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.