“Utopia is on the horizon. I move two steps closer; it moves two steps further away. I walk another ten steps and the horizon runs ten steps further away. As much as I may walk, I’ll never reach it. So what’s the point of utopia? The point is: to keep walking.”
Tracks towards a fair planet
Now that our reframing journey has begun, and we know why we must guide the aviation industry towards a safe landing and lay down the tracks for a new economic system, it is time to talk about the destination we are all collectively working towards: an economy based on wellbeing and planetary health. The previous chapters provide facts and figures to argue in favour of changing our current mobility and economic systems, but a positive idea of what the future could hold that many can relate to is vital for bringing people on board. Successful communication campaigns are able to reflect the wants, desires and values of the audience, as well as evoking and galvanising the desire for change.
This chapter is not a blueprint for one single future, but a compass that can guide us towards a range of better, possible futures. Laying down the tracks towards a new economy is an act of constant co-creation. While there are many paths available, there are three broad qualities that it should include: equity, wellbeing and living within the ecological limits of our planet.
Table of Contents
THE NEW NARRATIVES
> PLANE GREEDY
> COMMON DESTINATION
> GREEN MEANS GROUNDED
> SAFE LANDING
> ENJOY THE JOURNEY
BRINGING NEW NARRATIVES TO LIFE WITH CULTURAL REFERENCES
LAYING TRACKS FOR INDIA’S FUTURE
A JOURNEY IN(TO) 2024
OVERCOMING INJUSTICES TO CREATE A FAIRER SOCIETY
Fairness and a regenerative approach to nature must be at the heart of our new economy if we are to all flourish within ecological limits. And this fairness must radiate within borders and across them, addressing the injustices of race, gender and class, as well as geographic disparities and ecological debt. By prioritising justice and meeting the needs of all, the new economy could create the space for more democratic and participatory forms of local decision-making.
Policies to address the legacies of global injustices will need to be global in ambition but led by local initiatives. They could range from new mutual and cooperative company ownership and governance models that ensure more equal sharing of economic benefits. They could also include policies such as Universal Basic Services (UBS), 1 where the building blocks of a good life – education, housing and health care and mobility amongst other things – are not governed by the logic of profit.
There could also be a Universal Basic Income (UBI) to ensure that everyone has the necessary means for a dignified and more fulfilled life. This would also mean that the value we all create with our work is spread out equally and fairly, taking into account previously unpaid labour such as child rearing and caring for elderly members of our communities. It is important though, due to the scale of change required, that policies are not implemented just to stimulate more damaging and inequitable growth.
conomic activity could be geared towards promoting human wellbeing, rather than maximising profit. A wellbeing economy would reverse the current situation where those who undermine social and environmental value are highly paid and extremely privileged, such as executives in speculative finance and advertising, and instead ensure that people who are currently low paid and precariously employed, like the ones working in education, caregivers, cleaners and many others are more justly valued. 2
This is ensured, among other things, by a minimum income and a maximum income for all professions, which reduces the pressures of the growth and jobs treadmill as well as status consumption.
The benefits of the new economy must be shared equally across society, recognising and respecting planetary boundaries. Workers will have a greater say over their conditions of work and the direction their industry takes in the future. Deeper and more far-reaching economic democracy with thriving cooperatives, solidarity economy and new forms of ownership of production and mobility will help re-common and re-purpose those industries and businesses that are driving the climate crisis, pivoting them towards improving human well-being. Imagine if aircraft manufacturers could be put to the task of building wind turbines. Or car manufacturers instead building clean, affordable mass public transport. The land taken by agrofuel manufacturers could instead be reforested and rewilded.
BUILDING AN ECONOMY THAT PROMOTES WELLBEING, NOT PROFIT
Working less for a wage and having more free time for the things we love could become the norm. This will also change our relationship with time and the concept of ‘holiday’, allowing us to travel longer and more sustainably. Proper workplace care provision will allow people more time to learn, give, take notice, be active and connect as citizens, neighbours, colleagues and volunteers – which are all crucial skills for bringing humanity inline with planetary boundaries. Work will be for the benefit of society, not for the benefit of shareholders and executives’ bonuses. By doing work that actually improves the wellbeing of people alive today, and those that are yet to be born, work will have greater meaning and purpose. We might just begin to love Mondays.
Social and economic success is no longer measured in productivity and growth, but in the well-being and health of citizens and the planet. This requires new indicators instead of the obsolete GDP, which does not distinguish between meaningful and harmful economic activity. In its place are new yardsticks that reflect the diversity of human needs and respect other parts of the living planet and its limits. We will finally acknowledge that often less is more. 3
THRIVING WITHIN PLANETARY BOUNDARIES
To thrive within the limits of the planet, the new economy must focus on what people need to live a good life, not what they are being made to think they need. After all, what we think we want is mediated and sustained by advertising and marketeers, all trying to sell us products and services we do not need, and which don’t bring us substantial happiness, joy or meaning. No longer would it be seen as aspirational or acceptable to mindlessly consume goods that are not built to last or that cause excessive pressure on the planet, such as unnecessary flights. Instead, our societies would begin to value more free time with our friends and families, in accessible public green spaces and at our community farms – all of which can be reached by an electrified, high capacity and publicly-owned mobility system.
Our obsession with economic growth, relentless competition against each other and the worshipping of private property would end. Industries that cannot be aligned with planetary boundaries will be scaled down and phased out as part of a just transition, with workers retrained, reskilled and endowed with the tools needed to strengthen new and sustainable branches. By re-commoning the worlds of business and industry, as well as finance, and bringing democracy into every community, workers will be at the heart of deciding how we best use productive industries to the benefit of all, not just shareholders.
Sufficiency is about reframing what prosperity is and what it means to live a long, good and meaningful life. This involves both setting upper limits to curtail the excesses of multiple large homes and countless foreign holidays, as well as lower limits to ensure that everyone in society has access to the goods and services necessary to lead a good life. 4 By focussing on what is sufficient to live well within limits, a wellbeing economy would challenge and transform our values and cultures, appealing to our intrinsic and shared values. People will no longer feel afraid or hopeless – they will feel like they can make a difference and that they have a say in how society responds to the many challenges it faces. They will be able to ask those ‘what if’ questions5 and have the agency and tools to make necessary changes.
ALTERNATIVE FORMS OF SOCIETAL ORGANISATION
Defenders of how the global economy is currently organised often say that there is no alternative. The reality is however, that whatever your persuasion, there are many alternatives, and here are just a few examples, both practical and theoretical …
Buen Vivir, also called Sumak kawsay, is a principle in the worldview of the indigenous peoples of the Andean region. It focuses on sustainable living within a community of human beings and the rest of the living world.
Commons are social systems consisting of a concrete group of people who share and use certain resources together within clear rules. Interest in the practice of ‘commoning’ is growing. Classic examples are grazing grounds or fishing grounds, but there are also digital commons such as Wikipedia.
Degrowth is a movement and academic field that challenges the paradigm of endless economic growth. It calls for an open, democratically planned redistributive reduction of production and consumption to achieve social justice, environmental sustainability and societal well-being.
Doughnut Economics is a framework for a sustainable economy in harmony with the Planetary Boundaries. The doughnut-shape visualises social foundations and an ecological ceiling between which a sustainable economy for humanity can thrive.
Eco-Socialism is a current of ecological thought that builds on marxism. It views the capitalist mode of production and consumption as the root cause of ecological degradation and human immiseration and calls for a transition towards a publicly owned and democratically planned economy.
Kurdish Democratic Confederalism is a project of democratic autonomy based on the works of Abdullah Öcalan. Goals include gender equality and ecology and has found its manifestation in the north-eastern Syrian Rojava. It has been operated in the midst of conflict and a complex emergency.
Open Localisation is a concept for transforming local places into open spaces for social and political solidarity. Rescaling and localising economic activity is meant to counteract harmful globalisation tendencies and enable for more autonomy, democracy, sustainability and multicultural forms of coexistence.
Prakritik Swaraj, or eco-swaraj, is an Indian form of societal and political organisation and can be simplistically translated as self-government. Important aspects are autonomy and freedom of individuals and communities and an ethic of responsibility towards others, including non-human nature.
Post-growth is based on the recognition of natural and social limits to economic growth and seeks to promote the development of different measures of societal well-being than economic growth. Alternatives to the current economy should be based on locally and culturally appropriate principles.
Ubuntu is a concept from southern Africa that can be translated as ‘humanity’ or ‘humanness’. It is an understanding that an individual can only realise their true humanity in relation to other human beings as well as to the non-human world. Ubuntu suggests that it is our responsibility to care for others.
Wellbeing Economy describes a wide range of ideas and measures that work towards the common vision of an economy designed for the purpose of collective wellbeing. The key idea is quality of life and prosperity for all people and sustainability for the planet.
Zapatista Autonomy is central to the rebellion of the Zapatista movement in Chiapas in southern Mexico. It strives for indigenous self-determination as a radical and dignified alternative to the dominant extractivist system and its institutions.
Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.
THE NEW NARRATIVES
© System Change, not Climate Change!
Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.
The other world described in the last section may already be “on her way” – and most likely she will arrive on a train. This section develops five distinct ways to talk about aviation and the transformative journey we need to make. These new narratives are foundations with some suggested examples of how they can be turned into powerful messages. They are intended for others to build on and are open to being adapted
and developed for different cultural circumstances and diverse campaigns. One narrative is never clearly separated from others; they overlap and inform each other. This also applies to our narratives, which together reveal the realities of aviation and invite people to picture alternatives, encourage imagination and ask the key question: ‘what if?’.
about how the aviation industry puts itself above the needs of the many, how it is ‘free riding’ at the expense of people, nature and communities, and taking profits for itself while passing damage and costs onto others.
about how a liveable planet is our only, viable, common destination. And why, on our shared planetary home, we don’t need more air traffic and tourism to thrive. But having a tiny, wealthy minority of the world’s population flying regularly, with even fewer capturing the profits, is a big obstacle to completing the journey.
about why industry promises of change are greenwash and how mobility can become truly sustainable. The only way to lay tracks for ecologically and socially viable systems is to reduce air traffic and foster alternatives.
about how times are changing and the aviation industry needs to face reality and find a safe landing for the people working within it. Climate breakdown, cultural shifts, the rise of virtual meetings, pressures on fuel and responses to the pandemic all mean change is inevitable and will happen by design or disaster.
about alternatives to aviation, and how by travelling in other ways we can enjoy both our lives and journeys more, on the shared path towards a more just and sustainable society.
‘WHEN DO I USE THIS NARRATIVE?’
This narrative focuses on scandalous and nefarious prac- tices of the aviation industry and seeks to spark rightful indignation. It can also be used to challenge economic arguments made by the industry. Instead it frames the industry as a drain on resources, the public and the planet that we cannot afford.
‘HOW DO I USE THIS NARRATIVE?’
Using this narrative for specific interventions e.g. around industry bailouts can be highly effective. For interventions around airport expansion, this narrative can help bolster lo- cal opposition by drawing on sentiments towards industry greed and evoking values of fairness and community.
The aviation industry is a polluting and plane greedy engine of self-interest, ripping-off people and the planet, even though it has lobbied hard to convince us that it brings big economic benefits. Their version is that they are a vital and indispensable source of wealth creation for economies, providing much-needed jobs and aspirational leisure opportunities. Reality in all aspects is very different from this tale. While profits are made for shareholders and top salaries are paid to senior management, the climate, workers in the industry, the public who pay their taxes and local communities are being short-changed.
A few get very rich from the aviation industry while its lobbyists push for ever more tax breaks, subsidies and bailouts. At the same time it opposes new measures to address the ecological and climate emergency, and often treats its lower paid employees appallingly. During the pandemic we saw this first hand (see story p. 44), with airlines handed billions in public money while simultaneously firing staff, challenging unions, putting workers on precarious new contracts and lobbying for weaker environmental rules.
Also, at the peak of the pandemic, when big bailout packages were put together in most countries, leading economists from around the world found unconditional airline bailouts to have the lowest economic payoff and overall desirability. 5
Bringing the aviation industry back down to earth from its privileged economic treatment will be vital in building a fair economy. Airlines serve at the whim of their financial backers and, despite their misleading marketing that says otherwise, their loyalties lie with their shareholders – many of whom are also part of the jet-setting polluter elite. Even where airlines are private and not run by governments, they are subsidised and supported by public resources, tax-free jet fuel, infrastructure and ‘friendly’ regulatory systems. All this amounts to billions in giveaways every year to a climate-wrecking industry that is ripping us off today, and tearing-up our tomorrows.
It’s no surprise then that the needs of working people and their communities, as well as the disproportionate damage caused to the planet, are not a priority for the aviation industry.
Instead, it’s profit over people, and shareholder dividends over breathable air and clear skies. This isn’t to say that a nationalised airline would automatically put the interests of the many ahead of the few, but shedding light on issues of owner- ship could broaden the industry’s priorities beyond just profit, to social and environmental responsibility. Key to this is a more democratic organisation and decision-making involving workforces. Through the dynamics that this creates, windows of opportunity can be seized to protect livelihoods, further rights in the workplace and democratise the process of the industry winding-down through a just transition (see Safe Land- ing narrative, p. 58). But to achieve this, it will not be enough to appeal nicely to politicians and industry managers – we have to stand up against their excesses and business as usual, be loud and put pressure on them.
THE OLD NARRATIVE: THE ‘ECONOMIC EXAGGERATION’
The story told by the industry is that air transport is one of the most important drivers for the economy and accessible to all. They would love us to believe that aviation is only responsible for a very small part of global emissions and that nevertheless, the industry has already done and continues to do a lot to become more climate-friendly. Aviation lobbyists argue with straight faces and no obvious irony that for the industry to become even greener, burdens such as a kerosene tax, carbon prices or harsh regulations must be avoided: only then can airlines and the rest of the industry invest in ‘sustainable aviation fuels’, electric aircraft and hydrogen. In order for them to take off, these technologies must be supported by governments.
This “economic exaggeration” argument tries to paint a picture of an industry indispensable to the global economy. It argues that millions of jobs depend on it directly, and many more indirectly. Without air transport, national and regional economies are cut off from the rest of the world, they say. That is supposedly why the airline industry deserves government subsidisation. The bailouts during Covid-19, therefore, they argue were necessary to protect jobs and reduce negative impacts on the whole economy. But, as we explain in this guide, these arguments are either false, misleading or greatly exaggerated.
We can’t afford airlines being plane greedy when a fair well-being economy needs companies to work for people, nature and the climate, not against them. Airlines have avoided accountability on reducing pollution, yet, governments continue to prop-up and support them, putting the financial burden of their subsidised existence onto the taxpayer.
Messages to help communicate the ‘Plane Greedy’ narrative include:
→ The aviation industry is ‘plane’ greedy, out for itself and ripping us off. It gets a free ride at others’ expense: for decades it has dodged paying its way and respecting the environmental rules that others comply with to protect people, nature and our collective future.
→ The industry is flying away with public money: the aviation industry is flying off with public money and always first in line for public bailouts, while laying off workers and draining the economy, leaving more accessible and less polluting ways to travel underfunded and overshadowed.
→ The aviation industry allows a tiny, wealthy elite to pollute at the expense of all: the industry feels entitled to more than their fair share of the shrinking amount of the pollution the climate can handle.
→ Airports and airlines are bad neighbours – they’re making money from keeping communities awake at night and pumping out toxic fumes: the mental and physical health impacts of airport operations fall heavily and unequally on local communities and aviation workers.
‘WHEN DO I USE THIS NARRATIVE?’
This narrative can be used to give more realistic global context on the aviation industry by highlighting the injus- tice and disparity of its impacts, especially concerning people and communities in the Global South. It unites by showing that a future of less aviation is for humanity’s common benefit.
‘HOW DO I USE THIS NARRATIVE?’
This narrative is versatile and can be used for a variety of contexts and interventions. One area where it will be effec- tive is in challenging the idea that flying is available to ‘all’ or that the aviation industry brings only benefits to poorer regions. By focusing on the inequality of use and impacts,
issues of fairness and justice can be brought to the centre.
Our common destination is a world in which we can all thrive. This means we must lay the tracks for a fair and sus- tainable economy with mobility for all. It means less polluting travel by a mi- nority of the world’s population and new development directions for tourism-de- pendent low-income countries. This is because, as mobility changes, how and why we move around, and our ideas of travel and tourism, change too.
The narrative of aviation as a ma- chine of progress stems from a narrow, flawed and partial idea of what such “progress” actually is: that life gets better for everyone as a result of tech- nological development and economic growth. But this is like saying that every- one gets wet when it rains. It doesn’t tell you if people have a roof to shelter un- der, or whether there is a resulting flood that sweeps your food crops away. For many there might be no progress at all, or things might get worse.
Communities want to determine their own, fairer future and many do not share the goal of flying more as part of it. Therefore, transport infrastructure should be designed to meet local needs and ensure affordable mobility to support local livelihoods, not those of a wealthy, global elite. In many places a decent bus service or safe, reliable trains would be much more needed than a new airport. New sustainable systems in poorer regions must also be financed and built with the help of richer countries. This is what recognising our common destination and the historical responsibility of the North for climate damage demand. Only by working shoulder to shoulder, can we solve global crises.
Importantly, there is not just one alternative to the development deception. Many other worlds are possible, what some have called a ‘pluriverse’. 6 These range from the Latin American approach of Buen Vivir, to the wellbeing economy, the southern African concept of Unbuntu and open localisation as a counter-dynamic to globalisation.
Though varied, they are typically united by the common destination of satisfying people’s true needs, while respecting the limits of the natural world and finding a new balance (see box: Alternative economic models, p. 39 in PDF).
Aviation, on the other hand, has no limits. The desire to be internationally connected is real, but there are ways to meet it culturally and virtually without needing to climb on a plane regularly. The experience of the global pandemic has shown multiple possibilities for connection that don’t rely on flying. It is tempting to ask, if you radically reduce aviation, what will replace it? But that misses an important point. Since the reality is that aviation brings more harm than good, then having a smaller flight industry makes things better.
THE OLD NARRATIVE: THE ‘ECONOMIC EXAGGERATION’
The industry claims that air transport is a catalyst for sustainable development and essential especially for countries in ‘growing markets’ in Africa, Asia and Latin America. This argument rests on the idea that economic growth spurred by aviation will create prosperity and unlock the potential of regions where many people cannot fly yet. It claims that for communities around the world with no or poor road infrastructure, or remote island states, airtansport has a role to play. Their position is that even if not all people have the possibility to fly yet, this will change. Rather than a plaything of rich elites, they argue that aviation is becoming democratised.
They will use this to defend expansion in other regions, and also say that the benefits of connectivity must be protected by subsidies from governments if the aviation sector is to realise its potential as a connector for people, trade and tourism and be a driver for sustainable development. Implicit is the suggestion that the whole world is on a journey to levels of consumption seen in wealthier parts of Europe and North America, and that every country should share the same future of full integration into a global economy based on deregulated trade and uninhibited aviation. It says that accessible and affordable air transport and good connectivity to the rest of the world are a right, no one in the world should be denied.
Our common destination is a fair world not trapped in climate breakdown, in which people and the rest of the living planet can thrive. It prioritises the needs, desires and livelihoods of all people, and recognises that the current aviation industry and its expansion costs us all and hurts marginalised communities around the world.
Messages to help communicate the ‘Common Destination’ narrative include:
→ Our common destination is a world we can all thrive in: aviation expansion means expensive infrastructure that doesn’t meet local priorities. Worse still, it damages the natural world and the health and livelihoods of surrounding communities.
→ Cutting back aviation creates new opportunities: less flying opens possibilities and frees resources to imagine and design transport to meet the needs of local people and livelihoods.
→ Transport choices should be shaped by the communities who need and use them: rather than being imposed, like airports and motorways, communities should be able to participate in the co-creation of transport systems that meet and respect their needs.
→ The global majority suffer for the profit-driven aviation expansion and privileged flying of the few: the disturbance, pollution and climate upheaval caused by aviation hurts most those who fly least. Building the infrastructure of the aviation industry tramples over the interests and needs of local communities, typically generating resistance and conflict.
→ False solutions put more pressure on the poorest: greenwash projects like offsets and agrofuels often have negative consequences for local communities in the poorest countries, especially for indigenous peoples, like taking land needed to grow food.
HUNDREDS OF NEW AIRPORTS AND RUNWAYS ARE PLANNED WORLDWIDE
Worldwide, 423 new airports were planned or under con- struction in 2017. 223 of these are in the Asian-Pacific re- gion alone and 58 in Europe. Additional runways thought to number 121 worldwide (28 in Europe) are also planned or un- der construction.
What this map does not show are a further 205 planned runway extensions, 262 new terminals and 175
terminal extensions – in total more than 1200 airport infra- structure projects, often leading to noise and health issues, loss of homes, biodiversity and fertile lands – and always fueling the climate crisis.
United Airlines is the third-largest airline in the world.
But building and expanding airports and the fossil fuel infrastructure it depends on does not mean that local people themselves enjoy greater mobility. Poorer people often live in the vicinity of airports or where they are to be built and are therefore seen as mere obstacles that stand in the way of industry profits. 7 Here, local people don’t even think about flying. Instead, new and expanding airports mean danger to local livelihoods such as soil and water, which, unlike the luxury activity of flying, are the building blocks of all life.
That’s also because aviation is neither fair nor equally accessible for all. In terms of flights per person, Europe, North America and other regions of the Global North largely outnumber most countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa – an unequal distribution that will not change significantly in the coming decades, even according to the industry. 8
Aviation lobbyists claim, being connected to the global aviation network is the only path to having a fully functioning economy.
The number and size of airports here is disproportionate with the amount of people that actually use them.
Here, we dont even think about flying.
Gabriela Vega Tellez, Coordinadora de Pueblos y Organizaciones del Oriente del Estado de Mexico, Mexico
Stay Grounded members around the world, like Gabriela Vega Tellez and comrades here in Mexico City, protest against the destructive construction and expansion of airports.
Tourism is the cause of many flights, and is a problematic industry for several reasons. Many places in the Global South turn to tourism for income because other opportunities are closed to them by an unfair and unequal global economy. Some jobs are created, but tourism can be a damaging and extractive business for local people and economies when it becomes rampant, just like mining and agriculture. Hotels can put a strain on local water supplies and other natural resources, employees often rely on subsistence wages, and profits tend to leave the local economy in the hands of foreign management and shareholders. Tourism dependency is also a major obstacle to global sustainability and social equity. Reducing reliance on tourism and building economies to meet local needs, is part of the journey to a fair wellbeing economy.
Those hit hardest by the legacies of colonialism and economically unfair globalisation, and who are facing the consequences of climate breakdown already today, also suffer the most from ‘green’ colonialism that comes with the push for greenwashing of the aviation industry. For offsetting schemes sold to passengers and advertised by the industry with green lies, local communities are often forced off their land. The same happens for the cultivation of crops for fuel substitutes, which are supposed to give well-meaning people a good conscience – but in reality do more harm than good. Corporations grab poor people’s land so that their profits can keep flying high.
Instead of deepening a system that serves the few, we need a common destination: a fair planet where people and the rest of nature can thrive.
GREEN MEANS GROUNDED
‘WHEN DO I USE THIS NARRATIVE?’
This narrative can be used to counter the idea that air traffic can soon become environmentally and socially sustainable. Use this to counter industry greenwash, which the public easily understands as a form of hypocrisy. The narrative also shows how grounded alternatives are the only way to make mobility sustainable and how we can achieve the necessary transformation.
‘HOW DO I USE THIS NARRATIVE?’
Whenever you encounter misleading industry propaganda, use this narrative to show what sustainable travel really is and what can be done to achieve it. It can also be used to show ways to guide air traffic towards a safe descent path and how this is beneficial for people and the planet.
Flying is the fastest way to fry the planet. 9 Taking one long-haul flight generates more carbon emissions than many people around the world emit in an entire year. 10 Before Covid, the climate pollution of air traffic was growing faster than in most other sectors – still, after the pandemic the aviation industry wants to continue growing as before. 11 Rising emissions do not stop the industry from promising people they can fly with a clear conscience (see box: the old story – the ‘Green Lie’). Technologies like the ones touted by airline executives and politicians alike are not enough to solve aviation’s pollution problem, and offsetting, being used to lure increasingly climate-conscious people back to flying, is neither reliable nor as effective as the industry pretends it to be. Becoming green means getting air traffic volumes down from their high-altitude, pollution-filled flight and bringing sustainable alternatives back on track.
To prevent climate catastrophe, emissions need to be reduced immediately. But the stock of aeroplanes used by the industry is replaced only slowly, with planes in operation for decades. This means it is the industry which exists today that matters, not some promised future one.
That same industry now pushes greenwash to create the false impression that it can continue with business as usual. All their arguments are flawed: small, short distance, prototype electric planes cannot even dent the scale of conventional, polluting flights. Also, all fuel substitutes have numerous problems associated with them: hydrogen planes won’t be here for decades; producing synthetic fuels requires gigantic amounts of renewable energy, which is needed more in other areas than aviation; and agrofuels have adverse side effects and constraints – plus they only account for around 0.01% of all aviation fuel currently used. The industry routinely missed its own targets on non-fossil fuels – despite all the promises and shiny advertisements. 12 While new technologies are necessary and should be developed, they’re not an excuse to keep today’s amount of air traffic. Even if they do eventually arrive for flying they will always have limits.
In a fair mobility system within a wellbeing economy the priority will be for grounded transport that benefits the majority. Having only a small part of the population fly, using a lot of renewable energy to make flying “greener” is like stealing those resources from the majority, and it slows down the transition to greener mobility for everyone. It will take clear direction, public pressure and support for sustainable alternatives to prevail over the excesses and expansion plans of aviation. But there is some good news: we can now lay the tracks for a fair and sustainable mobility system (see narrative Enjoy the Journey, p. 62). On average, a train ride emits only a small fraction of the emissions of a flight. Night trains are climate-friendly and take us from one city to another while we sleep. Also bus journeys cause far less pollution than planes. For overseas journeys, ships, especially sailing ships, are a slower and more sustainable option. And finally, many journeys can be avoided simply because they are not necessary at all. In order for us to travel grounded and sustainably in the future, many things will have to change. A shift in work culture that allows for longer travel will be necessary and we will need to make ecologically sound behaviour so normal that we don’t even think about other options. This requires better structures such as smooth booking systems and fair prices for all. But also, some major new infrastructures will be needed. Wherever they are built, for example new train lines, which are very necessary in some parts of the world, it must be done with meaningful community engagement, and the utmost consideration and care for local residents and nature.
To turn the tide, a single strategy will not be enough. Instead, a package of measures is needed to reduce air traffic and put us on track for sustainable mobility. 13
One step is ending the numerous frequent flyer reward schemes that encourage unnecessary flying. Another would be addressing the financial privileges and tax exemptions granted to aviation; pollution taxes, like a carbon tax, are necessary and long overdue. And because we all currently indirectly subsidise cheap flights and frivolous frequent flying by the rich, taxes on jet fuel and airline tickets would be a socially just measure. However, the tax system also has to target the status of flying as a luxury activity directly. Frequent flyers can be charged a progressive levy, instead of being subsidised at the taxpayers’ expense as they currently are. But without setting absolute limits across the board, changing the price of flights alone is not enough to reduce them sufficiently nor cut pollution; the rich can always buy their way out of responsibility.
Limits are a normal part of everyday life that we accept for our collective safety – speed limits on roads, alcohol limits for drivers, pollution limits in water. Along these lines, the most effective way to reduce air traffic is to directly cap the number of flights. This can be done by ending short-haul routes, where alternative transport could easily be used or built, or by limiting the amount of departures per day on specific routes. Setting absolute caps and bans is fair because nobody can use their money or privilege to get around it. A straight ban is also needed for private jets. There is no justification for allowing a few rich individuals to pollute the atmosphere we all share, at the cost of our collective future. There also needs to be a halt to the destructive construction and expansion of airports around the world. Building new infrastructure now for an industry that actually needs to shrink is nonsensical. Just the opposite, airports in many cities need to be scaled back or even closed and repurposed to the benefit of all. This all needs to be part of a larger societal shift to create affordable, green and grounded mobility.
Air transport as it exists today is a symptom of the very worst excesses of the current economic system, from inequality to ruining the planet that is our only home. The remedies lie in system change and collective behavioural change – we need both, and we need them now.
Flights not only harm the climate, but also have local effects such as noise and air pollution.
© dsleeter_2000 / Climate Visuals
Satirical advertising poster (‘subvertising’), highlighting airlines’ lack of credible climate plans and their greenwashing during the COP26 2021 climate conference in Glasgow.
Trains are not the only alternatives to flights. But in some regions of the world, many flights can already be replaced by train journeys.
The industry would like you to believe their propaganda that aviation has been leading the way with efforts to improve its environmental performance. It says it was one of the first industries to set ambitious global targets and develop a strategy to reduce its impact on the climate. It also claims that this is bearing fruit, asserting that for decades now, air transport has been becoming increasingly efficient, something that is only accelerating. This will happen according to the industry because new technologies are being developed at a rapid pace and will soon mean that we can all fly climate-neutrally and with a clear conscience.
Examples given include: electric flying, hydrogen and ‘sustainable’ aviation fuels. For these things to succeed, says the industry, three things are needed: stable growth to secure funding for green technologies, public support to accelerate development and deployment, and ‘technology openness’ instead of rules that slow down innovation. Aviation also argues that it is also taking big steps to improve air quality and reduce noise. Green flying, we are told, is on the horizon. As we show in this guide, these arguments can look impressive until they are checked against the facts, and then they tend to fall apart.
Messages to help communicate the ‘Green Means Grounded’ narrative include:
→ The only green plane is one that stays on the ground. Commercial scale flying takes a huge amount of energy and resources. Grounded alternatives are more efficient and sustainable.
→ Offsets are a licence to pollute. They legitimise business as usual, don’t work, may actually increase global emissions and lead to new injustices.
→ Fossil fuels substitutes are just drops in a fossil fuel ocean of aviation pollution. It is unlikely that they will cut pollution from air traffic in any meaningful way, regardless of industry hype which distracts from the need to reduce flights now.
→ Hydrogen planes are like unicorns. Much discussed but mythical, notorious and the subject mostly of industry fairy tales. The reality is that they are unlikely to happen in time or at any kind of scale able to deliver substantial cuts to pollution.
→ Renewable energy is scarce and should not be wasted for excessive flying. We will need all the renewable electricity we can get to decarbonise the grid and provide sustainable grounded transport for all. We should not waste it for inefficient e-fuels so that a few privileged ones can continue to fly as before.
→ To reduce air traffic and make mobility fair and green, we need a diverse approach. Taxes and market measures are important, but will not be enough. We need limits and bans on flights, as well as an end to the expansion of flight infrastructure and airports – and a cultural shift.
“WE ARE STARTING TO ENTER OUR FORESTS AS IF WE WERE THIEVES”
We know that flying harms our climate – but the aviation industry does everything it can to obscure this. While there are a multitude of ways that the industry is guilty of greenwash, there are some false solutions particularly causing exploitation and suffering in the Global South. Two of them are carbon offsets and agrofuels. Airlines that are offering these are selling a fantasy. Not only are they used to justify polluting practices, they also bring disruption to many regions in Africa, Asia and Latin America, turning upside down the lives of those that have never stepped foot on a plane.
Carbon offset projects provide carbon credits for the aviation industry and its customers, allowing them to continue polluting without a second thought. One example of these dubious offset projects is found in the Mai N’dombe province in the western Democratic Republic of Congo. Projects located here are part of one of the world’s highest profile emissions reduction schemes, REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). 14 The REDD+ scheme was negotiated under the UNFCCC and aims to reduce climate-heating emissions through improved forest management in developing countries, for which carbon credits can be sold. Forest in Mai N’dombe was allocated as a REDD+ project as it was supposedly at risk of deforestation, with the US company that runs one of the schemes, Wildlife Works Carbon (WWC), claiming that a new logging licence was set to be given the green light in 2010. However, on closer inspection, it has been illegal to issue new licences anywhere in the country due to a moratorium that has been in place since 2002. 15
WWC is not afraid to bend the truth. The company has consistently claimed that without REDD+ the area would become completely deforested, with all its old growth trees felled to make way for small-scale farming and food production. However, the reference area WWC used to make these claims is over 600 kilometres away and is in no way comparable to the project area. Actually, forest loss might have even increased during the WWC project. Despite all of this carbon credits are sold to companies like airlines claiming that this specific scheme compensates carbon emissions when, in fact, it more likely represents no actual emissions reductions at all.
Offset projects like this also negatively affect the communities that live on or around the project sites – many of which are already feeling the impacts of climate breakdown. They have lost permission to use forests further than two kilometres from their villages and are now facing additional threats, such as violent conflicts. These conflicts range from an inherent distrust between park managers and the local community, to physical violence. A 2016 report on protected areas in the Congo Basin, some of which are being considered for REDD+, showed many incidents of violence. In 21 out of the 24 protected areas for which there was information available there were records of such incidents, including serious human rights abuses. As the chief of a village in the forests of Mai N’dombe put it, before their homeland became a protected area “life was not complicated, as all the solutions could be found in the forest; but today, we are starting to enter our forests as if we were thieves.” 16
Such cases can be found around the world and also linked to other forms of greenwashing. One of them is the production of biofuels, or rather agrofuels, which the aviation industry is touting as a remedy to drive down their emissions. In fact, agrofuels create a whole host of problems too (see p. 22). One agrofuel project that encapsulates the injustice and hypocrisy of the aviation industry is the ill-named “Omega Green” project in Paraguay. This gigantic agrofuel refinery, one of the world’s largest to date and the first agrofuel plant of its kind in South America will produce primarily aviation fuels form soybean oil, animal fats from the beef industry and pongamia oil. 17
Potential pollution from the biofuel refinery, as well as increased construction and shipping along the river pose a serious risk of significant adverse impacts and also seriously affect the livelihoods of the local fishing community. Social conflicts have emerged since access to the affected Santa Rosa community has been enclosed by the company implementing the project. One resident, Ezequiel Pereira, sums up the situation bluntly: “Our dilemma is: do we die by starvation or do we die by poisoning?”. To rub further salt in the wounds of the local communities, the Omega project owner agreed a deal with the Paraguayan government to exempt the company from all taxes. This means that 100% of the profit will be taken out of the country and away from the people of Paraguay. “Biofuels and especially biofuels for aviation satisfy the demand of a global minority, while the demand in Paraguay itself is extremely low. Omega Green, like all extractive projects, brings more destruction, pain and extinction to our people. The project is dominated by interest and profits of big foreign investors and businesses, while threatening local ecosystems and impoverishing and sickening the peasant and indigenous population,” urges Inés Franceschelli from local research centre Heñói, who co-authored a case study 18 on the project.
The cruel irony of Omega is that Paraguay has an exceptionally low demand for aviation fuels. In fact, Paraguay is the lowest emitter of CO2 by air transport in South America, and the second lowest emitter per capita after Venezuela. 19 But regardless of this, the global demand for agrofuels has brought destruction, pain and extinction to the Paraguayan people, who above all demand healthy and sustainable food, not crop fuels for other people’s planes.
Offsets and agrofuels do not offer solutions to aviation’s pollution problem and also have other dynamics in common: they are destroying the lives, livelihoods and futures of communities around the world just so the aviation industry can claim it’s “going green”. But when one sees through the greenwash, it becomes clear: the real solutions lie elsewhere, and they will need to involve less flying.
Residents of the villages in conservation project regions lose access to their forests and are often not sufficiently informed about the projects. © Rainforest Foundation UK
Social conflicts have emerged since access to the affected Santa Rosa community has been privatized by the company that owns the project land. Gate impeding access, for both visitors and residents. © HEÑÓI
This narrative can be used to talk about the urgent need for a planned industry descent, and to counter the misleading ‘jobs hypocrisy’ by the aviation industry and governments. It can also be used to make the case for a widespread, fair and rapid transition, ensuring aviation workers are secured a future in other sectors better aligned to an economy based on wellbeing. You can work with it as well to drive home the message that the world is changing unavoidably in ways that mean a much smaller aviation industry.
The aviation industry is set to shrink for many unavoidable reasons and needs a safe landing. Many things were forced to pause during the pandemic from 2020 on, and aviation was one of the sectors hit hardest. Many took this time to reflect on how we, as a globally interconnected society, could move forward and make things better. Ideas of work, travel and leisure have been altered and there is a collective energy to slow down and make space for new ways of living, working and coexisting with one another this will include changes to work culture, including radical reductions in flying for work, a new willingness to travel and connect in different ways and to appreciate nearer destinations. Already before the pandemic, a social trend was spreading from Sweden that is often referred to as ‘flight shame’ – but it actually represents a responsible approach to travel and the desire to treat our planet in a sustainable way. These things highlight that there are many reasons why the aviation industry urgently needs to plan responsibly for its own safe landing and a reduction in scale. This makes a just transition for people working in aviation absolutely vital. All this makes the self-serving story told by the industry that it can maintain high quality jobs on a large scale no longer tenable (see box: the old story – the ‘Jobs Hypocrisy’).
Internationally agreed targets and measures to prevent climate breakdown are increasingly becoming a big reason for change too. At the industry’s current scale, and planned expansion, there is no meaningful prospect of replacing the dependence on fossil fuels in the necessary time frame. There are also reasons to doubt this can happen at all considering problems with alternatives. Many other reasons reinforce the inevitability of change. The experience of the pandemic, although traumatic, opened the eyes of many to the possibilities of saving time, human energy, money and pollution. Expectations about flying for work shifted almost overnight.
Beyond the immediate shocks to aviation, are those on much longer time horizons that have an impact on every aspect of our societies and economies. Trends towards automation and further digitisation (which bring their own, different problems), as well as the likelihood of future pandemics and ever-increasing climate impacts, means that tourism, and the aviation industry that props it up, will change. And this change must come through design, where economies, businesses and communities are given the support to pivot and diversify, with the objective that tourism is no longer seen as one of the only available routes to prosperity for poorer countries.
Being proactive is vital. This entails bringing the long-term job security, safety, health and the future livelihoods of people working in the industry, and the communities they comprise, to the heart of demands for change. Those working in aviation, tourism and related industries need a just transition – where they are given the skills, training and confidence to find secure, well-paid jobs in the ‘green collar’ economic sectors of tomorrow. This transition can even create more jobs. A report for Possible shows that for every job lost through a reduction in air traffic in the UK, about three new ones could be created. 20 Transitioning workers away from fossil-fuel dependent livelihoods is not an argument for delaying the changes required. When it comes to averting the worst impacts of climate breakdown, speed is crucial. But we must ensure the just transition is targeted, led by working people, democratic, and part of a society-wide push to put us on track for a fair economy. At the global level, a just transition must also address the historical responsibility for the climate crisis, by making sure that large emitters support the countries most affected by the climate crisis in the transitions they choose.
While we deliver the controlled descent of the existing aviation industry, airport expansion must be ended. At the same time, we must switch new training and employment in the aviation sector to other branches, and ensure that those who retire or gain employment in other industries are not replaced. Compensation must be made available for those who have joined the industry at great expense to themselves when there is no longer a lengthy career available to them. All of this needs to be supported by governments, instead of repeatedly propping up the aviation industry with taxpayers’ money.
This will bring new opportunities for some, depending on skills and experience, but will leave others more precarious and exposed. Then there are shifts which many, if not all, parts of the economy must deal with. And, the longer that the aviation industry delays making plans for a just transition and conversion, the more it exposes its own workforces and investors, both public and private, to growing risks. For both economic and social reasons, we need to plan for a better future before abrupt, uncontrollable changes are forced upon everyone. Let’s land the plane safely, and lay tracks for the new journey ahead. We need change by design, not by disaster.
To harm aviation would be to destroy the dreams of children. For those whose dreams have supposedly already come true, the industry claims to take good care of them with good wages and conditions. This is why, they argue, it was so important that airlines and other parts of the airline industry were supported by governments during the pandemic. Securing jobs in the sector means that air travel can take off again after the pandemic – and all of us with it. The common realities of long anti-social working hours, job losses and industrial unrest do not feature in this old story.
Messages to help communicate the ‘Safe Landing’ narrative include:
→ Change will happen by disaster or by design – let’s choose design. Ensuring a safe landing means reducing the industry sustainably – or we risk a crash.
→ Delaying change is reckless, exposing working people to growing risks – the longer the industry fails to plan for change the more likely disasters and other things outside its control will force change far more painfully.
→ The workers who built the aviation industry of today deserve a prosperous and protected future– that means creating political pressure through the workplace, challenging heel-dragging politicians and organising public protest to ensure alternative opportunities.
→ We bailed out the airlines from our own pockets, now it’s their turn to pay back with action – to lay the foundations for a just transition for their workers, coughing up the cash for re-training programmes and pivoting their business models away from its fossil-fuel addiction.
→ The first stage of transition is putting the brakes on expansion – both in terms of the size of the aviation industry and its workforce. Those workers that have just joined the industry must be supported in finding fulfilling work elsewhere, as a long and enduring career in the industry is not possible.
PEOPLE UNITED, AIRCRAFT NOISE SUBSIDED
It’s Thursday afternoon and night is falling in the coastal area of Castelldefels, just 20 minutes from Barcelona. From the terraces of the bars, always full of neighbours eager to enjoy the sea breeze while having a drink with friends, a lively murmur rises. The scene is ideal, until the murmur suddenly stops. The noise of an aeroplane’s engines, as loud as roaring thunder, forces conversations to stop. You can’t understand a word someone else says as the aircraft passes by at low altitude to land at the nearby El Prat airport.
Beyond other types of impacts – climate, health and biodiversity amongst others – the exponential increase of air traffic in Barcelona has aggravated the impacts of an unsustainable mass tourism model. The expulsion of residents for the transformation of their houses into tourist accommodations, the increase of rental prices or the substitution of daily commerce with shops and services for tourists are some of the main problems faced by the residents of Barcelona and surrounding towns.
These impacts would only increase if the Barcelona airport expansion project was to be approved. For Daniel Pardo, an activist in Barcelona representing Asamblea de Barrios por el Decrecimiento Turístico (Neighbourhood Assembly for a Degrowth in Tourism), the increase in capacity at El Prat would be devastating. “The statements made by public officials claiming that an increase of 30 million passengers a year would not increase the number of tourists are absurd. Of course they would. And, with it, the number of tourist accommodations needed – and therefore of evictions and expulsions,” he laments.
Precisely because of the potential repercussions of the airport expansion, the groups in Barcelona that defend another model of city development took to the streets in September 2021 in a historic demonstration that brought together some 90,000 people. The massive public resistance was one major reason for the Spanish government to decide to withdraw the project. The fight against touristification is one of the many social struggles that have helped to stop the expansion. The networking between movements for environmental and climate justice, housing rights, labour rights and social justice over the years have served to achieve this great collective success.
The victory of citizens against this megaproject only confirms the strength of social demands for a transition to a fairer system. More and more trade unions are also beginning to re-orientate their focus towards environmental sustainability and care for the planet as the basis of our livelihoods. This is accompanied by a questioning of a “business as usual” in sectors that are no longer sustainable. This includes tourism in its current extractive form, which is dependent on obscenely cheap air transport.
“Mass sun and beach tourism is a sector that is highly dependent on aviation and very vulnerable, as the Covid pandemic has shown. We need to focus on more inland and local tourism, based on sustainability, respect for the territory and on more sustainable mobility options,” says Carlos Martínez, member of the Secretary of Environment from Comisiones Obreras, the biggest Spanish trade union. In a paper published in January 2021 together with the biggest Spanish environmental NGOs, Comisiones Obreras argues for reducing dependency on mass tourism and air traffic and against new infrastructures that extend this model, especially with public money, such as airports or high-capacity roads.
Even though it is probably hardest for them – more and more trade unionists and workers realise that air traffic cannot continue as before Covid. This is also reflected by initiatives in other places than Barcelona: Internationally, but with a UK focus, the group Safe Landing represents ‘climate concerned aviation professionals’ including pilots, engineers, and cabin crew, and calls for rapid adoption of regulations to reduce emissions and a plan to support workers during any transition. In France, a group of aerospace engineers called Supaero Decarbo recently proposed an ‘Industrial Alliance for the Climate’ to take charge of a transition that could otherwise result in short-term jobs losses. Just to name two.
The struggle around the expansion of Barcelona’s airport is not over. Barcelona continues to be a city threatened by an unsustainable conception of tourism and mobility. It’s becoming increasingly clear that social movements such as Asamblea de Barrios por el Decrecimiento Turístico and future-oriented trade unions have contributed to building a global discourse of opposition to the current economic model and to the proposal of another system that puts people and life at the centre. So we can have a world in which conversations between neighbours do not have to stop because of the noise of aeroplanes and people’s income does not depend on jobs that destroy the earth, our only home.
Messages to help communicate the “Enjoy the journey’’ narrative include:
→ Travel as if there was a tomorrow – take low-impact journeys that you can enjoy, because it will help mean that our children and future generations will also be able to continue travelling and enjoy their journeys.
→ Discovery on your doorstep – travelling more locally can open up adventure and discovery on your doorstep, getting to know the varied communities, history, cultures and places around you.
→ Moving with meaning – by choosing to travel better, you are safe in the knowledge that your choices are not heating up the planet or supporting an industry that is actively undermining the habitability of our climate.
→ Don’t travel when you don’t want to – if flying was already a burden, something you had to do for work, then not flying by connecting virtually is now easy and common, saving time, energy, cost and pollution.
→ It feels better being grounded – travelling overland gives a much greater sense of time and connection, it is more sociable by train, there is time to adapt and arrive in tune with a place, and no jet lag.
The idea of travel, specifically when voluntary and chosen, presses lots of positive buttons in people. Adventure, escape, romance, curiosity, pilgrimage, rejuvenation, refuge, making remote human connections – all of these can motivate travel. Travelling for work may also entwine some of these dynamics and add in a few others such as things to do with status, responsibility and trust.
However, the often uncomfortable realities of taking flights are just one thing that leave many thinking that there must be a better way to get around. Also, rising awareness of aviation’s harm to the natural world, the damage it does to the very places it promises to take you to, and the care for loved ones threatened by looming climate breakdown, makes contributing to air traffic increasingly hard to enjoy and justify. 21 Ever more people want to travel responsibly even if doing things differently is not without challenge: insufficient funding has resulted in alternatives to privileged and artificially cheapened air transport being systematically neglected. In poorer, rural areas and especially in the Global South, even basic transport systems are lacking. Major investments and innovation are needed to make travel that is essential affordable, comfortable and accessible for all. But travelling differently can be less damaging and more enjoyable also for those who would normally currently fly.
Therefore, inspiring people to find positives in other forms of travel is key. Whether for work, leisure or the many other reasons, not only is it possible to travel better and more responsibly without flying, sometimes people can even ‘travel’ more comfortably by connecting with others without actually moving from where they are at all. This is very different to the old story told by the aviation industry about how indispensable it is for connecting people (see box: the old story – the ‘Freedom Fallacy’).
Few things compare to the pleasure of just sitting on a train and watching the landscape shift and transform before your eyes. To see the world outside your window change on long journeys as you cross time zones, latitudes and altitudes. On spacious trains, you can stretch your legs and go to the dining car to break up the journey, enjoying the often decent on-board food and engaging in conversations with other travellers. And night trains let you board in one city and wake up, rested, in another, as if by magic. Train journeys can also be once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Who wouldn’t want to take a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway – given enough time? But there are still more adventurous ways to travel on the ground: a trip by ship, perhaps by sailboat, to cross the ocean is something not many people can say they have had the adventure of doing. And if you want to be sporty, a cycling trip or a multi-day or even multi-week hike can make the journey itself the central part of a holiday.
So called ‘staycationing’ – holidaying at or nearer to home – is another part of the new picture, although it has already been an established habit or necessity for many. It allows people to rediscover neighbouring regions and contribute to local economies closer to where they live. Different types of ‘active travel’ holidays also grew in popularity alongside reviving night train services that, in Europe for example, opened up new ways to travel longer distances without flying. These alternative holiday ideas allow people to form deeper connections with time and place, directly challenging the need for air travel sustaining human connection. Especially where work is concerned, for those people who were able to do their job from home during the coronavirus pandemic, many discovered that they could save time, money and carbon by ‘travelling virtually’ instead of commuting, whether that was by car or plane. 22 This was especially the case where flying was concerned. Business travel as it used to be, pre-pandemic, is dying out. Now, either from the perspective of individuals expected to travel, or organisations formerly requiring their employees to fly, the pause in air traffic due to the pandemic has established different expectations, and allowed some pleasures to be rediscovered.
As a result, an appealing narrative to tell is how when we travel, we can enjoy the journey better. Enjoying travelling sustainably means travelling differently and in many cases less frequently, but with meaning, purpose and the knowledge that your travel choice – or the reason to forgo travel altogether – is contributing to a safe climate for your community, family and countless others around the world.
The picture painted is that flying is fast, comfortable and affordable. Air travel enables you to enjoy distant, exotic
and new countries. It is exciting and adventurous. As individuals, those who can afford it are offered the opportunity to broaden their horizons. This overlaps with the industry story that aviation benefits human progress in poorer regions of the world too, when people from Europe and North America fly and spend their money there. This ‘freedom’, they say, only comes at a small cost because air travel is allegedly only responsible for a small part of climate change, which is often exaggerated. What the old story leaves out is the pleasure derived from other, slower ways of travelling, the frequent discomfort and inconveniences of flying, and how its local and global impacts take away key freedoms from many.
What works will depend on what is known or familiar to your context and audience – but cultures are full of examples that can be drawn on for different circumstances. Brainstorm which ones might work for you. Here are a just a few to give a flavour:
Icarus – Icarus is a figure from ancient Greek mythology who, to escape imprisonment made wings with feathers fixed by wax, but flew too near the sun, melting the wax, and crashed to his doom – a tale of how flying too high without respecting natural limits leads to disaster.
The Tortoise and the Hare – being obsessed and overconfident with how fast you can get from one place to another can lead to a fall, slow and steady wins in the story of the tortoise and the hare who agree to a race.
Snakes on a Plane – airline disaster movies are a whole film genre to themselves, and a constant reminder of how vulnerable people are when flying and how unnatural it is. Snakes on a plane became an iconic example of the genre.
Indigenous myths and folklore – are full of flying monsters, threats that fill the air posing danger to life on the ground. There are monsters like the Kanontsistóntie’s from the Native American Iroquois and Wyandot mythology. These are human eating disembodied flying heads with fire in their eyes and long unkempt hair. A similar creature exists by different names in many South East Asian cultures – possibly more horrific for dragging its own entrails along – known as penanggalan in Malay ghost myths, or leyak in Bali and kasu in Laos.
LAYING TRACKS FOR INDIA’S FUTURE
When plans were announced to expand Karad Airport in Maharashtra, India, this triggered a major protest in July 2011. Nearly 1,000 farmers protested against the acquisition of their land, marching from the airport to the sub-divisional office (SDO), where they submitted a memorandum and demanded a meeting with then Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Prithviraj Chavan, to discuss their grievances. One of the demonstrators was peasant leader Ashok Thorat who said: “No one from Karad has ever demanded expansion of the airport. There are no industries in Karad, so commercial air services were never introduced at this airport since inception. The farmers are serious about not giving up the land.”
It’s not only Karad. India is a site of many resistance struggles against socially and environmentally damaging large-scale projects – including many airports. 23 But the country has also been characterised in recent years by a rapidly changing economy and thus also mobility. As in other parts of the world, a greater number of people have started to fly in India over recent years. Still, train travel is an obvious and easy alternative to flights. Vivek Gilani, Managing Director of social enterprise cBalance was an aviation enthusiast – until he discovered what flying does to his carbon footprint. Now he advocates for grounded travel, especially trains: “Most places are well connected through trains and the train culture here is something to be experienced. I enjoy my train travel. From the special ‘tiffin’ or travel food that one carries from home and co-passengers still readily share, to the diversity of language and conversations and the changing landscapes and sounds at each station, there’s much to enjoy.”
Gilani has also applied his principles in his work at cBalance, which focuses on sustainability issues, and implemented a general no-fly policy for staff. “On the rare occasion one of us does need to fly it is the exception – a one way flight because rescheduling is not possible or a flight for health reasons. Since our work is in environmental stewardship, it is inspiring to many that our small team of young people do not default to flights for our travel needs.” Gilani and his colleagues experienced that their work is deemed more credible because cBalance is known to walk its talk. Sometimes customers and partners are surprised that even the head of the organisation has taken the train. “Once, the CEO of the company we were conducting a workshop for went around his whole office telling everyone that I travelled by train all the way from Mumbai only for the workshop,” says Gilani.
When cBalance staff travel as a group, they use that time and space to plan or to pause. “We play board games or just simply get to know each other better, or catch up on sleep or reading. Occasionally we will also have conversations with the fellow passengers about politics or our work. The longest train travel I’ve done was from Bangalore to Delhi, which is about 35 hours of travel time. I had to go to Delhi for a workshop immediately after finishing one in Bangalore. The 35 hours was ‘my time’ to recoup and re-energize myself before I took up the climate-healing work again. Mostly, trains are a reminder to me to humanise myself – especially if I’ve been flying too high in my head about who I am. It really grounds me.”
Of course, train travel, like any mode of transport, is not without downsides – neither in India nor anywhere else. But there are particular issues in every country. Talking about India, Gilany says: “An implicit obstacle I see is class descrimination. In India, trains are the most used mode of transport and the so-called high society needs something else that differentiates them from the general public. Train travel becomes the common persons’ transport. They see this as antithetical to the pursuit of their personal prosperity. From a climate perspective, as well as from a social justice perspective, I think we’ve seen enough of the damage done to realise that we all need to make better transport choices, irrespective of where we hail from.”
Over the next few years, Gilani does not want to take any international flights and find a sea route to Europe and the USA: “I’m hoping that through our work we find many more colleagues, collaborators and clients within India who cut back on flying. We are all surrounded by people who push us to be and do what the world defines is normal! But we need to stay focused and understand that slow travel is the way forward. Slow, not in terms of time, but slow, as a way to look at humanity through a different lens like a worm through the earth versus a missile through the sky. Slow as a way to enrich the earth through our life on it.” Back to Karad: in July 2019 small-scale farmers began protesting, continuously through days and nights, with a sit-in in front of the district’s planning administration against the airport expansion. The farmers who started the sit-in (Thiyya Aandola) announced they would continue their protest until the government meets their demands and cancels the project.
The farmers claim that the expansion will not help the development of the district. On the contrary, it will lead to their impoverishment: for expansion of an existing airstrip into a fully-fledged airport next to the city of Karad, fertile and irrigated farm-land will be grabbed. Vinayak Shinde, the spokesperson of the affected villagers and activist of Shramik Mukti Dal, says that 1,335 hectares of farmland cultivated with an irrigation-system are under threat. Critical infrastructure for the irrigation system is located on the land to be acquired. Shinde said: “Residents of the villages of Warunji, Kese, Munde, Padali, Gote and Supane have worked to develop this irrigation scheme for more than 50 years. If the land acquisition is carried out this will be a huge loss for about 25,000 people who depend upon this agriculture.”
On 19th September 2019, after 53 days and nights, farmers ended their protest. The farmers maintain that the airport expansion project is illegal. Still today, they are trying to stop expansion, but the government of Maharashtra is not fulfilling their demand.
© Deepangkar Goswami/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Birdsong greets you as you wake after a good night’s sleep. Today’s the day. You’re finally travelling again. Your suitcase is packed and waiting. You leave your room and head downstairs to the shared dining room and kitchen. Mika, your housemate is still having breakfast. You sit beside her with a bowl of porridge. “There are some of the Algerian dates left,” she says, “they taste amazing in the porridge.” Algerian dates, you think, are something very special, but I’m already looking forward to fresh strawberries from the community garden next door. And all the fruits waiting for us this summer. I will not miss the dates at all even before winter returns. And, who knows: maybe the cooperative will get some in anyway. There will, without doubt, be another big delivery of tropical fruits and goods via the North-South Solidarity Co-op next winter.
The sky is clear blue and calm as you close the door and look up. Unusually, there is an aeroplane contrail. Maybe that was another humanitarian emergency flight, you think. There have been several recently that took off from the nearest airport in the capital city, 50 kilometres from here. The capital is one of the few cities that still has an operating airport.
Today you don’t take the cargo bike you usually ride, when you run errands for your family and the rest of your housemates. You attach your small bike trailer to your bicycle, so that you can transport your suitcase comfortably, get on the bike and head towards the train station.
You look at your watch and realise that you will be at the station far too early. But never mind, you think, it’s a great place to spend time. When you arrive at the station, you go to the bakery and buy two sandwiches. Bread tastes much better today than it did thirty years ago, your father always says, remembering his youth. The thing is, there’s hardly any bad bread any more since we started dedicating more time to making our own food. The same goes for vegetables. The old, revived varieties are not only more resistant to the erratic weather, but tastier too.
Abdullah is working in the bakery today. Thanks to him, there are fresh flatbreads twice a week. After a short chat, you go into the large waiting room in the station, find a seat in the waiting room, intending to read a book. But suddenly you find yourself watching the children playing in the childcare area at the other side of the hall. Their parents are probably waiting for their train in the small café next door.
It’s amazing that I have the chance to make this journey, you think. The last time you made such a long journey was two years ago. Three months via Spain and Morocco and Mauritania all the way to Senegal. First by night train – it was incredibly nice to wake up, open the blinds of the cosy sleeping compartment and see the Mediterranean Sea stretching out before you, sparkling blue. From Malaga you travelled by train and the last part by electric bus. Senegal was exciting. You hadn’t planned it, but when people there told you about a new eco-airship line from Dakar to Yamoussoukro in Cote d’Ivoire, you spontaneously decided to head there. When you asked a woman outside the train station where the nearest hotel was, she kindly invited you to stay at her family’s home. In Abidjan, you stayed with acquaintances of your friend Claude, who grew up near the city. And in a bar a group of friends talked to you all night about football, excited to learn that Didier Drogba was the coach of your favourite club. He is still a hero in his home country – even though he was a much better player than coach.
Your train is about to arrive. You fetch your bike, and roll it into one of the two bike wagons. Inside, you hang it on a hook and put the trailer in the spacious storage area. You take your suitcase with you and find a seat in the next coach.
As the train departs and the station building with its green facades slowly moves away, you watch as your town shrinks, drifting further and further away. It is criss-crossed by lush green and gleaming beautifully as the rooftop solar panels that adorn most homes glitter in the sunlight.
Few vehicles drive on the road next to the railway line, mostly trucks or delivery vans. Some goods are simply more flexible to transport by road. But I’m glad that hardly anyone has their own car nowadays. The stories of hours wasted in traffic jams and horrendous accidents that older people often tell today sound terrible, but alien. Fortunately, we can enjoy the roads almost entirely to ourselves these days, you think, remembering the last neighbourhood street concert where you danced all night with neighbours and friends.
“Where are you going?” asks the woman sitting in the seat across from you. “That’s a big suitcase!”
“To Kathmandu,” you say.
“Oh, are you on sabbatical?” she asks, introducing herself as Mia.
“That’s right, I’m going to travel for half a year. I’ve never been away that long before. And I haven’t been that far either. I’m really looking forward to it.”
“Well, you’re still young. After this trip, you’ll have a lot to tell your friends. You know, when I was your age, travelling was different. We called it ‘tourism’. We got on a plane, flew to the other side of the world, sometimes just for a few days, and we often spent most of our time there, just in the hotel. Pointless. But the worst part was work. I had a job where I had to fly to another city every few weeks. It was so stressful and I was exhausted all the time. But when the Great Pandemic hit, things started to change …
1 Institute for Global Prosperity (2019): Universal Basic Services: Theory And Practice.
2 New Economics Foundation (2009): A Bit Rich: Calculating the real value to society of different professions.
3 Hickel (2021): Less is More. How Degrowth will Save the World.
4 Schor (2010): Plentitude: The New Economics of True Wealth.
5 Hopkins (2019): From What Is to What If: Unleashing the Power of Imagination to Create the Future We Want.
6 O’Callaghan & Hepburn (2020): Why airline bailouts are so unpopular with economists.
7 The Guardian (2020): US government agrees on $25bn bailout for airlines as pandemic halts travel.
8 The Independent (2020): United Airlines sending layoff notices to nearly half of US employees.
9 USA Today (2020): ‘‘A gut punch”: United Airlines to lay off up to 36,000 U.S. employees in October as travel remains depressed.
10 Forbes (2020): United Airlines got billions from the government, paid executives millions and now could downsize almost half of its U.S workforce.
11 The Guardian (2020): United Airlines received billions in Covid aid. Now thousands of workers could lose their jobs.
13 BBC (2021): United plans supersonic passenger flights by 2029.
14 Stay Grounded (2021): Greenwashing. bit.ly/SGGreenwashing
15 Kothari et al. (2019): Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary; Simms, Johnson & Edwards (2009) Other worlds are possible: human progress in an age of climate change.
16 Gössling & Humpe (2020): The global scale, distribution and growth of aviation: Implications for climate change.
17 Environmental Justice Atlas: Map of Airport-Related Injustice and Resistance. bit.ly/AirportConflictMapping
18 See graphic on page 19
19 The Guardian (2019): How your flight emits as much CO2 as many people do in a year.
20 Sher et. al. (2021): Unprecedented Impacts of Aviation Emissions on Global Environmental and Climate Change Scenario.
21 See infographic in this publication page 23.
22 Stay Grounded (2019): Degrowth of Aviation.
23 APEM, Rainforest UK Foundation (2020): REDD-MINUS: The Rhetoric and Reality of the Mai Ndombe REDD+ Programme. bit.ly/ReddMaiNdombe
25 Rainforest Foundation UK (2016): Protected Areas in the Congo Basin: Failing both people and biodiversity?
26 See Environmental Impact Assessment available at: bit.ly/3GTpkk0 and Blog Biocombustible avanzado (2021): bit.ly/3wBtXLz; ECB Group (2021): bit.ly/30cCMjg
27 Franceschelli et al. (2022): Producing fuel for other people’s planes. A case study on the Omega Green biofuel refinery in Paraguay: stay-grounded.org/agrofuel-case-study
28 Griffith University: Global Sustainable Tourism Dashboard. bit.ly/GriffithAviationEmissions
29 Possible (2022): The Right Track for Green Jobs: Cutting aviation emissions while boosting employment and climate-friendly travel.
30 Söderberg & Wormbs (2019) Grounded. Beyond Flygskam.
31 Rapid Transition Alliance (2020): Lessons from Lockdown.
32 Environmental Justice Atlas: Map of Airport-Related Injustice and Resistance. bit.ly/AirportConflictMapping