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Fear of Flying

Posted by Natalie in Sustainable Travel Journal - 7 May 2013

I’m writing today from Italy. It’s pouring intermittently and the countryside resembles a rainforest: lush, green and stubbornly overgrown. Yesterday I arrived from Barcelona, that sweaty city with surprising architectural pleasures, should you choose to look beyond Gaudimania. But the whys and wherefores of my trip are less important, this time, than the hows:

I flew here. From Berlin. For the first time in four years, I walked, sweaty of palm and slack of principle, onto a magnificent mechanical albatross and soared across the continent, covering almost 2000 kilometres in just over two hours.

Initially I’d been petrified of this moment, convinced that my decision to fly would be punished with some kind of horrific “accident.” Irrational fears overruled, I boarded the plane confidently; a few shallow breaths perhaps belying a lingering hangover. I placed my complete trust in a man I’d never met, and accepted a fate that was totally out of my control.

But I didn’t give up air travel out of a fear of flying. I quit because I wanted to make a meaningful stand in the fight against climate change. That was back in 2009 when, though skeptical, I feigned optimism until I actually started believing it. I developed a faith in the power of the individual. Anyway, what’s the point in writing about sustainability if your message is one of hopelessness?

Four years on–I’m going to come out and say it–things aren’t looking good. I’m not going to sit here and link to the articles and scientific papers that continue to paint an ever more depressing picture of our planet’s future. You’ve all seen the headlines, maybe even scanned the text, and then, like me, you’ve closed the tab or clicked another, less harrowing, story.

Does it really matter whether I separate my recycling, while fossil fuel giants and governments remain cosy bedfellows? The fracking craze is in full swing. The Arctic is drilled for oil even as it melts. Nuclear plants are replaced with dirty coal in a post-Fukushima panic. Once upon a time, I’d have said, categorically: Yes. It matters. And funnily enough, I still can’t bring myself to stop obsessively sorting papers, plastics and metals. We need to lead by example, I’d have said. Be the change.

But I’m not so sure anymore. I’ve lost what little faith I had in our leaders, those who can make the most significant impact. How can I board a plane, if I can’t trust its pilot?

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