One thing really sticks out for me among all the inspiring climate actions we've seen over the last few months: Greta Thunberg arriving by train to speak to UK politicians, as part of an epic Spring trip to European cities.
It’s safe to say the social silence around ‘talking climate’ has been temporarily if not permanently broken for many Brits. A recent opinion poll showed that two thirds of us would be willing to make a personal sacrifice for the climate if we knew others were doing the same.
But there’s still one area of carbon cutting behaviour that even some people within the climate movement struggle to talk about: not flying.
Flying is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gases globally and reducing the amount we fly is one of the most impactful behaviour changes frequent flyers can take to cut carbon.
It’s important to note one crucial fact about flying before I get into how much carbon is saved by choosing to stay grounded when travelling. Only a small proportion of us are responsible for the majority of the problem.
Estimates suggest only five percent of the world’s population have ever flown. Government data shows that even within the UK 70 percent of all flights are taken by just 15 percent of Brits.
These ‘frequent flyers’ are more likely to be professionals with disposable income who can afford to take multiple flights a year.
Those who fly the least if at all are generally from poorer communities who are also most vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis.
The disproportionate number of people flying is just another example of how those most vulnerable to climate change are generally least responsible for it.
It also means that those most responsible must be most empowered to take action and change their behaviour.
When it comes to taking personal action on climate change, for frequent flyers, there is scarcely any other single act more effective at cutting carbon than avoiding a flight.
Defying gravity through air travel produces a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions. So much so that taking eight return trips from London to Berlin on the train produces the same amount of carbon as a single flight from the UK to the German capital.
Worse still, the impact of releasing emissions higher in the atmosphere is much worse than emitting it on the ground. Other than carbon, planes also emit other kinds of gases and particles, which have both a cooling or warming effect.
High in the atmosphere where most planes fly, the hot, moist air released from the engine exhaust mixes with cold air. The moisture condenses, forming ice crystals which reflect the sun’s heat into space but also trap it in the atmosphere.
Despite the cooling effect, scientists calculated the total impact of a plane on raising global temperatures, is twice as high as its carbon emissions alone.
Despite this, aviation is rapidly expanding in the UK and is currently on track to account for a quarter of all UK carbon emissions by 2050.
The good news is however that attitudes are beginning to move in the right direction on flying.
In research 10:10 commissioned late last year, we found 50 percent of people are ready to reduce the amount they fly in order to protect the environment, but only three percent of us do.
Clean travel is already mainstream in Sweden as climate superstar Greta Thunberg kickstarted a “flygskam” (flight shame) movement with her train-trips around Europe.
And with the launch of the new Caledonian Sleeper and the London to Amsterdam Eurostar in the last year, slow travel with an emphasis on the journey as well as the destination, is set to become easier.
Europe is blessed with some of the best transport networks in the world, with several world-class high speed rail networks and a host of organisations, like Seat 61, dedicated to helping plan and book your journeys.
For many however time is a huge barrier to choosing flight free holidays. Generally, travelling on holiday by train, coach or boat instead flying, takes a lot longer. That’s exactly why we’re developing our new scheme, Climate Perks.
Climate Perks enables employers to offer paid ‘journey days’ to empower staff to choose low-carbon holiday travel. The perfect solution for those who love to travel the world and protect it too.
Working for a Climate Perks employer means you can choose clean travel without losing out on hard-earned leisure time, by being offered at least two paid ‘journey days’ annually to use for holiday travel without heading to the airport.
By coming on board to Climate Perks as an employer, you’ll be a part of getting climate conscious travel off (or rather on) the ground in the UK and be recognised as leading the way on climate action.
Our research found that 50 percent of 18-44 year olds would prefer to work for an employer that helps them to take clean travel on holiday.
Climate Perks employers can meet this rising demand from staff, and potential recruits, assisting them in making lifestyle choices that reflect their values - strengthening staff well-being, satisfaction and loyalty.
Helping to shift these travel habits is the quickest and smartest way to keep carbon emissions from planes in check, whilst ensuring those most responsible are most empowered to take action.
For me, clean travel is a chance to rediscover the magic of the journey - whether that’s winding through stunning scenery in the alps or waking up after a night journey in the heart of a new city.
Travelling slowly gives me valuable time for reflection and has helped re-evaluate what I really cherish when I go on holiday, making me appreciate it so much more.
After all taking action on climate change isn’t about having less of what you want, but rather more of what you need. Staying grounded really is the best way to stay grounded.
Sarah Barfield Marks is press and PR office at 10:10 Climate Action, a charity that runs positive, practical projects at the community level, and turns these local actions into a force for bigger changes.