of anything more important than people and showing them that you care. Technology can only take you so far.

    A life can be sustainable, but if we don’t keep ourselves (wellbeing) sustained, then we will not be able to keep on trying as hard as we do in the everyday things that are an influence to encourage other people to try those things too.

    I think it is impossible to distill our lives to make these exact boundaries that we can’t fly ever. Sometimes things are unavoidable.

    I hope you have the best time Tokyo, don’t feel bad, at all!


  2. Puffling December 8, 2010 at 6:30 pm #

    I will be flying tomorrow, also to see family. But it’s a domestic flight, oo er…

    The thing is though, I left home and moved 100 miles north. And then my mum moved 400 miles south. Leaving us 500 miles apart.

    I know it’s ridiculous to be flying across such a sort distance, and believe me, I’d much rather be getting the train. But I can’t afford to do that. I can’t even afford the cheap airline tickets – my mum has had to buy them for me so that she can see me this year.

    This is why campaigners to ban domestic flights really make me angry. They’re rolling around in a little middle class bubble where everyone can afford the insanely overpriced crosscountry trains, all the while vilifying working class climate activists like me who are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    Regarding domestic flights, of course I don’t want them to happen any more – but the way to stop them is not to attempt to ban them, and guilt trip people who need to use them – but to campaign for cheaper (or free!) public transport! It would solve so many problems in one fell swoop.

    Sorry for the rant there… I know my situation is very different from yours, in that if I could drive or afford the train, then I would do that – whereas going from the UK to Japan is a totally different kettle of fish.

    The way I see it, though, there can still be a place for occasional flights in a more environmentally-sane society. It’s madness for there to be dozens of flights from all across the UK to all over Japan every day – but for necessary travel in a better future, perhaps there could be one flight per week (or even per month) from one UK airport to one Japanese airport, with connecting trains to further destinations.

    • hannamade December 8, 2010 at 11:10 pm #

      Claire, thanks for your comment. I feel the exact same way as you do, but I do also think that not flying could be a way to show you care about people (albeit for different reasons), and that is where the dilemma is.

      Puffling, I completely understand your frustration about prices for trains etc. I do think though that most environmentalists call for cheaper travel rather than banning domestic flights, or that they know the two go hand in hand so I don’t think you have to despair about them too much! I agree a coordinated campaign would be great (especially when they’re set to rise so much in the new year…eek).

      Roger, as this blog isn’t about the particulars of climate science, I’d respectfully suggest you take your comments elsewhere. is a great website.

  3. hannamade December 16, 2010 at 10:00 pm #

    “I personally do not care what you believe” – the time and energy you put into commenting on my blog suggests otherwise. When the comment is longer than the actual blog post, you have to wonder who you’re trying to convince.

    To others who read Roger’s comments and are perturbed or have further questions, I direct you to websites and

  4. Shenanigans December 16, 2010 at 10:34 pm #

    Hi Richard,

    I would try and engage with people like you but I’m too busy trying to actually come up with SOLUTIONS for the climate crisis. I would really love it, I would be so incredibly happy if you were right about this all being a myth. And if in trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist and people like me end up just making the world a cleaner and fairer place to live in…. well, actually, that wouldn’t be a bad thing!

    Hanna – I wrote a blog about something like this a while back. I’ll send you a link separately.

  5. simon howlett December 17, 2010 at 12:23 am #

    Richard my man,

    Check out this blog cartoon
    Its really good, & is a quick read & has a talking penguin.- Whats not to love?

    • hannamade December 20, 2010 at 11:03 am #

      In the interests of transparency, I should tell you that I have removed some comments on this post, according to my new comments policy –

      The reasons for doing this is that a climate denier named Roger (one comment of his remains above) was 1) derailing the conversation by not talking about love miles, but the likelihood of anthropogenic global warming instead and 2) making wildly unsubstantiated claims about climate science.

      I will steal a quote from the comments policy over at Irregular Climate:
      “Carl Sagan was known for saying “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. If you make an extraordinary claim (such as saying that mainstream science on global warming is wrong) then I will require extraordinary evidence. Failure to provide such evidence is grounds for your comment to be edited or deleted. And if you have some extraordinary evidence, you owe it to all of us to submit it to real scrutiny and publish it in the scientific literature. Fame and fortune await you… if you are correct.”

  6. hannamade December 17, 2010 at 12:09 pm #

    That cartoon is brill! Will blog it this week.

    And Shenanigans, yes would love to read your blog. Cheers.

  7. rogerthesurf December 18, 2010 at 12:20 am #

    ““I personally do not care what you believe” – the time and energy you put into commenting on my blog suggests otherwise.”
    Thanks for emphasising my last sentance but you left off the part that does actually concern me.

    “but it horrifies me that you accept what you read without question.”

    And then you indicate that you are STILL happy to accept what skeptical science and co tell you without question.



    • hannamade December 18, 2010 at 12:26 am #

      It is obviously not without question. I spend all my days questioning, reading, debating the issues with those who think differently to myself. It worries me more that you won’t allow yourself to question what are obviously your deep-seated beliefs and values.

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