Climate Change and Travel – Anonymous Pilot Speaks Out

Cockpit of aeroplane

We travel because we love the Earth and all of the amazing natural wonders upon it. For anyone with their eyes open in 2020, it’s clear that our planet is in a state of crisis. Rainforests are being destroyed, corals are dying and beaches and oceans are drowning in plastic.

97% of scientists agree that the constant pumping of carbon into the atmosphere means that climate change is now a worldwide emergency, with global warming threatening the survival of many species.

So what does all this mean for us travellers? Can we still justify jetting off to exotic places across the globe when we know that it is having a detrimental effect on our planet? Does it actually make a difference to offset your carbon emissions when you fly? And is backpacking one of the most sustainable ways to travel?

This week, we had the amazing opportunity to interview an airline pilot for one of the major airlines, who is also a climate activist with Extinction Rebellion. As he takes the difficult decision to quit the job that he loves because of his strong feelings about climate change, we ask him his opinion on the ethics of global travel in the year 2020.

Let’s Get Serious – Interview with Anonymous Airline Pilot

Aeroplane on the runway.

Q – When and why did you decide to become a pilot?

A – I’ve dreamed of being a pilot for as long as I can remember and it’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do. My early childhood was dominated by trips to the airport or air shows to watch planes – and that drove my parents mad! I’ve been lucky enough to be working in and around flying for just over ten years, and a pilot for most of those.

Q – At the time of becoming a pilot, what were your feelings about climate change and the environment? Have they changed over the years and why?

A – Honestly I had none when I joined: it just wasn’t something that was on my radar. Since then, and in particular over the last few years, I have become very concerned, upset and at times angry about where we’ve got to with climate change and our negative effect on the environment. 

My early involvement began when I thought, quite innocuously, that I should learn a little about why climate change was more and more in the news. Was it a big threat, and if so, what was being done about it? I read a book written in 2014 that people seemed to agree online was the must-read in terms of answering my questions and engaging my curiosity. It was called “This changes everything,” by Naomi Klein and – no pun intended – for me it did change everything.

Naomi Klein This Changes Everything Book Cover
The book that changed everything!

Since then I’ve been a voracious reader and researcher on all things climate change. I would recommend that book to anyone wanting to read a little around the subject as well as ‘There is no planet B’ by Mike Burners Lee – both excellent introductions to the topic.

Q – Why did you decide to join Extinction Rebellion?

A – I had a number of reservations about joining XR, I must admit, not least because I’ve never considered myself much of a ‘protestor’. No movement is perfect, but I was left with little choice, and in spite of my (mostly misplaced) scepticism about joining a social change group, I’ve been really impressed by XR and some of their early results. They’ve also made me feel extremely welcome and I’ve met some great people too!

Extinction Rebellion protests
Extinction Rebellion protest outside the Houses of Parliament in Britain.

After initially having to overcome a feeling of helplessness, particularly in the face of the scale of the challenge we face, I researched as widely as I could about the history of environmentalism, climate change and social justice and it seemed to me that social activism and large movements have been the only thing in modern history that have brought about significant change to the way a society conducts itself.

This isn’t my opinion – it’s what experts and historians have largely observed. For example, in February this year Christina Figueres, the Former UN climate chief who negotiated the Paris agreement wrote that “It’s time to participate in non-violent political movements wherever possible,” and observed “Civil disobedience is not only a moral choice, it is also the most powerful way of shaping world politics.” 

Q – How do you reconcile being a pilot and a climate change activist?

A – I have tried for several years and I realise I have failed. I have struggled with periods of extreme guilt, depression and hopelessness whilst arguing to myself that even if I quit the job I love, I would be replaced the following day by another budding pilot so I might as well stay, do the job I love, and do the best I can for the planet at the same time.

Although this is in some ways true, this is no longer enough for me, and so I am currently retraining in my spare time in preparation to leave the aviation industry for good. The fact that I am giving up my dream job honestly leaves me feeling sick to my stomach on some days and there are some significant financial implications for me and my family too.

I often falter, but what keeps me going is the thought that 50 years from now, when my grandkids ask me what I did in the face of the challenge we all face, I can at least say I tried to do the best I could – ultimately this is all any of us can do.

“Giving up the job of being a pilot is the most difficult decision of my adult life so far.”

It’s a very personal choice and the hardest I’ve had to make in my adult life. I have friends and colleagues who are concerned about the environment who are happy to continue working and I totally understand their point of view too.

We’re all doing the best we can and I worry sometimes when you see profile pieces in the papers (typically The Independent or The Guardian) that say something along the lines of “Mike gave up a career earning £200k in banking to become an environmental activist”. The problem I have with these, in spite of their good intent, is that I think it accidentally encourages people to think in absolutist terms and puts people off becoming environmental activists believing they would have to give everything up in order to do so. 

The point I’m trying to make is I’m leaving my job for my own personal reasons, not because that’s what all activists are compelled to do. None of us are perfect and I’ve met activists from every background you could imagine: it is a very friendly and welcoming space.

Something I’d like to introduce now to anyone reading is the idea of “Love Miles”.

It’s a term I love and I first heard around a few XR groups. Lots of people, I think, are starting to feel a bit guilty when they get on a plane and I’ve heard many people say “My mum/nan/dad etc live in another country but I’m always a bit conflicted about going to see them,” to which I always smile and say: “But those are love miles, and love miles are guilt free”.

The reality is that flying is here to stay and more CO2 is going to be burned in the process. Should excessive business travel, frequent flyer programmes and weekend city breaks a thousand miles away be restricted? Yes. Should going to visit the people you love most in this world also be restricted and a source of guilt? Absolutely not! That’s what your love miles are for…

(I did explain this to a friend who suggested he should ask his 20 cousins all to move to different exotic and far flung places so he could have more love miles to spend so maybe even this concept can be corrupted: everything in moderation!)

Q – Estimates of the air industry’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions vary between 2 and 10 percent. What do you think the true number is?

A – It is inherently difficult to be exact – there are a number of variables that come into play and they’re hard to understand completely. The IPCC considers about 3.5% is due to air travel and this includes both CO2 and non-CO2 affects. It’s as good a number as any to hang your hat on!

There are two important things to consider when you think ‘Oh flying is only 3.5% so what’s the big deal?’ These are the proportion that flying makes up of your personal household CO2 emissions and the breakdown of people who are responsible for that 3.5 percent – the majority of flying is done by a wealthy few – think frequent flyers who travel regularly for both work and play.

Approximately just three percent of the global population fly regularly and so it is easy to see how large their share of carbon output is.

Flying often makes up a significant amount of the average UK household’s CO2 (up to 30 percent) – changing your flying habits can have a proportionately very large impact on your personal output!

Also worth considering, when thinking of the 3.5% of CO2 contributed by flying, is how much of that flying do we need? Is all that business travel entirely necessary (the massive use of Zoom and Skype during COVID would suggest not!) and does someone need to fly on four city breaks per year? Or would one big family holiday abroad a year suffice for most?

Q – Do you feel that airlines are taking climate change and environmental issues seriously?

A – Not at all. In recent years airlines have shifted from organisations who try to balance a number of their stakeholder’s interests (from customers, staff, shareholders, communities etc) to organisations who exist solely for one reason and one alone; profit-making.

With the airline that I work with (and what I’m observing in many others), any ‘environmental’ or ‘green’ initiative you see is nothing more than a carefully calculated move to do the least they consider they need to (in terms of cost) in order that they continue to go on polluting. 

The evidence is clear; airlines are driven entirely by the desire to make more money.

For fear of sounding like a horrible cynic (which I promise I’m not – I’ve loved flying my entire life and in many, many ways still do!) consider this example: Last November a BBC Panorama exposed a widespread industry practice called ‘tankering,’ where airlines will upload thousands of tonnes of extra fuel at one airport where fuel is cheaper and fly it to be used at another airport. This extra weight then has a subsequent additional fuel burn. I’ve read the reports in the press and I know the numbers are accurate because we as pilots have to tanker fuel every day. For my particular airline this results in 18,000 tonnes of extra CO2 being burned a year: that’s a lot when the practice often saves the company only £10 or £20 GBP a flight – nothing to a company whose owner last year made £2 billion GBP net profit.

Now consider this, at the same time as the petrol tanker under the wing is uploading an extra ten tonnes of fuel, passengers on the plane have been emailed a sustainability initiative video which encourages passengers to pack one less pair of jeans to ‘help reduce CO2 and save the planet.’ I raise this example as the outright duplicity of telling passengers to remove a half kilo of clothes, while simultaneously uploading tonnes of extra fuel, indicative of an industry that only cares about money and who uses sustainability as a PR stunt rather than a genuine chance to improve.

After the revelations about tankering came out in the Panorama programme, it made national news and was featured in every newspaper; my airline responded saying the policy had been placed under review.

Eight months later my airline still tankers.

Q – Is the number of employees of airlines that are (vocally) concerned about climate change growing? If so, how fast?

A – Not particularly, although I can only speak accurately for my own airline. It’s important to be mindful that airline staff across the company, from cabin crew to check-in staff to the baggage handlers, engineers and so on, have been suffering from ever more restrictive and worsening terms and conditions. These have included significant reductions in pay or worker rights as well as cuts to other benefits and working conditions. It is very difficult for anyone to worry about the bigger picture when their day-to-day livelihoods are under threat.

What’s even more worrying is the aggressive doubling down on this tactic during COVID, where some airlines have crudely used the virus as a shield to further slash worker’s rights. My colleagues, whom I respect enormously, are constantly under fire and it looks like things will still get worse.

Q – What impact do you think climate change will have on the travel industry in the future? When will we start to see this impact?

A – That’s a very good question. There have been early murmurings of its effect in 2019, with increased popularity in train over plane travel and the “FlightShame” movement, though for the year, airline numbers were still up overall. The effect climate change will have on the travel industry is going to be extremely dependent on how much worse things get and the future for now is not particularly bright.

Greta Thunberg. Photo by Anders Hellberg.
Greta Thunberg popularised the ‘flygskam’ or ‘flightshame’ movement. Photo by Anders Hellberg.

Some forecasts predict that by 2050 the economic cost of climate change could be US$ 8 trillion, or 3% of global GDP, with significant global reductions year on year prior to that. No industry is particularly resilient to constant GDP decline but I suspect travel is more price-elastic and thus much more susceptible to feeling these effects.

When families are feeling the financial squeeze, one of the first things to go is likely to be a holiday abroad, and when a business is feeling the pinch to its bottom line, more staff are likely to be encouraged to communicate via video link in order to cut travel budgets.

It is important to note that climate change is already having an immense impact on billions of people, though many of these affected are the less well-off, particularly in third world countries, and their voices are less often heard, if at all. I think we should all try to be mindful that whenever we speak of the future effects that climate change may have on us, many of those negative effects are already being felt by others less fortunate than ourselves across the world.

Q – Do you think air travel should be restricted? How? (Does this responsibility fall to governments, the consumer, or the airlines themselves?)

A – I do. A number of suggested schemes are possible and these include frequent flyer levies, increased taxation, with the funds going to support environmentally progressive policies, as well as limits on the size of shareholder payouts versus revenues invested in sustainable research and so on. 

All evidence of what has worked in the past to curb unhealthy industries, or properly cost negative externalities, points to the need for government regulation. Governments are under a lot of fire now for their various inefficiencies but they are the only thing we’ve got to protect us and our planet. 

It is vital to be clear that I am not saying we charge the average UK holidaymaker significantly more for their hard-earned two weeks in the Spanish sun – far from it. Air travel is an exceptionally unfair industry with the major share of polluters those who also benefit the most from the industry as it is – it is these groups that should be targeted when it comes to regulation and policy change.

There may be a little shift to consumer behaviour too, but again there is little evidence in the past that this succeeds. Think, for example, of a well known online retailer, who we know avoid paying their fair share of tax, seem to exploit their workforce and put many other small businesses out of existence. Does this stop most people buying something on their website nearly every single day? No. (And if you are one of those who doesn’t, then good on you, you are doing much better than me!)

Intervention has to be at the source, rather than trusting consumers to be the martyrs to give things up. People are increasingly squeezed on all sides and have less room to consider what they should and should not do. It is up to governments to regulate, protect and define what our norms are.

As a side note, most major airlines, are constantly lobbying the government for decreases in taxation and regulation, as doing so would increase profit margins. (And did you know there is no VAT on the price of a flight ticket in the UK?)

And as for airlines being in charge of restricting their own services, or taking the lead, think of this thought-experiment: Back before cigarette companies became highly regulated, would you have wanted to let them decide for themselves how they ran their industry? Would they have done whatever it took to protect people’s health and their futures? Of course not: their job was to sell as many cigarettes as possible.

Back to now, what do you think the mission of major airlines is? Is it to protect the planet and care about our collective future? Or is their mission to sell as many flight tickets as possible, to fly as many planes as possible? Could they be trusted to restrict the amount of Co2 they burn?

Q – It is suggested that the carbon emissions per passenger varies due to a number of factors, including the length of the flight and the amount of space each passenger is given (ie, First Class and Business Class passengers are responsible for higher levels of emissions). Is there any serious discussion around: (a) Making short haul flights comparatively much more expensive or (b) Scrapping First Class and Business Class entirely in order to allow more people to travel using the same quantity of fuel?

A – Within airline companies themselves no; neither are discussed as both would represent decreases in revenue. Industry experts and groups are looking at a number of possible solutions for the future and both suggestions here have been discussed. 

For (a) I think it’s a risky suggestion – again as it may indirectly affect mostly the hard-working general public on their family summer holiday, though there are some promising discussions in countries like France around how to restrict the number of shorter regional flights, whilst at the same time making rail travel more affordable. For (b) that would represent a significant reduction in revenue for airlines, who make a large proportion of their money on any flight from the premium seats. 

Whatever solutions do end up being implemented, the key message is that they are almost certain to come from outside airlines themselves, and we must ensure that whatever solutions do get implemented don’t end up negatively affecting those who deserve it least. 

Q – How much better for the climate is travelling by ship, train, bus, car?

A – As you can see from the graph below, travelling by any form of transport other than plane is better for CO2 emissions – some of them significantly so – than flying. 

Carbon emissions from different modes of transport.
Carbon emissions from different modes of transport.

There are some great carbon footprint calculators online and I’d urge everyone to have a play with them to see various carbon costs of the things they do – it’s a great way to be more aware.

Q – Is sustainable air travel possible?

A – It’s complicated. In the short term, no. In the medium to long term, probably yes. There are a number of significant and currently insurmountable challenges endemic to the aviation industry when it comes to sustainability. Without getting too tech, the main challenges are around battery weight versus capacity and also power output.

Very soon we’ll see very small planes carrying a couple of people on very short flights (a hundred miles, say) which is exciting – I would love to be a pilot for one of those planes! But the reality is that generating enough power to lift an airliner-size plane and carry it for 500 miles or more is still more science fiction than fact.

I love technology and it’s impossible to predict the future, which is why I say that one day we could overcome these things. The problem now though, is that we don’t have unlimited time; global heating caused by CO2 emissions is here and now and worsening, and if we overcome those technological challenges in say 40, 50 or 60 years then great, but it will be too late.

The earth.
Time is rapidly running out with our fight on climate change.

Q – Does carbon offsetting your flight emissions actually make a difference?

A – No.

I had high hopes for Carbon offsetting as a solution in the early days but industry experts and campaign groups are pretty much exclusively in agreement that it is not the solution.

More dangerous still is that carbon offsetting is a tool which airlines, along with other key polluting industries (think oil and dirty energy companies), are increasingly using to justify their polluting activities. There are a number of problems with offsetting that I won’t get into here but, in short, let me say that if it’s something you wish to do on a personal level then fine, it’s unlikely to cause net harm, though it may do no good either, but to allow large corporations to use it as a tool to carry on burning CO2 is unacceptable.

Remember that the experts agree: to stop the worst and very real threats posed by climate change, we need to keep a lot of yet to be drilled oil in the ground and minimise the amount of CO2 produced by other means now (coal, meat production etc). 

Q – Have you seen real life examples of climate change during your career?

A – Every single day. I fly over the alps regularly and observe the retreating Mer De Glace glacier that slopes off the peak of Mt Blanc (amongst other Alpine glaciers whose decline you can also easily see against the rock of where they used to be).

Mare de Glace Glacier France
Mer de Glace glacier in the French Alps is receding further by the year.

Every summer I see near record temperatures across Europe and the Middle East that sometimes make it impossible for our aircraft to take off without first reducing our weight by shedding cargo or passengers (hot air is less dense than cold air and so doesn’t provide as much power for the engines or lift for the wings). 

Closer to home, I remember watching the massive heatwave of 2018 and drought in the South East of England. I watched over a month or two as all the fields in the region, including around Gatwick and Heathrow, shifted from their usual greens and browns to dusty yellows – conditions you normally see in Southern Spain. I think it was that year also, although maybe it was 2017, when a number of towns in Cumbria faced particularly terrible flooding. From 30,000 feet it looked like a muddy brown sheet had been placed over all the roads and fields and gardens, it was awful. For every instance of climate-change linked disaster (like increased intensity rainfall in the UK) there are people on the ground suffering. 

The truth is this; from the air it is obvious that our planet is changing faster than we can cope.

I remember early in my career, I was flying on approach to Amman, Jordan, and the visibility was so good you could see Syria and Iraq in the distance, the sun was setting from behind us and it painted the entire landmass of those two countries and Jordan in this pale ethereal light, and many of the hilltops still caught the sun that had set on the lower lands below; the scene was truly spectacular. This was around the time that the Syrian war was at its worst and I remember thinking just how beautiful the area looked and how peaceful the world appeared from my distant and detached bird’s eye view.

The juxtaposition of the beauty against the knowledge of the awful suffering on the ground was extremely disturbing and I’ve thought about it a lot ever since; the futility of that pain and the human versus human suffering that was going on. Now as I fly, I look over the daily instances of climate change that threaten our very future and I’m struck by much the same thought as I was back then in 2015. Honestly, it’s quite horrifying. You see the world changing too fast beneath you and the vast potential of even more harm to come and think, “What have we done?”

Aerial view of landscape.
From above it’s obvious that the planet is changing.

Q – Have you worked for several airlines during your career? Are some airlines more environmentally conscious than others?

A – I’ve worked for several and am aware of the environmental policies of the major ones – flying and protecting the environment are my passions after all! It is a difficult question to answer.

In terms of the impact they have, some airlines are noticeably better than others: this will depend on age of the fleet, whether or not there are large business and first class sections, how much food is served (this pertains then to waste and recycling) and so on. 

Inflight breakfast on BA flight
An inflight breakfast on a major airline.

In terms of deliberate intention, though, there is no airline that is particularly more conscious or deliberate in their actions to protect the planet.

Q – You have told us that you have to do this interview anonymously. Why is there such a culture of secrecy for those in your industry speaking out about climate change? 

A – Anything that hurts the company is severely restricted and this I can in some ways understand. The problem with regards the topic of sustainability and airlines is that the truth here really hurts.

Airlines have no way to be truly ‘sustainable,’ and in the mean time, they will do anything to get as many passengers flying (and thus polluting) as they possibly can. Furthermore, they will continue to lobby governments worldwide for decreased taxation and legislation in order that they can continue to pollute the planet. The industry is regressive and there is no solution in sight – that’s not a message a company who is very brand-conscious wants being discussed openly!

Q – What can we as backpackers do to limit our environmental impact? Can we still travel guilt free? 

A – I think backpacking, in the old-fashioned sense, of trains and public transport is a very environmentally friendly way to travel overall.

My advice to backpackers would be to keep your flights to a minimum, consider a reduction in meat consumption (which is a whole other topic, but always worth considering) and respect the places you’re lucky enough to visit; be good to the people you meet; and when you do get to go on a dream trip, make the most of it!

To live guilt-free in the modern world is certainly very tricky – it seems that the responsibility to find the morally right (or guilt-free) choice has been put in the hands of the consumer, having been outsourced away from lawmakers. I would certainly encourage people to enjoy their travelling (or else what’s the point!) but be mindful with your trips; where are you going and why? How can you minimise your impact and so on. There are early signs of a large awakening of conscious thought though and a genuine desire by the consumer in all instances to have the least impact possible (including travel) – it is this that gives me hope for the future. 

Whenever considering how to reduce your own impact it is important to remember that it is only through large system change that we will stop the worst of what is happening and is to come; just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of all CO2, it is there that big change will happen… 

“The belief that this enormous, existential problem could have been fixed if all of us had just tweaked our consumptive habits is not only preposterous; it’s dangerous.” – Mary Annaise Heglar, Climate Essayist.

Q – Could climate change actually improve travel? (Making destinations less easy to get to and therefore making travel more adventurous – long bus journeys – as well as protecting places from mass tourism?)

A – Academically I think that’s an interesting question and overall I think the changing climate will significantly affect the way we travel in the future, particularly in terms of the frequency of the trips we take, the reasons we take them and how we take them, and this would have an effect on places that in past years may have been ‘swarmed’ by tourists. 

I wouldn’t want to draw any specific positive effects from climate change though, given the awful toll it’s already taking on people all over the world and the large-scale threat it poses to all of our futures. Let’s watch this space.

Q – Do you think that mass-tourism has destroyed travel as we once knew it?

A – I do. I grew up in love with the idea of travel – the romance of flying to far-flung lands, or waking up in a cabin of a ferry headed for somewhere new, all had a very Indiana Jones feel to it for me as a young boy.

Sadly though, that romantic idea that I can still remember of what I thought travel would be like, is completely gone. The industry is dominated by large monopolistic companies obsessed with getting as many people to as many places as possible with little regard for the effect that it may have on these places (just ask the people of Venice about cruise ships or the people of Amsterdam about city breaks and stag dos!).

The other evidence as such is of those now-famous Instagram spots, where people queue for hours in some remote wilderness or at an ancient temple to get the one photo of just them and the view – I’m thinking of that lake in New Zealand, or even the queues up Mt Everest!

In recent times I think the travel industry has shrewdly co-opted the phrase “travel broadens the mind,” to sell more and more holidays. We, as the middle class, have come to believe that travelling is essential to the creation of a well-rounded character, but it is so important for us to understand travel itself doesn’t broaden anything, it is the things that happen when we travel that can do that – talking to people who are different from yourself, navigating in strange and unusual places; it is these things that broaden the mind.

I would say the perfect antidote to a lot of this is definitely backpacking, however!

Q – Is long-term travel (backpacking) more sustainable than other forms of travel?

A – Absolutely. And also this style of travel links back to the last question, I think, as well.

Backpacking, and long-term travel in general, are better both in terms of sustainability and in terms of the richness of experience likely felt.

I would encourage everyone to one day pack a bag and get out there; whether it’s to hitchhike around your own country or to make your way to the other side of the world, genuine and good travel opportunities still exist, but I promise you won’t find happiness under the fluorescent lights and handbag shops of Heathrow’s Terminal 5!

Q – Has COVID-19 given us an opportunity to change the way we travel in the future? How?

A – Completely. I think the pause has given many of us fortunate enough not too adversely affected to pause and reflect.

In the future I’d love to see a return to that more romantic type of travel – the one where you’re thrust amongst strangers, meet new people and see new and amazing things but not at the expense of either the planet or the local communities you visit.

Some of the early signs are promising: we’ve seen a rise in sleeper trains, more holidays being booked that focus on time spent outdoors (such as hiking holidays, camping etc) and so on post lockdown. 

The Night Train Seen From The Platform Before Boarding in Hanoi on The Way to Trek in Sapa
More people are travelling by sleeper train than before.

Just ask yourself this, for the last three months have you missed airport queues, the removal of your belt or the excess luggage fees? Have you missed the crammed aircraft with a £5 soggy sandwich on offer? Or how about the endless flight delays, slot restrictions and flight cancellations? Or, have you missed the outdoors? Maybe even people? – your family and your friends perhaps, or alternatively the thrum of strangers in places you’ve never been to before, and the joy of going somewhere new and watching the locals of that place mill about?

Honestly, I have been more guilty of the race to travel everywhere and tick countries visited off my list than anyone, and I’ve certainly been exceptionally lucky to make the most of that. During this time though, I have paused and reflected on my love of travelling in great depth. 

From now on I will be taking fewer trips but making the most of them when I do, I’ll be changing the way I travel (lots more trains and no more horrible airports thanks!) and what I do while travelling to make the experience as rich as possible. In the future you may even see me with a fully-loaded rucksack off on a tour of near or far-flung places! 

I’ve made mistakes in the past, as have all of us I’m sure, but I’ve come to learn that travelling is not a tick box of ‘must-do’ things or ‘must-see’ places but an experience; one which is coloured and enriched by the loved ones you share it with and the people you meet along the way.

Q – Should backpackers join Extinction Rebellion?

A – That’s a tough one to answer. I’m weary of saying anyone should do anything. Certainly, if someone is concerned about the looming threat of climate change and our Government’s absolutely lacklustre response so far (and every other Government for that matter) then I would encourage them to consider getting in touch with your local XR group.

As I said at the start, I’ve never considered myself a ‘protestor’ and was very unsure about joining at first. I’ve found the people I’ve met and worked with to be lovely though. Why not go along to a local meeting – it’s fun! What’s more, it has helped immensely during my darker days of worry for our future. Things are bleak, for now, and to be part of a community determined to protect our planet is a great source of hope and inspiration.

Extinction Rebellion in Africa
XR have over 1,100 local groups across the globe.

If XR really isn’t for you, though, there are a number of other things I would urge backpackers (and everyone) to do. There are other advocacy groups including Greenpeace and Protect our Winters: follow them and look at the work they’re doing. Make sure you get political too – talk to your local MP, make climate change and your vote matter.

Finally, it’s important now, more than ever, to maintain your scepticism and fight for your human right to be presented with the truth. Amongst the misinformation, outright conspiracy theories, corporate greenwashing and government propaganda, it’s harder than ever to fully understand the scale of what we are facing. Absolute truth is not subjective and it does exist – if you have the time to backpack around the world, you have the time to plug in to the biggest challenge that has ever faced humanity. 

Only through collective engagement and a demand for a better future can we tackle the climate crisis, protect our fellow man and save the planet over which we all love to travel: it is the one we all call home. 

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