Beyond flying – a book review

A photo of the book cover

The second book I borrowed from Carbon Conversation library is Beyond Flying: rethinking air travel in a globally connected world. There’s no prizes for guessing the issue discussed exclusively here. In a previous blog, following PLANT’s Carbon Conversation workshop on travel, I wrote briefly about this immensely complicated topic. This book is a mixture of mainly male – why, so few articles from women on this topic? – perspectives, making the case for flying less. Firstly, why a whole book dedicated to air travel? Because, to quote George Monbiot:

You can run almost the entire energy system on renewable power if you did it in the right way. Aviation is the one area for which there is no available technological solution in the foreseeable future.

The book is published by, Friends of the Earth, an organisation many of us are familiar with, indeed may be members of, and, as you would expect, it is well researched and accessible. In the first part of the book, there was something in each article that informed me and made me pause for thought.

Only 5 percent of the of the world’s population has ever flown. Flying is still a rich person’s pastime.

Ouch! I had never thought of it in those terms.

In most countries aviation fuel is not taxed and aviation is exempt from VAT in the UK.

Ouch, again!

…if the aviation industry were a country, it would be one of the top ten emitters in the world.

When you put it like that…?
And, after that, if I was inclined to shrug my shoulders and think, ‘ah well’; there are strong arguments to stay true to the cause in a chapter entitled, Deciding never to fly again.

My not flying makes little difference, but Ryanair no longer existing would make some difference. It’s the bit I can do. Withdrawal of support is a powerful tool – the impact of which we often underestimate.

The emphasis is mine because I thought it was such an important point and something which was reinforced during the PLANT Carbon Conversations.

The final 5 chapters were interesting and entertaining first-hand accounts of hard-core travel but realistically, who amongst us is going to cycle from the UK to Beijing? Not me, however much I care about the planet. I feel this section is only relevant for a handful of fitness fanatics and I’m not sure how useful it is to include such tales of endurance. I was left feeling more than a bit inadequate when the most I can manage is the occasional cycle to Dundee when the weather is fine!

Personally, the ‘to fly or not to fly’ is an issue I continue to struggle with. Friends recently got a wonderful round of ‘ohs’ and ‘ahs’ when they said they were flying to Costa Rica on holiday. When I said I was going to Lewis – no comment! Am I jealous of these friends? Should I have pointed out the evils of aviation? Should I feel smug that I won’t be flying? These are not easy questions to answer…

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