Flightfree 2020


As soon as I heard of giving up flying, it was like a lightbulb switching on. Everyone is aware of vegetarianism as a concept, but to give up flying just hadn’t occurred to me. It was Green MEP Molly Scott Cato who mentioned she’d stopped flying during a public talk. It immediately struck me as a simple yet bold decision to make. 

I came across the Flightfree pledge (see @flightfree2020) a few months later and thought it would be a great way to share my personal commitment with others, just like Molly had. 

This was during 2018, the news was becoming more alarming and then the IPCC Special Report 1.5 came out, telling us we had 12 years to reduce emissions drastically. Greta Thunberg appeared on her first school strike and there was a huge wildfire in California. 

I decided I needed to bring the planetary crisis into my creative work too, so I made a piano recital-story ‘12 Years’, which tours the UK in 2020. The recital explores different opinions and feelings about climate change, with the aim of bringing people together.

Of course, touring throws up challenges. As a touring musician, and therefore someone who makes income from travelling, I had to make changes. 

For a professional musician, it is a badge of honour to go all over the world (as well as being deeply enriching and stimulating). I’ve played in Brazil and USA, Korea and the Caribbean. Musicians who’ve been working somewhere far away sound impressive.

But in order to stop flying and also to live in a more environmentally-sound way, I’ve had to rethink ambition from the ground up – and I think that’s what we all need to do. Our lives are often driven by extending ourselves to a point of exhaustion or collapse. I began to think instead about steadiness and home as the goal and to make more communicative music instead.

I like that the Flightfree Pledge encourages a cut-and-dried decision, making individual cases much easier. By saying no to flying by default, you’re forced to be more creative, to learn and explore. 

So, when I was offered a gig in the Arctic Circle in June 2020, my decision to give up flying meant a discussion about the long, complicated journey (three days by train and boat!) 

But I’m looking forward to the epic journey. Travelling large distances at a slower pace means you can actually feel that you’re going somewhere far away, feel the weather changing, notice culture shifts. 

I’ll also be going to Germany by train in 2020, and was delighted when I went to check tickets and found that it was comparable to looking at a cheap flights dashboard. Trainline and the Man in Seat 61 make it easy to plan international train journeys, though of course many places do remain so much easier by plane. I look forward to solar and wind-powered ferries!

My family and friends may view me with some curiosity, but saying you’ve given up flying is useful. It’s a simple statement, doesn’t have to be preachy, and maybe it helps other people to think about what we take for granted. 

It’s also vital to be an example to our children: it’s ultimately their future we’re removing by going on with our emissions.

In 2020, I’ll be touring ‘12 Years’ across the UK and inviting climate scientists to come on stage afterwards to talk with the audience about the situation, to share feelings and explore together what we can do. Taking the pledge and making art about the crisis do the same thing: it’s about starting conversations and helping people to think for themselves.

I do think we need drastic and urgent action now, but I’d also like to see leadership from government on taxing aviation fuel, stopping airport expansion, and investing in public transport. 

Good quality, collective, low-impact travel is pleasant – let’s do more of it!

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