Flying and Climate Justice

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In her response to my blog titled ‘Climate Hypocrisy‘, Ms. Zevit raises one of the most emotional issues people face with respect to the morality of flying. It is often referred to as the problem of ‘love miles’; the desire to visit with loved ones. So the context for this blog is her comments and my original essay.

To help clarify whether the issue is “black and white”, or put another way, clear-cut, I suggest we imagine ourselves in the position of those who bear the brunt of the impact of the climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions; and see if from that vantage point the moral decision becomes easier.

Imagine, then, that you are a Pakistani women with a couple of children. Perhaps your husband is ina distant city working to send money home to you and the children. Like millions of others, you were already poor and desperately struggling to survive,with virtually no carbon footprint before last month’s incredible deluge washed away everything you owned and now you are literally starving and one child suffers from cholera and the other’s eyes are vacant, its head lolling to one side because it does not have the strength to hold it upright. You are cold,you are wet, you are hungry, very, very hungry, you are weak and weary, and you see no way out. You still depend on meager assistance, have no place to live,and no uplifting prospects whatsoever. (Many such people have been shown, as recently as last week, on news videos of the floods in Pakistan. These people’s conditions remain devastating even a month after the rain and floods. Similar predicaments can be found in large areas of Africa, due to droughts, and other parts of the world due to storms and floods. 

Suppose, also, that somehow you understand the relationships between flying, greenhouse gas emissions, global warming and your predicament. (Clearly very few people in the industrialized countries understand these things.)

Now imagine someonefrom British Columbia, (or any industrialized county, or even from the wealthyin your own country), telling you that they are flying to visit a loved one -mother, brother, sister, partner, you name it.

British Columbian to you (remember that you are now the Pakistani woman), “Hey, good news, I am flying to Toronto to visit my sister, I haven’t seen her for over a year. It will be such fun to see her again.”

“But”, you say, “that flight will help cause global warming and will bring even more floods, and it will bring droughts and storms as well, and we are barely surviving as it is.In fact, many of my friends have not survived. And, my poor children, what will happen to them?

The British Columbian insists, “I have to visit, my sister is very important to me. I love them, I must visit them.”

You reply, “What you are saying is that your visit to your sister is more important than my life and the life of my children, more important than the lives of all the people in my village, and all the villages around here. These are my loved ones and their lives are at stake. And, we did not cause the global warming pollution, you did. This is not fair.”

The British Columbian says “But, but…”.

You interrupt, “You know, I only make $2 a day, and not only will I never be able to fly, I can barely feed myself, my house is not even a house, clothes – is that what you call these? And everyone around here is in the same leaky boat. And, come to think of it, there are probably 2 billion people, all vulnerable to early impacts of climate change, that are in the same basic circumstance as my family and village. And, you expect me to bless your flying for a visit? You want me to endorse you making my condition even worse. Give me a break. Use a phone.Use Skype. You say going by train or bus is too slow. How does that measure up to what you do to me when you fly?”

You continue,”However, we are used to this. It has gotten so bad that we ask ourselves – whywould we matter to you?”

Unfortunately, to put it mildly, it appears that to themajority of people in the industrialized world the Pakistani woman does notmatter. And neither do the hundreds of millions of vulnerable people who, also,are being hammered by climate change. Climate justice doesn’t matter; we appearto think that we have no individual moral responsibility for the greenhousegasses we emit – not to survive, but to visit places and friends – that play arole, and an increasing role, in creating the predicament of the less well off,who are the first sufferers from climate change. We just fly, no thought of theconsequences, no tinge of guilt or regret. We simply must visit exotic placesand our friends and loved ones. The consequences for others – who bloody cares,eh, they are ‘others’.

It is no longer credible to deny global warming, or that global warming is causing and will increasingly cause extreme weather events that result in such suffering. In my earlier essay I made the link between jet flying, carbon emissions and individual moral responsibility for the consequences of global warming, which includes, already, the death and devastation of millions of lives.


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