Only a few months ago, Prince Harry was labelled an ‘eco-hypocrite’ after flying to a concert on a private jet shortly after having warned the UN that our world was on fire. Prince Harry’s actions go against France’s current buzzword: “la sobriété écologique” namely the “sufficiency” described in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2023, p.29) as “a set of measures and daily practices that avoid demand for energy, materials, land, and water while delivering human being well-being for all within planetary boundaries”. Close to France’s heart, this set of measures encourages the population to “do less for nature” or to see the most environmentally friendly energy source as the one we do not use. It is often seen as a sacrifice for many, or at the very least a killjoy, to the Prince’s detriment. Is it possible to travel better, transforming what seems to be a sacrifice into an opportunity to live a better life?

Flying is one of the most carbon-intensive human activities. To ensure our planet continues to be habitable, we must fly less. Many find this recommendation by the IPCC report the most difficult to accept. In fact, the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) suggests that the impact of ‘a single passenger travelling on a return flight from London to New York emits an estimated 0.67 tonnes of CO2 which is, according to the BBC, the same as amount emitted by someone living in Ghana over the course of a year. You could travel 2 times around the world on an electric train such as the Eurostar with the same carbon emission as a one-way flight to Porto. What makes the matter worse is that the countries that suffer the most from such carbon emissions are not the biggest aviation fuel users, increasing climate injustice. Our planet chain-smokes to provide us with a quick fix for our holiday needs as we jump on a plane for the weekend to share that Instagram post on the flight back home. Travelling as we do, means the next generation may never experience the Great Barrier Reef or fresh snow on a ski slope. While blunt French environmentalist Jancovici  (2023) recommends a quota of four flights over a lifetime, the Jump Campaign (2022) encourages frequent flyers to take one short-haul flight every three years, and one long-haul every eight years.

Ouch.

Let us pause for a second.

It is worth remembering that 90% of the global population has never set foot on a plane. Idun A. Husabø (2020) reminds us that “people who typically board an airplane at least once a year, to go somewhere warm perhaps […], are among the world’s top 2–4 per cent”. Yet, this is one of the most destructive human activities, creating unsafe habitats for many who only dream of flying, looking at the sky from their dried-up or flooded land. Ethically speaking, this climate injustice forces us to rethink and travel better.

This is how I decided to follow recommendations to limit my travel to once every three years for short-haul flying, and once every eight years for long-haul. Something seemingly unachievable, as my happy place has always been in the middle of an airport. How does one reconciliate such love for the world and a need to discover the unknown with a strong responsibility to protect it?

Over the last year, I have continued to travel finding alternatives to aviation. I slowed down and travelled around Europe to extraordinary places I had never explored before. I finished reading Proust over an eleven-hour bus journey, met new people and appreciated the change of landscapes across Europe. I took the time to write about those landscapes and about that precious new time found. That very movement from A to B became the best part of the trip: a moment suspended in time to recharge and appreciate our world. I stopped on my journeys and met friends I hadn’t seen in 15 years. There is something extraordinary about such changes as you question the way you live, the way you rest or the way you sometimes run after things only because you are expected to. When on holiday, what makes me happy? A train journey later, sitting on a terrace in Paris flooded with sunshine reading philosophy I realised that flying is no longer sine qua non of the way I wish to travel.

Of course, travelling using public transport requires patience, time and a budget. Yet, when one can, one should. Before humans were explorers, they were fighters. The most recent pandemic showed how one’s habits can be tempered to fight and restore a sustainable way of life. This does not necessarily mean sacrifice, but rather opportunities to make wiser, healthier yet equally enjoyable choices. Our enjoyment can no longer be the source of challenges faced by many; especially since the science is so explicitly clear about the impact of our travelling habits.


BBC. (2019, August 23). Climate change: Should you fly, drive or take the train? BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-49349566

Institute, W. N. R., & Husabø, I. A. (2020, November 19). 1% of people cause half of global aviation emissions. Most people in fact never fly. Partner.sciencenorway.no. https://partner.sciencenorway.no/climate-change-global-warming-transport/1-of-people-cause-half-of-global-aviation-emissions-most-people-in-fact-never-fly/1773607

IPCC. (2023). Synthesis report of the IPCC sixth assessment report (AR6) summary for policymakers. In IPCC. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/syr/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_SYR_SPM.pdf

Jean-Marc Jancovici : “L’objectif de rester sous les 1,5 degré est mort.” (n.d.). Www.youtube.com. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9MVALl48Eo

Nations, U. (n.d.). Transportation. United Nations. https://www.un.org/en/actnow/transport

Sobriété, pénurie : la stratégie de la culpabilisation – GREENWATCHING #7. (2024, February 22). Greenpeace France. https://www.greenpeace.fr/sobriete-ecologique-solidaire/

The JUMP. (n.d.). The JUMP. https://takethejump.org/

Timperley, J. (n.d.). Should we give up flying for the sake of the climate? https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200218-climate-change-how-to-cut-your-carbon-emissions-when-flying

Flight Free USA, Flight emissions calculator
https://flightfree.org/flight-emissions-calculator

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