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On the Joy of Not Flying
National Radio Interview Tom
Bennion - Stop flying posted 25 November 2009
Lawyer with an environmental conscience, Tom is an active proponent of reducing carbon emissions via choosing not to fly. Some would say he's advocating putting the tyranny back in distance but Tom may argue he's incentivising an expeditious transition to a carbon neutral long-haul travel alternative. (duration: 20′32″)
As a boy living
on a sheep station off the Cook Strait I would watch distant planes
glint silently across the skies and dream of flying. On the station I
lived in a world of rich forests, chattering creeks, mysterious lakes
and sparkling air. I wanted to look down upon all this and see the world
as God sitting on his throne in the Heavens must see all.
I retain vivid
memories of flying in the cockpit of a Bristol Freighter across Cook
Strait as a twelve year old. I shall never forget the thrill as the
pilots gave me the joysticks and bade me keep the instruments constant
all the way over the ocean and land till just before we touched down at
This dream and
such a vital experience was why I decided to stick with College and get
University Entrance so I could apply to be an Air Force pilot and thus
become a commercial pilot.
vanished as I discovered in my UE year that I was shortsighted in one
eye and started wearing spectacles. In retrospect it was a blessing
because NZ was about to join the USA in an invasion of Vietnam and I
could well have become a major agent of slaughter of many innocent
Instead I went to
Canterbury University and eventually encountered the Club of Rome about
the time I graduated. The profound realisation that the human species
could not continue to expand and destroy resources at the current rate
affected me deeply. The idea of burning mineral oil for transport began
to become at anathema to me but still I loved flying, as I still do.
As a young
university student I flew in a tiny two-seater plane from Masterton to
Wanganui to Ardmore to Tauranga and back one weekend. It was so hot in
the tiny cockpit that both pilot and I sat in our underpants. I learned
of the power of thermals as we rocked our way over mountain ranges. The
altimeter would register plummets of 1000 feet as we hit
air pockets and my abiding memory is of being airsick. Though I
vomited towards my lap it remained clean. Instead our fall was so fast
my vomit rose, spread all over the Perspex cockpit ceiling and slowly
slid down the sides of the windows. Despite or perhaps because of this
embarrassment my overwhelming memory is of being at one with the land
and sky as I became enjoined in their dynamic interplay.
My one experience
in a glider was of bliss. It was a surprise birthday gift and my senses
were so overwhelmed I have never truly gathered them together again to
truly remember the occasion.
occasion I found my self booked as a treat on a flight in a small
commuter plane from Koromiko just out of Picton to Wellington. The plane
bucked and shuddered with stress as it pounded its ways through the
invisible walls of northerly gusts over the Queen Charlotte sounds and
Cook Strait. The next morning I opened the Dominion broadsheet to view a
burnt hole in a paddock at Koromiko. The plane had crashed on a
subsequent flight killing those on board.
and closure of the Lyttelton-Wellington sea ferry service in the early
1970s was a major blow. During my two decades living in Christchurch I
flew several times to Wellington to visit my parents and other relatives
in the North Island. It became a sacred experience for me. I learned to
fast from food the day before so my senses were as utterly alive as they
could be for the occasion. I would attempt to absorb the skies and this
land that I am born of with every inch of my being during the short
thirty-forty minute flight. Flying was such an incredible privilege and
such a rare experience for me that I wished to absorb every fold and
every turn of the land and every glint and every hue of the clouds for I
might never have that privileged experience again. While those around me
were sometimes pale, sweating and green with nausea and fear as we
rocked and bumped over the Cook Strait I would be an oasis of stillness
invasion of Iraq in 1991 and our media coverage of the slaughter I
realised that our addictive use of mineral oil/gas could have only one
consequence – the catastrophic collapse of humanity into global
warfare in which many billions of people would perish. Thus I determined
to never own a car again (I had two) and to not fly again.
are extremely difficult in the NZ culture. Relatives twice gave us cars
so our family “could have a normal life” and I was roundly abused
for not providing my family “with the basics”. I was condemned as
selfish and uncaring, often by those who ran four or five cars. It was
only after my family broke up after 28 years and people saw that my
daughter and her mother did not buy cars again that the abuse stopped.
Giving up flying
has been even harder. I did fly from Wellington to Christchurch twice
after 1991. On one occasion I found the air tickets sitting in my letter
box as a dear friend wished me to be the brides’ father’s best man
at the first wedding of his children. I was too poor at the time to find
my own way there and used the tickets.
On the other
occasion I succumbed to the intense pressure of my lover at that time to
fly to her, though I begged to come by ferry and train.
However my 1991
apocalyptic vision remained with me, all our NZ media now conforms to
the violent template I saw with the advent of TV3-CNN coverage of the
Iraqi slaughter and by 2002 I realised that our abuse of our carbon and
electrical potentials must result in major economic collapses by 2010
and global warfare would then be inevitable by 2015.
plus an increased appreciation of the unspeakable beauty and sublime
balances of Earth’s atmosphere, resulted in my decision to never fly
and thus trash this exquisite ecosystem again.
In itself the
decision is easy. The sense of being an active steward of our wondrous
airs is associated with great joy and a feeling of privilege to be alive
to breathe it. It is however very difficult to share this experience in
our addicted, dissonant culture. Few New Zealanders seem mindful of the
vitality in their every breath and most assume it is their God-given
right to destroy mineral oil on scale. They seem unable to imagine a
world in which their role is otherwise. I say this in all kindness, for
who knows what vital elements of existence I deny too.
It can be
lonesome if not lonely at times not flying when all those around you
continue to fly. Till recently I did not speak of my reasons for not
flying as I knew I would be abused and dismissed as being
I detected that
even my existence as a non-flyer raised levels of self-doubt and guilt
in other people.
I am an avid
traveller at heart and enjoy even the vicarious experience. After people
have shown me their photos of their trip they have often said they
enjoyed the experience with me more than the trip itself. I really am
interested in this world. However, perhaps because everyone flies so
often now and people feel it is a mundane activity or perhaps because
the politics of flying is now more charged, I am less invited to share
such experiences now.
I can say with
some authority that nothing makes the light of interest die in the eyes
of women so quickly as when they learn I don’t have a passport and
don’t fly. Some who I have become more intimate with begin to express
great frustration and dismiss me as “ narrow minded”, “self
centred”. “very boring” and “lacking adventure”. When they
have offered to pay my airfares so I can join them in their travels I
smile and decline the offer as gently as I can and express my
appreciation of their great generosity but to little avail. My gentle
refusal is received as a personal rejection of them.
I began to write
more this century about the wonders of the atmospheric balances that
sustain us. It is impossible to write abut sane uses of our carbon
potential without discussing the injustice of the costs of the vast
subsidies given car, truck and jet users. In my writings I also began to
point out in detail the great psychological truth that our actions are
our prime message of existence. I
suspect many did not wish to be reminded of these inconvenient facts. I
have noticed people now talk of their travel even less freely in my
The truth was
out, as is always is. It became only a matter of admitting it and trying
to accept the responses with compassion.
About two years
ago the NZ Listener published an article on the impacts of air travel on
climate balances and the movement to cease flying. I finally felt free
to come out of the closet and admit my decision not to fly is not
because I don’t like flying or cannot afford to fly or I don’t like
travelling or other reason but basically because flying is an
inappropriate activity for me.
Now this may seem
virtuous when stated like this and it is not as it seems. I made the decision because it is a very rewarding one and in
retrospect it may have served me well. For years my daughter, her
husband and her mother have flown to India regularly. I would love to
have joined them, as I would love to pay homage to those peoples who
have sustained such great wisdom on our planet in the form of Yoga,
meditation techniques and science in general. It so turns out I have a
faulty heart and I realise now I could easily have died in the heat and
dysentery of India.
As an aside, it
so turns out I blew an optic nerve several years ago and thus now have
diplopia of vision. Thus my decision to not use cars may have protected
me and others from crashes before I understood this condition.
I like to think
my daughter, who is about to fly with her husband and her mother to meet
his family in Colombia, knows that it is not for lack of love that I do
not and will not join her whatever happens in her travels. Today we have
a farewell dinner together.
My own mother
came to NZ as a war bride from London in 1946 and in my youth flying was
only for the very rich. Thus she only saw her family in England twice
again before they all died out. I know full well her deep affection for
them. I believe my daughter knows the deep affection I have for her and
though it may be very hard for her I like to think she catches a glimmer
of the love for all, including all our children that underpins my
decision not to fly. She is free to do as she will.
The decision not
to fly is born of a myriad of risk calculations. I have concluded that
human beings can affect the thermal balances that sustain us all. A
global thermal build-up may not result in large net temperature change
for climate processes are very dynamic. However humans cannot adapt to
the more extremes of weather phenomena involved as feedback systems work
more vigorously to sustain thermal stasis.
I have attended
the lectures of almost all the world leading climatologists that visit
NZ and read their works. In general I find them lacking science on scale
and would not be surprised to find that much of their work lacks
integrity. I study their lifestyles/language and detect great denial of
change/stewardship. They don’t really believe what they teach and if
all humans followed their model then we would be plunged into global
Thus my decision
not to fly as little to do with the utterances of the likes of Jim
Salinger, Kevin Tremberth, Martin Manning, Andy Reisinger, David Wratt,
Al Gore, Bill McKibben and 350, Greenpeace, IPCC and other so-called
climate experts. My observations are that these folk enjoy less science
than the average human being. Indeed in their denial of stewardship they
destroy science on scale. Their
work could be proven as totally flawed tomorrow and it would make little
difference to my decision not to fly. My views are based on a far more
holistic appreciation of our wonderful carbon potential and Earth’s
(Note this week
hackers revealed the email exchanges of some of our leading
climatologist’s and these reveal a little of their lack of science.).
Crump’s interview with him on Nights Tom Bennion said how the decision
to cease flying set in generated a whole new range of options and
strategies. This is so very true.
Homo Sapiens are
very consistent creatures in that our every act reveals the deeper
nature of our psyche. Ultimately our actions shape the form of our
intellect and our use of language. There is a fundamental striving for
consistency throughout our psyches and this can involve the development
of vast and sophisticated mechanisms of denial of the consequences of
our activities if we sense they are unsustainable. However the truth of
our decision to act in a certain way is always out. When our psyche is
in dissonance with reality (change/stewardship) these coping mechanisms
prevent us seeing, thinking and imagining alternative and perhaps more
harmonious ways of living.
Thus it was only
when I decided to never fly again, even if it broke my heart not to do
so, that suddenly the true wonder of the atmosphere, the miraculous
powers of carbon forms and other inspiring insights were opened to me.
It was not a matter of feeling virtuous or righteous but rather being
filled with a lovely sense of being more truly alive. Which is quite the
contrary to the consequence one expects if one believes the barrage of
airline ads we experience daily.
planes necessarily insulates us from the greater reality. With the
decision not to fly it becomes easier to imagine how a village somewhere
will be fed for over a year using the mineral oil not combusted into
pollution by an individual’s flight between continents. One can better
hear the laughter of the children of the world. There is also less
chance the village will be bombed and burned if it is cursed by being
proximate to mineral oil reserves. One can better hear the screams of
pain and feel the terror and anguish.
In summary, the
act of not flying, seemingly inconvenient and costly at first, opens up
a richness of experience and an enhanced appreciation of life that
invigorates and inspires to our depths. An enhanced sense of harmony
with all prevails. One is able to transcend and experience realms that
jet users can never travel to.
Warning -All material needs editing and reviewing. My apologies for sudden changes in font.