In some ways, engaging with the ongoing debate about air travel and greenhouse gas emissions feels like being among a crowd of looting rioters. People are happily smashing windows, grabbing cameras and iPods. There you stand, wondering what ought to be done.
The easy option is to loot. Your small contribution to the total level of theft and damage will not be recognizable after the fact. Immediate benefits can be secured for yourself, with costs being born by some unknown other person at some point in the future. In choosing to refuse, you accomplish nothing noticeable. Furthermore, you risk cursing yourself in the future for having missed out: for having not gotten ‘while the getting was good.’
The people around you want you to loot. Having a non-looter around is uncomfortable. It draws attention to the way in which the choice to loot is a moral choice, and how it is made on an individual basis. It forces people who are looting to justify their choice somehow – both publicly and in the confines of their own thinking.
The comparison above risks infuriating people and generating accusations of hypocrisy. How can anyone who has flown before say such a thing? It is true that past misconduct damages a person’s credibility. At the same time, it has no bearing on the fundamental rightness of wrongness of the position being adopted. As individuals, we need to consider whether the environmental harm associated with flying is somehow akin to being one tiny node in a million-person mob. If so, we need to question whether it is something we can continue to do.