Aztext Press

Life Off-the-Grid

Why I Don’t Fly

By Cam Mather

After I had finished taping my latest podcast on “Two Beers With Steve” he was talking about being in Atlanta, and asked if I’d ever been there. I said, “No, I don’t travel.” There was a long pause as Steve tried to process the information. “You don’t travel. Oh.”

Lots of people don’t travel because they can’t afford it, or they don’t enjoy it, but we have made a very conscious decision to not fly. And yes, I do not relish airport security and being trapped in a shiny metal box hurtling through the air at 500 miles per hour. Those aspects of air travel certainly don’t inspire me to fly. But mostly I choose not to fly because I just can’t rationalize the environmental impact.

George Monbiot does a great job of examining air travel in his book “HEAT: How to Stop the Planet from Burning.” You can buy all the carbon offsets you want to try and ease your impact, but the reality is there really is nothing like flying when it comes to having a negative effect on the climate. It’s not just the massive amounts of C02 that are released by the jet engines to haul that 200 or 300 tons into the air. Where it’s released along with the other pollutants and particulates is also a major problem. Up in the troposphere aircraft emissions do much more damage and the vapor or contrails that form reflect light back into space during the day and trap heat at night and therefore have a greater overall negative effect.

Monbiot examines and considers all of the potential methods being discussed to reduce the impact of air travel, from modified engines, modified fuels, modified designs on the jets, but nothing will make a significant difference. And since most aircraft are used for many, many years, even if radical modifications are invented, there is still a huge fleet of airplanes with decades of usefulness in them before being ready to retire. Worst of all, air travel is expected to continue to increase over the next few decades and will become the leading contributor to climate change.

In England, where Monbiot lives, he points out that the government talks about its commitment to reducing greenhouse gases, but continues to build more and larger airports. And since no one gets credited with the carbon from international flights (i.e. neither where you leave from or land) England can make grand claims while still increasing air travel because the impact is not being included in its total.

I particularly like Monbiot’s statement that when you fly you are destroying the lives of people who will probably never fly themselves. People in the Maldives or Bangladesh who are already being impacted by rising sea levels don’t fly much themselves. This is a rich, developed country issue. We simply have got to fly less. Dramatically less.

Michelle and I have made the decision to stay put. No midwinter breaks to warmer climates. I’ll never make it to Machu Picchu in Peru. I’m afraid I’ll just have to miss any weddings that take place on another continent.

These are issues we’ll all be confronting as the price of kerosene (jet fuel) skyrockets with peak oil and the impact of air travel is debated. It’s not an easy decision to make. If you ran for a political party with this as your campaign theme, you wouldn’t get many votes. Monbiot makes a good point;

“Unlike almost all public protests which have preceded it, the campaign against climate change is not for abundance but for austerity. It is a campaign not for more freedom but for less. Strangest of all, it is a campaign not just against other people, but also against ourselves.”



  1. Cindy

    Cam, this was the Ads by Google at the bottom of your blog today…
    Cheap Air Flight
    Compare Cheap Airline Tickets Save up to 55%. Fares from $28

    Not good timing!…lol

    • aztextpress

      Oh wow…. how funny! Scary though how google picks up on key words!

  2. I stumbled upon this post by accident and am very happy to have found it.

    I too have stopped flying and I spent the last year within a 100 mile radius of my house. It was one of the best years of my life, and I wrote about it here, in Mother Jones magazine.

    During my experiment in local living I was a bit disheartened that so many people told me that they could never give up travel. Most of the world’s inhabitants have never been on an airplane.

    Monbiot’s book explains it well. If only more of us would follow…

    best wishes,
    Christie Aschwanden

    • aztextpress

      Thanks for the comment Christie and the link to your article. I enjoyed reading it and appreciate the stats you shared. Considering your family history with air travel, I applaud you all the more for considering the environmental implications of your actions…. I think most people would rather just NOT think about it…..

  3. Rita Marsh

    The main reason to travel is to experience other cultures and see the magnificent places in the world. Well, with todays technology, we can vicariously do this and reduce our footprint that way. The internet abounds with pictures of the beauty (and horrors) in our world. We can converse with other cultures with relative ease over the internet. There are also external costs the we don’t think about when we travel. Our presence in other countries increases the host countries cost of maintainence and upkeep in the areas we like to visit. We create more trash, place extra demands on their infrastructure and expect the host countries to maintain certain levels of service. These are our demands, not necessarily those of the indeginous peoples. Why do we assume our needs are superior?

    • aztextpress

      Hi Rita
      Thanks for your comments.
      With the advances in technology that allow people to “teleconference” it still amazes me how many businesses choose to fly their employees over great distances for short meetings.

  4. Rita Marsh

    Very good point about the teleconferencing, Michelle. I am currently trying to find a legitimate “work at home” business. This is just one way I am trying to reduce my carbon footprint. I just cannot feel right about having to commute to work, and sitting in traffic is not my idea of a good time, it is so unproductive too. I love the idea of living above the store, like “good ole days”. Speaking of that, I have often wondered why Wal-Mart, with it’s huge footprint, doesn’t have low-income housing on a second floor? It would be a great way to keep your best customers close.

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