To fly or not to fly? The problem with individual climate solutions

I have a problem with climate solutions that put the burden on individuals. For example, someone from XR last week suggested that flights must only be used for emergencies such as organ transport and must be banned for any other purposes, including business or leisure. Arguments like these are problematic not only because they are extremist but also fail to take into consideration that not everyone can afford to do the same change in lifestyle (and dare I say, not grounded in reality).

Flying, for example, has become more accessible over the years because of cheaper airfares. What used to be a hobby for the rich now can be afforded by people who have less income. Now, people who used to be able not to participate globally are able to do so. Are we taking that way from people, being able to see other places and learn about different cultures when for the longest time, it is the rich who have been flying (and sailing) around the world colonising other countries they set foot on?

And while we laud Greta for taking a sailboat to cross oceans, we don’t have the same luxury of owning a sailboat or having months to spend on the sea.

These kinds of “climate solutions” fail to recognise that the cost of burdening individuals to solve climate change is further marginalising those already in the margins when, as we all know, what we need to talk about are emissions from the dirty industries like fossil fuel and cement, as well as emissions from countries.

According to climate scientist Michael Mann, “A fixation on voluntary action alone takes the pressure off of the push for governmental policies to hold corporate polluters accountable. In fact, one recent study suggests that the emphasis on smaller personal actions can actually undermine support for the substantive climate policies needed.”

“This new obsession with personal action, though promoted by many with the best of intentions, plays into the hands of polluting interests by distracting us from the systemic changes that are needed,” Mann adds.

Sure, we have a consumption problem but isn’t that also a symptom of a greater systemic problem? We cannot solve climate change by asking everyone to eat organic quinoa from Peru or buy metal straws and electric vehicles when people can’t afford it, thank you very much.

While we should be aware of our individual carbon footprints, I think we shouldn’t forget who we really need to hold accountable. Instead of telling off that office worker who wants to have a nice vacation which he deserves, why don’t we put the pressure on BP, Exxon, Shell to stop digging and burning fossil fuel? You know, those fuckers who knew about climate change since the 70’s and 80’s but chose to keep it a secret to continue burning oil?

Yes, changing your lifestyle to be better for the environment is good, no doubt. But shaming individuals for what they can and can’t afford to do and letting those who are historically responsible for most of carbon emissions in the last decades just easily off the hook? That is unfair and unjust.