I live under a so-called ’emergency runway’ that Brussels Airport abuses the use of. Once you’ve spent a few Sunday afternoons in the garden with 747s hurtling overhead deadening the possibility of conversation or relaxation, and have been woken up at 3am then 4:30am then 5:30am by the noise of cargo planes, you are no longer able to separate air travel and it’s negative consequences by a margin of decades for climate change to really take hold, you are experiencing them immediately.
You know the tiny particles the planes are emitting are lodging in your body and will one day cause you either heart disease or cancer, that the tightening of your stomach as you hear the rumbling of another plane going over is likely to lead to long term stress-related digestive problems,that the sleep deprivation will shorten your life span and that the irregular batterings of 85-100db noise that can’t be ignored is causing you and your child to lose focus and become distracted.
When the wind changes direction and you get to experience quiet again, you realise how magical it is. How peaceful. How necessary.
However you know the planes have not gone away. That some other poor sucker now has them overhead, and that at any time the wind could change direction and the noise will be back to cast a cloud over everything.
Getting this intermittent taste of the ‘negative externalities’ that are probably my due given the amount I’ve flown in the past has been a real wake up call to – not the unsustainability of flying because I already knew it wasn’t that- but to the utter destruction that it is causing RIGHT NOW.
I didn’t want to be the person I hated. The person travelling in those planes looking down on where I lived coming home from a ‘dream holiday’ that was my waking nightmare. (There is a reason they use loud noises to torture people). So from being a fairly frequent flyer a few years ago I significantly cut down the amount that I flew per year . I took one and half return flights in 2016, two return flights last year, and will take only one return flight this year.
In September last year I also quit Facebook and Instagram (Instagram I never really got into, but I used to be a several times a day kind of Facebook user). I did this for reasons unrelated to flying which I wrote about here, but I’ve since noticed that quitting these social media internet giants has made not flying much easier. No more of my friends ‘holibob’ photos all over my news feed, carefully filtered and cropped so they look like marketing material for the tourism industry. No more beautiful sunsets and cocktails and beaches to look at every day and compare to my photos of playgrounds and grey Belgian skies and make my life feel lacking of beauty and experience.
Not being exposed to travel advertising on a daily basis I feel less desire to go on holiday. When I think of air travel I’m not automatically dreaming of the beach that only exists in photos at the end of the trip, I’m thinking of the noise and the pollution of the aeroplane, the shitness of airports and security checks, the inevitable delays, the cramped seating, my daughter crying. If I’m not going to post my photos for likes on social media, in some endless one up manship orgy of lifestyle porn why on earth would I want to go through all that? To stay in a hotel or AirBnB flat that looks the same as all the others (dubbed Airspace by Kyle Chayka)? To get the ‘authentic’ experience of a place that’s been Disneyfied and trapped in time like a butterfly behind glass?
Would Facebook and Instagram exist without cheap air travel? In it’s current size? Feeding off our need to show off our holiday photos? The internet giants AirBnB, TripAdvisor, Exepedia and Booking.com sure as hell wouldn’t and together they make up a huge chunk of the internet and the current state of monopolisitc ‘Platform Capitalism’ that is eroding workers rights and wages.
These virtual platforms are not just virtual. They rely on the physical mass movement of people. On there always being a new holiday destination or experience to discover and there being the physical infrastructure in place for you to get there no matter the distance. And once it’s discovered it’s mass marketed by you the tourist to everyone you know and turned into airspace and deadened.
They rely on people not taking the time to look for beauty in where they are, or on them accepting worse living and working environments because of the ‘reward’ of cheap travel.
Without cheap air travel and the associated carbon emissions and local air and noise pollution, these internet giants are dead. They need for climate change to not be taken seriously. For policy on cheap travel and airport expansion to not change.
For individual actions to switch off and opt out not be taken seriously, when it is these individual actions that can combine to a collective roar.
I only have my own experience to go on so far but my theory is that by detoxing off Facebook and Instagram at the same times as cutting down on air travel you not only make it easier on yourself to do whichever is your main goal, you also subsequently reduce you usage of AirbnB, TripAdvisor, Booking.com, Expeidia etc and slow the rise of monolpoly platform capitalism and by default you end up concentrating on making better where it is you actually live, which could have massive knock on effects.
It was sad deleting Facebook because it was sad having to acknowledge that a few likes a year on each others photos does not a friendship make and that these people who I haven’t seen in person in years are no longer my friends and that a goodbye was necessary. Other than that it was much easier than I expected for something that was a daily habit.
Similarly with giving up flying, I had to give up the unrealistic idea that I could see all the places in the world that I’d wanted to see, or been told I should see, but I know that the places I do get to see now I will stay for longer and appreciate more.
And both lettings go mean I can concentrate on the real world. On my immediate environment and the people around me not the frictionless airspace of a tourist destination or the curated always smiling half life of my virtual friends.
And yes so far all I’ve done is write angry blog posts in an attempt to convince people to switch off and stay grounded too, sent money to the campaign to reduce the illegal usage of the runway above me and chat to my neighbours, but it’s not nothing and I will do more.
Wen Stephenson in his book review of Carbon Ideologies at the same time as writing about how there are degrees of fuckedness that can occur to our society as a result of climate change dismisses individual action on ones own carbon footprint. But my actions now will reduce however minuscully some degree of fuckedness for someone in the future AND the present and I believe that is meaningful.
If the horror of your actions do not wake you at 3 in the morning with a deep rumble of poisonous jet fuel then you are lucky, but know they are doing it to somebody else in your name. #flyless #deletefacebook