Explorer, author, trail prospector & travel writer

#FlightFree2020: Travel Blogging And The Multiplier Effect

There’s an elephant in the room with my #FlightFree2020 pledge.

My work is tied inextricably to the international travel industry, which in turn relies heavily on flying.

In other words, if I continue to do my job well, I will increase overall aviation emissions – whether or not I myself take any flights – as a result of what might be called the multiplier effect.

Through my blog TomsBikeTrip.com, for example, I dish out advice and inspiration for bicycle travel to 50,000 visitors a month, encouraging them to explore the world on two wheels.

But what if, in acting upon my evangelism, my readers then fly all over the world in order to ride their bikes? For how long and how far should they pedal their human-powered, zero-emission transportation devices for me to justify keeping that blog online?

With the Transcaucasian Trail, I am actively encouraging hikers to travel to the Caucasus, because I can see the huge potential a healthy trail tourism industry could have to make rural life here more liveable.

But what if those hikers fly here, perhaps as a result of blog posts like this (which I am obliged to write and publish as part of my ‘job’)? How many days’ walking will it take to negate the impact of landing?

From another angle, I believe it’s critical for the team who are building the trail to engage with the global community of long-distance trail developers. To that end, I am sending one of my Armenian colleagues to Nepal in September as a delegate to the biannual World Trails Conference.

Should I ask him to spend a month travelling overland halfway across Asia and back so I can avoid responsibility for his flights?

These are just a couple of examples of the spiralling complexity that emerges when you consider the multiplier effect of your actions. In my kind of circumstances, it can easily make participation in a single-issue campaign like #FlightFree2020 feel futile.

The way I see it, however, minimising aviation emissions is a long-term project. And long-term projects succeed when the goal is broken down and tackled piece by piece.

So this is what I am going to do:

1. I am going to consider all of my professional activities in turn, and ask: ‘In what ways are my actions encouraging others to fly?’

2. I am then going ask of each item on the resulting list: ‘What actions can I take to change this?’

And I will report back with the resulting answers.

Sound good?


7 responses to “#FlightFree2020: Travel Blogging And The Multiplier Effect”

  1. Hilz Kitching avatar
    Hilz Kitching

    Take a steam boat instead; oh drat it’s back to square one again…carbon emissions from coal production and burning off.
    Anyway, I’d rather sail with my bike onboard than fly, but even modern diesel engine ferries burn enormous amounts of fuel and they’re not running at anywhere near full passenger capacity, especially these days.
    Personally Tom, I agree I think it’s the big picture that matters…and major carbon savings made only when one is able to easily monitor the true carbon cost of each journey and average it out at the end of each year…this is not something people are consciously doing enough yet and partly because it has not been actively emphasized enough. Also, I don’t think the importance of taking a flight for example can be weighed against these costs unless we have a war to fight. On the other hand, it may be time to get the boat cleaned up and sharpen up those rowing skills. Good luck with your goals…it’ll be interesting to see how you achieve this and I’ve a feeling you will.

    1. You’re right Hilz, everything we do produces carbon, and ships are no exception. On a like-for-like comparison, however, a ferry will produce roughly a tenth of the emissions of a flight if you travel with your bike (it’s less of a difference if you board your car, but still better than flying).
      Interesting that you mention being on a war footing. I would argue that we are! The climate crisis is the biggest challenge the human race has ever faced – far more serious than a war. If war did break out, we would do *everything* in our power to restore peace. Yet faced with the climate crisis, we continue business as usual. The difficult truth is, we have to change everything about the way we live – and flying less (or not flying at all) is a major part of that.
      I’m the person running the #flightfree2020 pledge, by the way, that Tom’s taking part in – you can find out loads more on our website! flightfree.co.uk

  2. Had the same thoughts a few years back. It’s tricky. We now limit ourselves to one return flight a year, Jordan and back, but of course as journalists and guidebook writers our ‘work’ promotes climbing and trekking in Jordan and people in Jordan benefit by it. Tricky!

    1. PS Maybe you should also be asking, “Do I want to change?”. Do the benefits to people in the destination, (city business people and village people with shops and homestays as well as, in our case, Bedouin guides and campsite owners) rely on your activities (magazine articles and guidebooks)?

  3. You may be working your way toward this suggestion, but have you looked at carbon offsets? In particular, I can recommend UCapture.com as a way for online (only) purchases to fund qualified carbon offset programs worldwide, including reforestation, alternative energy, methane capture, etc.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on this approach. It’s not a solution to the whole problem… really, no single solution will reverse climate change… but it’s an easy and free step that we can take to make a difference.

    1. Hi Kat, unfortunately carbon offsets are rarely the answer. Around 85% of schemes have been shown to be ineffective, and even those ‘qualified’ schemes are problematic: emissions from flights are produced today, and offsetting is more a promise that those emissions might be absorbed at some point in the future e.g. thirty years for tree planting, and there’s no guarantee those trees will last that long. The main problem is the way offsets are promoted – “Fly carbon neutral!” – which gives us licence to continue our polluting behaviour. There’s just no such thing as a carbon neutral flight, and the most reliable way to reduce emissions is simply not to produce them in the first place.

  4. This is such a tricky one. We can’t underestimate the subtle power of our influence – by stopping flying, and talking about it, you will influence others to do the same. By writing about journeys that are pretty difficult to make without flying, you will be encouraging air travel. We have to decide where our individual influence lies, and more importantly, where we want it to lie.
    Greta Thunberg famously sailed across the Atlantic on a zero-carbon yacht, but her skipper and crew then flew back to Europe. Similarly, for her return voyage, her next skipper flew out in order to help bring the boat across the ocean. Arguably, more carbon was involved in all of this than if Greta had just flown with her dad in the first place (4 tonnes, as opposed to nearing 10). However, Greta behaves in the way she believes – her message has much more gravitas if she can back it up by walking the talk – and doesn’t tell others what to do. She’s very clear about this stance. If it were me, I would insist that the other people involved in the voyage didn’t fly either, because otherwise I would feel complicit in their emissions. I have done this in the past, with a friend who wanted to do some hill training in Cyprus for our mountain challenge, and while I didn’t outright say ‘no,’ I said, I would prefer if this whole venture were flight-free. Besides, there are some pretty fiercesome hills in Cornwall.
    So, it’s a question of why you are doing this. Is it to reduce your own emissions? Then that’s done! Is it to raise questions about the place flying has in our society? That’s also pretty much guaranteed by the way you are talking about it. Is it because you believe that flying has no place at all in a climate emergency? Then that might require a little extra work 😉

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