What does COVID-19 mean for the Travel Better Package?

This is a blog post by Sonya Peres, Climate Commission Officer and author of the Travel Better Package that was released earlier this year.

Earlier this year, I wrote about my journey in confronting the environmental and social impacts of air travel. I had been working on the Travel Better Package to support a reduction in flying in universities and colleges and had just returned from a two-week long Christmas holiday to Canada.  I grappled with the shame I felt mixed with longing to see my family. I thought it could be useful to share the difficulties of an international life to support others in similar situations. In the post, I discussed my plans to reduce flying while waiting (and pushing!) for governments and industries to take action. I stated I would: limit myself to one round trip flight a year, better communicate my low-carbon goals to my loved-ones spread globally, choose more local holiday destinations and have the courage to be a little bit uncomfortable at times. 

Little did I know that my pledge to be a bit uncomfortable would soon take on a whole new meaning. 

By this time last year, I would have already flown twice. But 3 months into a national (and global) lockdown due to COVID-19, my physical world has been made smaller by a strange combination of will and force. I was planning to spend part of the summer in Canada, my one round trip of the year. In my inability to book plane tickets, likely for the remainder of the year, I will fulfil - even exceed - my goal to limit my flying. 

The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have forced me to learn to kindly welcome the discomfort of living thousands of miles away from my loved ones, to patiently attempt to understand and to work around the discomfort while also having the courage to face it head on. I know I will see my loved ones again, but my honed ability to handle discomfort, as well as the digital traditions we’ve created during lockdown - online dinners, cooking clubs, pub quizzes and recipe-sharing, are immensely helpful in manifesting my low carbon future. In the past few months, I have learned that I am not as afraid of the unknown. I am not afraid of adopting new ways of giving and receiving love and I am ready to move forward into my low-carbon future. 

Similarly, COVID-19 has forced us to confront many of the ideas communicated in the Travel Better Package. The Travel Better Package supports the further and higher education sector in imagining alternate ways of learning, sharing, collaborating and communicating that don’t involve regular air travel. Travelling better means carefully considering the purpose of meetings or conferences to which we must fly, to rewire our tendency to see hyper-mobility as a right rather than a privilege.

In the wake of COVID-19, the idea that it is our right to fly has been shattered. To cope, we’ve set up support groups, networks, adapted assessment frameworks, we’ve moved international conferences online, we’ve efficiently held important, high-level meetings on Zoom. It hasn’t been easy, and in fact, some of our new ways of being don’t yet work too well, but, it's got us thinking. We know we have the ingenuity and the skills to collaborate in new ways and to rely less on in-person meetings, and for many of us, we also now have the confidence to do so. 

Lockdown has magnified the social injustices we need to address to realise a sustainable future. While many of us move conversations online, some are struggling to join. Travelling better means improving equity and diversity in our sector while reducing air travel. To do this, we must invest our time and efforts in lobbying and working to improve digital literacy and digital poverty to make environmentalism, and our sector more inclusive. 

Of course, the nature in which we have come to travel better is unsustainable.  The pandemic is a tragedy and the number of lives lost and altered due to its consequences is devastating. With lockdown, many of us have been forced, seemingly overnight, to transform into our low-carbon selves and to fly less or not at all. But lockdown has exposed what is possible- it has proved to us our abilities. We need to move forward and continue to choose to travel better when we are once again faced with the choice to fly.

Blog Published June 2020
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