By Robert McLachlan 05/09/2019

Something’s happening here:

Climate crisis: ‘We don’t fly to go on holiday now – and it doesn’t cost the earth’ (The Guardian, 10 August 2019)

No-fly zone: Could you give up flying if it meant protecting the planet? (, 21 August 2019)

Travel the world without destroying it (The Conversation, 22 August 2019)

Harry and Meghan tried, but can we really make our flights carbon neutral? (The Observer, 24 August 2019)

Climate change: Should you fly, drive or take the train? (BBC, 24 August 2019)

Cheap, easy and endless: The big lie about plane travel (Sydney Morning Herald, 30 August 2019)

A Future Without Long-Haul Vacations (The Atlantic, 2 September 2019)

In New Zealand, the Facebook group Fly-less Kiwis was formed to focus attention on the need to reduce air travel. Unlike some campaigns, which encourage people to stop flying completely, either for a year or forever, its aim is simply to spread awareness of this issue and to support its members’ decisions to eliminate unnecessary flying.

Aviation accounts for up to 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. (Other sources put the figure lower, at 2-3%, but this refers to only the direct CO2 emissions, not the total climate impact due to water vapour, nitrous oxides, contrails, and aerosols.) Aviation is growing extremely quickly, up 75% in 8 years:

Source: ICAO

and is projected to rise by 200-360% by 2050:

Source: ICAO 2013

So far, few countries have any measures in place to rein in the growth of aviation. Some flights incur a carbon price (for example, domestic flights in New Zealand and internal flights in the EU). The UK departure charge is partly carbon based – £78 for a long-haul flight. This really is a global issue: New Zealand’s aviation emissions, at 0.8 tonnes CO2/person, are not so different from those of other developed countries.

(To be clear, while aviation is important, it’s not one of the top issues in climate change mitigation, which remain (both in New Zealand and globally) electricity generation, land transport, and economy-wide carbon pricing.)

Paul Callister, a founder of Fly-less Kiwis, writes:

Many of us on this group probably grew up not doing much flying. We used other means if traveling within NZ and even overseas. Then in our midlife we may well have done quite a bit through our work and for leisure. Now we are pulling back or stopping for climate change reasons. But when I mention this issue to many younger people (in hopefully a casual way not a preaching tone) I sense a moment of horror. The middle class amongst them grew up with hyper-mobility. Their first school trip may have been to Vietnam rather than Auckland. They have been to Sydney or the islands half a dozen times and may have been an exchange student in Europe. Even the environmentally committed, who are leading social media campaigns and/or going to protests, cannot easily see a life without flying or reduced flying. So if one looks at a ‘lifetime emissions’ profile, many of us used up our share in midlife, while these young people have already used theirs up. It’s going to be a real challenge for them.


I think we can almost categorise air travel into three broad groups:

1. Vital (air ambulances, disaster relief etc).

2. Important (visiting overseas relatives, going to the occasional overseas scientific conference).

3. Trivial (I would suggest that weddings in Rarotonga, flying all the guests in, would count as that). So you do not worry about the vital group. You work hard to minimise the impact of the important category. And you put in place a whole heap of disincentives for the trivial travel.

One year has made a huge difference in the amount of attention given to aviation and climate change. Let’s make 2020 the year in which awareness turns into action.

0 Responses to “Fly less, Kiwis!”

  • If only we had good trains in NZ. As a non car owner, I would love to catch a train to holiday. Be able to sit down, read books, use free wifi and wander the aisles. But instead we fly, as the hassle of renting a car and then driving hours with a small child just doesn’t appeal AT ALL for domestic travel. We are based in Wellington and happily bus and train locally, but would welcome faster trains up the north island to Auckland, with stops in holiday destinations such as Taupo, Rotorua and one out to Napier.

    When travelling overseas I always prefer a train as there’s no need to spend hours waiting in security lines and in airports and instead you often just walk on, grab food or drink and use the free wifi the whole way.

    In short, to stop flying, especially domestically, we need better alternatives than just owning a car.

  • It seems to me totally impractical to have trains, or buses, going to every little holiday destination in NZ – or even to most of them. Even less so on a regular frequent schedule. Then there are also numerous work/business reasons for people to often need/want to travel to such small destinations. My guess is that a tenfold increase in the train network and availability in NZ might produce only about a 10% decrease in car usage. Yes, I enjoy train travel, here and overseas, but it simply can not meet my travel ‘needs’ most of the time, and I cannot see how it ever could do so, even if I were to accept the much less convenience that this mode would nearly always entail.

  • Hi Ron. You say “Yes, I enjoy train travel, here and overseas, but it simply can not meet my travel ‘needs’ most of the time, and I cannot see how it ever could do so, even if I were to accept the much less convenience that this mode would nearly always entail.”

    I think you might redefine “needs” with the appropriate economic incentive. The problem for us all at the moment is the cost to us of carbon is not the actual cost to society – our travel, energy etc costs are largely being socialised and on a global scale.

  • Hi Ashton.
    The “needs versus wants” dichotomy for me is a very slippery one, as I suspect it is for all intelligent beings.
    Conceivably I could reduce my carbon footprint to the barest possible minimum to sustain my own life, and sit back watching most other people (in NZ) enjoying the sorts of ‘luxuries’ (also an entirely relative term) that I currently do have in my life. Such a minimalist lifestyle would not enable me to contribute anything to any of the rest of humanity, or the biosphere, as I currently do by being an avocado producer, and a part-time volunteer pest control worker, etc.
    It requires a very large stretch for my admittedly meager imagination to see how using only (or mostly) public transport could allow me to continue those above-mentioned current activities, and others. This essentially is what my response to Julie was about.
    In response to your final sentence, I suspect that the “actual” carbon costs to humanity at large is orders of magnitude greater than that which we are still paying, and that to make up this deficit is not politically possible. Perhaps even physically impossible if we stick to known science, even with massive geo-engineering.

  • @ Ron – I hear you, especially having driven for four hours to get to a skifield that, at current rates of warming, won’t exist in 20 years because of all the people driving four hours to get to it…

    Virtue is easy in the abstract, difficult irl.