Grounding Bullshit Flights | Samie Blasingame (Stay Grounded)
On this episode we are joined by Samie Blasingame, the communications campaigner for the Stay Grounded Network.
Stay Grounded is a global network of more than 180 member organisations, among them local airport opposition and climate justice groups, NGOs, trade unions, initiatives fostering alternatives to aviation like night trains, and organisations supporting communities which struggle against offset projects or biofuel plantations. Also individual activists, academics, trade unionists and interested people can contribute to the network.
Stay Grounded aims to exchange experiences, support each other, and campaign together for a reduction of aviation and its negative impacts. They also engage in fighting problematic climate strategies like offsetting emissions and biofuels. Their vision is a form of mobility that rests inside the planetary boundaries and allows a livable future for us and our children.
Samie has an academic and professional background in environmental policy and planning with a focus on urban regeneration, sustainable agriculture and resilient food systems. Currently, she is based in Berlin, Germany where she works for Stay Grounded and is active in various sustainability and climate justice groups across Europe.
We discuss Stay Grounded’s history, actions, and philosophies, aviation industry greenwashing, bullshit flights, the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, and finally we dream of a world in which hyper mobility and cheap travel are a thing of the past.
Origins of Stay Grounded Movement
Post-capitalist dreaming and the lack of imagination
Airport Development and Community Dislocation
Aviation Industry Greenwashing
The Holiday / Vacation Time
Slow, long distance travel
If everyone could travel...
Stay Grounded Website: https://stay-grounded.org/
Stay Grounded Greenwashing Fact Sheets: https://stay-grounded.org/greenwashing/
Stay Grounded Just Transition Paper: https://stay-grounded.org/just-transition/
Grounding Bullshit Flights | Samie Blasingame (Stay Grounded)
Chris: Welcome to the podcast, Sammy.
Samie: Thanks, Chris. Thanks so much for having me.
Chris: Yeah, it's our pleasure. We start our conversations by giving our listeners a bit of a notion as to where we find ourselves in this moment. Uh, I was wondering if you could tell us what the world looks like for you today, where you are.
Samie: Oh, what a question! Um, because I find myself in the United States at the moment visiting family. I decided to, to come this way for the winter, more or less because my apartment in Berlin is being renovated. And so I no longer have a home there. So I'm visiting family here. And as you just said, I'm part of climate justice groups in Europe and consider myself very much part of the climate justice movement.
So coming home is always kind of a reverse culture shock for me because I'm very accustomed to living a life in Berlin that tries to avoid consumption as much as possible in capitalist societies. And then I come home with my loved ones who don't think like that at all. And the way that society is built up here is very much resistant to any sort of anti consumption value.
And, um, so I find myself here trying to live by my values in a society that doesn't necessarily value that and to love and spend time with my loved ones who also don't necessarily live like that. And this week is Thanksgiving and that is a very controversial holiday on many levels.
So yeah, I find myself in a, in a space always when I'm home to continue living in a way that I think is best for people and planet. And trying not to feel like I'm on some sort of pedestal and judging the people I love around me, but instead, try to inspire, I guess, um, or just stay quiet because it can cause disruption in a way that I'm not sure I want to, in the short time I have here.
Chris: Yeah, certainly it's I guess, between food systems and climate justice and tourism, things that are all very much connected to each other on a global scale that there's often a very wide generational gap between the understandings of younger people and older people today. And, you know, It's certainly a battle.
You know, little by little, the real consequences of the world become inescapable. So hopefully there's a bit of a solace in the conversations that you'll have this weekend.
Samie: Yeah. You know, there's some people that appreciate it. It's just that they don't live that way.
And, um, they'll try to do it while I'm around, but it's not something they wish or try to live by, so
Chris: So Sammy, you are the communications campaigner for Stay Grounded, a global network of more than 170 member organizations. Among them, local airport opposition and climate justice groups, NGOs, trade unions and initiatives, fostering alternatives to aviation. Could you tell us a little bit more about stay grounded and how it got started?
Samie: Yeah, sure. Um, so Stay Grounded, like you said, is a global network and it was born a little over five years ago, um, in October 2016. This was the year that the UN international civil aviation organization finally gathered on a global climate action plan.
They were discussing what that could look like, but they ended up coming up with something called CORSIA, um, which is, which stands for the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation. And for those of you that have not heard of that, this is basically the UN's plan for aviation, but what it does is focus very heavily on offsetting which was and continues to be very alarming because what offsetting is in any form is basically a form of greenwashing.
It's a way for those of us that can to pay a little bit more money to basically assuage our climate guilt without having to change our climate damaging habits at all. It really is a trick used by people in wealthy, over developed countries to the detriment of communities around the world.
So at the time that CORSIA was being touted as the way forward in international aviation policy plans were also being made to expand the airport in Vienna, where two of our founding members were living at the time. So, those involved in what would become Stay Grounded, um, started organizing and getting in touch with other groups that were fighting similar projects in Austria and Mexico and the UK and Turkey and France and Australia.
Those are kind of the first places where people were popping up with these ideas and they ended up coming together for simultaneous actions that coincided in the same year with the ICAO's conference in Montreal. And the slogan was "Stay Grounded: Aviation Canceled Due to Climate Change," but they still ended up approving a bunch of false climate neutral growth solutions.
Um, But more than a hundred orgs were involved in these first action days, which is pretty impressive. When you think of how quickly these first members got together and were able to make their voices heard. So that was just at the beginning 2016 and then in 2017, two meetings were held that brought together supporting groups one in Tolouse where the Airbus headquarters is and another one in Bon during COP22. And these were in-person meetings with the option to participate online because to date, no flights have been taken to organize any of our Stay Grounded meetings.
At this meeting in 2017, a 13 point position paper was discussed and negotiated, and then created which embeds aviation within a broader economic system and makes clear that reducing aviation has to go along with fostering grounded transport solutions, with working on just transition for employees in the sector, and also fighting false neo-colonial solutions like biofuels or offsetting.
And so then in 2018, the team went public with this position paper and organized 27 simultaneous actions around the world at different airports. And yeah, it got really big, like very quickly. I think already there was, I think at 2018 there was already talk of this like fly scam thing where in Sweden, they started talking about people having guilt on flying. And so in the popular context, it was already being talked about and then Stay Grounded was working more on a policy level and organized protest.
And so then in 2019, they organized this huge de-growth for aviation conference in Barcelona. And that brought together 200 people from all different social movements and academia and NGOs to discuss what the real solution should be then, if the international community is touting all of these technologies that are super far off, what should it be?
Should it be a kerosene tax? Should it be a ban on short haul flights? Should it be a frequent flyer levy or should it be all of these and what could that look like, so that it would be most effective. And also what are the justice implications of it? All of the work in Stay Grounded has always been very rooted in a climate justice perspective in the sense of who is flying and who's being impacted by that side.
And so this conference sparked a debate and a local network in Barcelona, which is a city very overcrowded by tourism. That's resulted recently in 90,000 people getting out on the streets in Barcelona and protesting against this airport expansion. I don't know if you've heard, but that was a victory.
So, um, And you could really tie that back to this conference, which really sparked this growing network of people there and then around the world. And then COVID hit. And our vision for this reduced aviation became a reality, although it was happening in horrible circumstances of a global pandemic. And our work shifted to imploring the world to resist going back to quote unquote normal.
So yeah, we had planned in the beginning to make ourselves unnecessary within five years, but the struggle still continues and has become even more necessary, especially with the urgency of the climate crisis.
Chris: Yeah. Wow, what a thing.
Samie: Yeah, in only five years. And I'm also super amazed. I've only joined Stay Grounded recently, within the last year. My team is small, but very mighty and they have done so much in five years. So.
Chris: And so how did you get involved? What was your impetus for joining Stay Grounded?
Samie: Um, that's a good question. So you, you introduced me as someone with a background in environmental policy focused on food systems and that still is very much my thing, but, um, I joined state grounded because they got in touch with an environmental justice group I work with called Black Earth. I was working on a project of my own and I needed a part-time job to kind of be stable in our capitalist society. So, I was very grateful to be considered for a role within an activist network, which I found purposeful, but could also sustain myself with, and yeah, after reading their position paper, I was like, all right, I can align with this.
I never had really thought about aviation activism, but the connection to the expansion of aviation in terms of new airports or expanded airports and other parts of the world that would lead to land grabbing also biofuel production that leads to land grabbing was very connected to my work in food and agriculture and land governance.
So I saw strong connections there on like who has the land rights and the right in general to dictate how we use land resources and how we live in connection with nature. And so I thought, yeah, I could definitely work with these folks and see how we can push this narrative further. Also that it's not only about reducing flying. It's not just let's stop flying. It's let's rethink how we are living together and this very hyper mobile society that we've built for ourselves. How else could we live together? And I really liked the idea of dreaming that collectively.
Chris: Yeah, there's so much, you know, thankfully that I've come across in these interviews and in my research that really embraces the necessary and often missing imagination that's needed in order to confront and as you said dream, a post-capitalist world, right?
Samie: Definitely. Yeah. A lot of my work is about collective imagination. Like how do we start these conversations, so people can even begin to think of other possibilities because we are marketed constantly to live a certain way, but that's not the only way we can live.
There's many more pathways and we just aren't able to have the space and time to just dream a little bit. And that's really detrimental to a sustainable future.
Chris: Absolutely. Yeah. I'd like to come back to that in a little bit, but first I wanted to ask, you mentioned how stay grounded is a network and now a global network. On the website, it mentions that you have over 160 members, different organizations and NGOs around the world. I'm curious, what kinds of organizations and people make up that network? What does that look like from the point of view of the organization itself?
Samie: Yeah, we actually have 180 members now. It needs to be updated, the website.
So we are constantly growing. Um, and it's very different. I mean, it depends. Like there's lots of, there's definitely lots of smaller groups that are located next to airports that are fighting for the literal impact of aviation and noise pollution and air pollution in their vicinity. There's lots of anti-tourism organizations that are part of the network who are like in Barcelona or fighting the impacts of mass tourism on livelihoods and livability of a city. There's also just general social justice or climate groups that are part of the network who don't necessarily focus on aviation, but can tie into the work that we do and some strands of their work.
So, that's what we're trying to focus more on now because, like I said, aviation activism has to be embedded into a larger idea of what our economic system could and should shift to. And so that includes a lot of different strands of social justice and we should be cognizant of all these connections we can make because we're all connected.
Chris: Yeah. Mm mm, absolutely. There's a little quote from Stay Grounded's website I'm gonna read out here. And it says that: "the key issue in the majority of such cases is land acquisition, allocation of large sites, often farmland and fishing grounds for airport projects means entire communities, in some instances, thousands of people residing in multiple villages, face loss, the loss of their homes and livelihoods."
I know here in, in Mexico last year, there was a major, major victory to stop the building of the new airport in Toluca, just outside of Mexico City. I'm wondering what have been the consequences to people living in those places, in those regions when airports have been constructed and developed? Of course, I imagine that they're relocated probably forcibly, but, what have you seen in your experience in that regard?
Samie: Yeah, it is displacement. It is displacement. And, and that happens with almost any type of development, right? So like any industry or any sort of development that needs to happen, on land, would ultimately displace people. But the problem particularly with aviation is that those projects, those new airport projects or even the land taken to do biofuel projects, for example, or offsetting projects, conservation for offsetting, those are all tied into aviation expansion in my mind and Stay Grounded's idea of airport expansions.
Right? So any sort of thing connected to the growth of aviation, which displaces people is particularly worrisome because they're touted as projects that will bring economic growth and development to the local community. But that's not what ever happens. First of all, the local community is not involved in the discussions of whether they need it or not.
And very, very, I mean, mostly often, always often they don't receive those benefits in the end. These communities that these airports or biofuel projects are being placed in have been there for generations and have a certain way of living that is disrupted. There's no way to replace it. So when they are offered housing and a new place that's not compensatable for what they've just lost.
Right? Like their whole life is changed and they weren't part of that conversation in the first place. So this is just a completely unjust idea and process. And then at the end they get nothing back from that. What I've seen is them being displaced or lots of people being displaced and not only losing their land, but losing their livelihoods and then having to create whole new lives in a completely new place. That's very damaging to history and tradition and yeah, their legacies.
Chris: I imagine an extension of that includes culture, includes ritual and relationship between people and place, right. Both contemporary or in a modern sense and also traditionally. For any kind of people who might be farmers or fishermen, anything of the sort that, those relationships, which are often ancestral in nature are lost and are permanently changed or destroyed really, in the end.
Samie: Definitely. We have a new report coming out early next year called Reframe, Rethink, Reshape Aviation in the Larger Economy and there will be some stories written by our partners in there that really highlight the destruction that happens when some of these projects are put in place, and especially when the rights of local communities are not considered in any way. So yeah. I'm thinking about these stories, as you asked me that and how the cultural connection it's impossible to replace and yeah, we can't do that in the name of economic growth and we know that that doesn't happen. You know, like these trickle down things, we have plenty of evidence to show that that won't happen the way that the economic powers tell us that well.
Chris: Yeah, well, I'll make sure that the report is there for our listeners as well.
Samie: Great. Thank you.
Chris: You mentioned earlier about greenwashing. Now I find in my research and my experience, that it exists throughout the tourism industry in every possible context and manner.
On Stay Grounded's website, you specifically list air travel efficiency, electric flight, hydrogen fuel, biofuels and E-fuels. Now, I have very little to no understanding of the consequences of those things, the efficacy of those things. I'm wondering if you could offer a little bit of your understanding of that to me and to our listeners about what that greenwashing looks like. And, you know, when we purchase airplane tickets, when we travel, when we travel on airlines, why is it that we don't see any of those things?
Samie: Um, I mean, I'm not sure that you would come across it when you're traveling like that. You know, like, I mean the last time I bought an airplane ticket, I, you see like the eco flights, right? Or you can, I remember I saw one time you could add like a dollar to your flight and offset it. And I was like, how will the hell in the world, could I just offset this for $1? That doesn't make any sense? Um, so in that sense, I guess that connects to the biofuels fact sheet. You mentioned these five topics.
Those are topics of our new greenwashing fact sheet series. So listeners can definitely check out in detail the newest research on why these, why these solutions, these proposed climate solutions for aviation are actually just greenwashing. And so I'm not sure that consumers would necessarily see it.
I mean, the airline industry, their narrative is that these things are happening. "We're working on it," like "this is going to solve all of our problems," but the reality is most of these electric flights and hydrogen are far off technologies. The soonest that we could possibly have them, I think is 2030, but that would be for very, very small percentage of the flights that are currently being taken.
They happen for short haul flights, if any, and they're going to be so expensive that they'd only be available for the very elite fliers who are already just flying on their private jets. So, the aviation industry is talking about these technologies that they'll be available for everyone very soon, but they won't be available for everyone.
And they won't be very soon. So. This is greenwashing. It's the idea that you don't have to change your habits, your lifestyle at all because we will fix them with these technologies, but that's not, what's going to happen. It's not what's gonna happen. So, yeah, I encourage all the listeners to look into these fact sheets and really see what the newest research on it is at the moment and engage with us on social media is also to learn more and ask questions and debate it because we love doing that as well.
Chris: I want to make sure there's the links to the fact sheet are also included in the homework section for the episode. Um, yeah, so I mean, my understanding is that even if all of those promises and goals of the airline industry were met even in the next few years, that the level of air travel and the projected increase in air travelers over the next decades would far outstrip the redeeming consequences of any kind of air travel improvement or efficiency. Is that right?
Samie: That is absolutely correct. Yes. Cutting aviation emissions is only possible if we cut aviation demand, especially in frequent flyer countries like the global north. So the UK, Germany, and France, I believe are the highest in Europe at the moment, but the US also flies excessively domestically and abroad.
So yeah, that's so true to mention that even if we just stopped aviation now and use these proposed solutions to cover the emissions that we currently have, that's still wouldn't get us anywhere in time for a climate crisis. But at the same time, aviation is slated to only increase and COVID, and COVID would be saw a pause, but we've already rebounded. Like air traffic is back to normal and it will only continue growing.
If we allow the aviation aviation industry to continue to greenwash us and to accept bailouts from our governments and our taxpayer money. The only reason that they survive the pandemic is because the governments of the world allowed them to.
Chris: Wow. Yeah. I mean, you know, I think so many of us in the industry, you know, many were hoping for a return for their economic livelihoods.
Of course. Um, I think there were many, uh, in other circles, you know, specifically on the level of, of the neighborhood where no, maybe places like the Rambla or other neighborhoods in, in, over touristed cities, uh, breathe the, uh, a breath of fresh air really for the first time. And I mean that in every literal sense of the word, a breath of fresh air, um, in as long as they could remember now slowly, uh, Reminding being reminded of what it was like and what it is like and what it can be like to, um, be local people once again, and not just passengers on the, uh, on a ferry, uh, or a train of, uh, of tourism in their own home.
There was a the article I saw the other day was referring to a new type of tourism that is directly a direct consequence of the pandemic people who had to stay home and were perhaps used to traveling or who ended up just becoming so resentful of being caged like mice in their homes for a year and a half or however long it might've been that the determination to travel and to return to tourism and into perhaps a touristic mindset as well was the first thing on people's lists. And this kind of tourism has been named revenge tourism. Revenge tourism. Who are we taking revenge on in that, in that instance then? Right. And then, I think the answer comes down to, well, the places that we travel to, future generations livelihoods, no? And very likely our own given the kind of numbers and dates that the climate scientists are putting forth in regards to when crisis will become collapse.
Samie: Just to check, so the revenge was like, we haven't been able to fly, so now we're going to fly a lot?
Chris: As soon as we can, as much as we can, in whatever way we can. Hmm.
Samie: Okay. I mean, I'm not going to lie. I'm part of the climate justice movement, but I feel very solitary in that in my friend group. You know what I mean? Like even my friend group in Berlin, outside of that, like they were taking off as soon as possible, as well. And I don't know if they ascribed to some sort of revenge travel ideology. They just wanted to go see places, you know, but I very much agree with you. Like what kind of revenge is that and what kind of world do we want to create because we choose to travel in that way? And it's hard because the options are there and the alternatives are not always easy. So I get it. But in places like Europe I honestly don't. I think there's so many ways to avoid it in Europe. So there's really not an excuse, except for just pure enjoyment and people just wanting to do what they want.
Chris: Yeah. I wanted to ask you, you know, I've been to Europe once, maybe six or seven years ago in the summertime, but I don't remember too much of it. But my understanding is that in Europe, the summer vacation in July and August is holy ground.
It's a kind of sacred cow or golden calf that people hold so dear, in part, because of the relative tradition that it has in that part of the world that maybe criticizing or trying to change this aspect of the lifestyle is even more challenging.
You know, your friends and my friends as well were quick to get on the planes and go wherever they could. A lot of it comes as a result certainly of the pandemic, but apart from the pandemic the real excrutiatingly difficult lifestyles that people have to live being subdued and, forced to work in the way that modern people do in a time and place where economies, both local and global, are increasingly shrinking to the point where climate collapse and economic collapse cannot really be separated in any way.
So I'm wondering for you and for Stay Grounded, you know, what does it look like when you're asking people to stop flying? It's not necessarily to stop traveling, but to stop flying at a time and place where they have often very little time to travel, to take time off from work from family, from obligations, when flying might be, not just the easiest way for them, but might ensure that they have just a little bit more time off from work.
Samie: Yeah. This is exactly why aviation activism has to be embedded in a larger economic shift, because this is the reality for many people.
I mean, in Europe, the standard is 25, 30 days of vacation versus my family here in the US, it's still only two weeks. And so obviously if you only have two weeks it's even hard to take a road trip somewhere. Right. Um, but in Europe, you're right. Yes. The summer holidays, our holy grail, like you will get email work emails that say, sorry, I'm away like all the time.
And I love that about the culture. Um, but families there also pack up their car and drive places like not everyone's flying around. You know, it's often the younger people who are taking weekend trips to Greece and Italy, when they could take the train, instead. It takes a little longer, but you can do that.
In the US, the public transit and just general ground transport network is horrible. So like, they're not doing that. It takes way too long, especially within two weeks to make that happen. And so not only do we need to be doing aviation activism in line with shifting the way we work and think about work and think about holiday, but also just the way that we consume in general.
I think the tendency is to think of the destination rather than the journey and we have to start thinking about the journey as part of the destination. You know, like often we sleep on the way to our destination, but imagine if we had all these different things we could see and do along the way, that's also part of the vacation.
It's also part of the travel and we just don't have that yet because we've focused a lot on cities instead. And so that connects to like this issue of urban-rural development. You know, I took a bus for eight hours from Los Angeles to Phoenix, Arizona to see my family. And I was really excited.
I booked it to start in the morning time so that I could see outside the bus and like what's going on, but there is literally nothing. You pass Palm Springs and other than that, there's not much going on. So I get it. Why people would not want to do that with their time. But imagine if we rethought how we were building our societies and our communities along the way from Los Angeles to Phoenix, how much more we could see and do.
And there's little towns that you pass. I have no idea what they were up to because they're off the road if there's no connection to them. And I think that we just need to start rethinking all of it. Like we've built society in such a way that is truly unsustainable and we could build them better.
And I think it's not just about telling people not to fly. It's telling people to rethink how we are living together and how we are seeing and experiencing the world, inspiring each other to, to put our money into our local communities rather than going off to far off places all the time.
Like, yeah, sure. Once in a while, I also would like to go see parts of the world that I haven't been able to see yet. But when I do that, I intend to do that intentionally and stay as long as possible and really be with a community and not staying at these resorts and spending money with corporations that are taking the money elsewhere.
Like be really cognizant of where your money's going if you choose to get on a plane and go somewhere far away. Um, I just think that's the ways to do it. So yeah, you asked me to think about the future of tourism or future of travel. And I think that is intentional travel. And I think that means that if you do get on a plane ever, that you plan to stay there for at least minimum minimum two weeks, a month or more is better, and that you are there in the community. And what that requires is us to talk collectively about shifting the way that we do work and allow people free time and space to live their lives outside of just being a productive cog in the capitalist society.
Chris: Right. And perhaps using that travel as a way to build solidarity across communities and across cultures in an intercultural way.
Samie: Yeah. And I understand it's not an easy fix. It's not something that we're all able to do all the time, but see what you can do, you know, like in your own context. So yeah, I just want to make clear that I know that that's not an easy thing to do and especially not for a large part of the world. So as I say that, I'm not saying everyone has to go out there and do that tomorrow, but at least think about it. Think of ways that you could.
On this bus that I took from Los Angeles, I met some french people who were, who had come to Los Angeles for one dinner party for their work and the rest of their team flew back.
And they were like, we don't feel comfortable doing that. Like if we're going to fly all the way to Los Angeles, we need to stay there longer and see more things. So they were trying to take the bus and go around the States as much as possible. And that was beautiful to run into in my little, just trying to see my family trip. So just think about it in the context that you can. It's going to take a lot of us organizing in our own capacities and our own groups to shift the way that we just generally do life because we have built up a very unsustainable system.
Chris: Given the current numbers given the current system, right?
Samie: Okay. This is the scenario we're looking at. The aviation industry likes to talk about how aviation is only 2.9, I believe percent of total CO2 emissions, but that is only CO2. When you account for non CO2 emissions, which is the larger part of what aviation impact climate impact is, because the non CO2 emissions are the more climate damaging climate heating emissions that happen on takeoff and landing and depending on the altitude, it's very technical and I can't claim to know it all perfectly, but basically the real climate impact of aviation is 5.9% of total emissions.
That's not like CO2 and non CO2 emissions, and that might not seem like a lot, you know, 6%, who cares. But when you think about the fact that that 6% is being pumped into the air by a very tiny percentage of the world population, imagine if everybody did that. Or if everybody took one flight, 80% of people have never been on an airplane ever, but still we have 6% of total emissions coming from aviation.
I mean, it's a very unjust system, you know, like very unjust. Someone taking a flight for an hour is the most climate damaging thing you can possibly do. And most flights are more than an hour. Um, so, so yeah, it's just, no, I don't think that there's a scenario possible where we can all take a flight in our lifetime and it would still be okay.
I think, yeah. That's it's unfortunately, no, that's not how we should be moving around.
Chris: Right. All right. So air travel is unsustainable, period.
Samie: Air travel is unsustainable period , but granted I have joined Stay Grounded in Europe, where my home and base is, but I'm from California and unless I want to spend a significant amount of time getting over here, I fly here, you know, and my original plan was to take the train to London, fly one nonstop flight to New York, and then take the train across the United States.
I wasn't able to do that this time. So I took a nonstop flight to Los Angeles, and I'm trying to move around on the west coast without flying. That's the compromises and things that I'm thinking about here. And plenty of more people are in my situation where they don't necessarily live with their family and they, for economic or political reasons, are not near their family.
And so we need to have a societal debate about what "bullshit flights" are ...is a campaign we are working on, but like which flights are surplus and which ones are necessary? Which ones should we allow for, and not? That has to be a societal debate. I don't think one person should decide which are, which are, or which are not, but at Stay Grounded, we do have an idea of what bullshit flights are and those are the elites that are flying around constantly on their private jets for weekend shopping trips or for business meetings. This is weekly, if not multiple times per week. Those are bullshit flights. That is business flights, who we saw during the pandemic, especially can be switched to being virtual. Business flights are by and large bullshit flights.
And they're often business class, which makes them even more inefficient and climate damaging. And then there's short haul flights. Like in Europe, people that are flying for weekends to Italy and what not, where you could take a train. If there is an alternative within six hours, that's a bullshit flight.
And those are the ones we need to focus on first in terms of like stopping them right now and taxing them right now. And then we can start to think about these other flights. That's my personal opinion. I think that we need to focus on those three first and then see, okay, where are we at? Um, because you know, people going on one trip per year, even though it's still a very unjust thing and you should be very cognizant of the privilege that you have to even step on an airplane. Um, that's not my biggest worry right now. My worry is that there are elite frequent flyers who are using up most of those emissions and that can be changed and it should be changed.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah. And our, our first episode with Dr. Ivan Murray, uh, who works with Alba Sud, a tourist research organization in Spain, he was describing how the main vectors for the diffusion of the COVID-19 virus of course happened through air travel. That's undeniable, the majority of the people who were at least officially counted as the main carriers of the disease into places that didn't yet have it were all business travelers. All of them.
And so, you know, we talked a little bit about that as well and how that's, you know, something that is not really overlooked, just unknown amongst the general population is that how much of air travel is consumed by business and which I imagine is largely free based on frequent flyer miles and things like that.
Samie: Definitely. And that's a very good point. That's why we talk about a frequent fire levy because those things are capitalist tactics that basically place that burden back on the taxpayer and consumer, instead of really taxing the person and peoples that are flying most frequently.
It becomes a free flight, as you said, and that is definitely, definitely unacceptable.
We are still in a pandemic, like Europe is locking down again. Now I just talked to my friend in Austria. They, they are not allowing unvaccinated people to leave their homes, except for essential things.
You know, like the pandemic is still happening. But look at us flying around the world, doing what we want. Aviation was not stopped because it's such an economic engine and they have so much lobbying power to allow for that. But if the world really cared about our health and this pandemic, then we wouldn't be allowed to be flying like this.
It would be much more regulated and it's just the fact that we were able to get on flights with this minimal testing and continue while we're still in a pandemic shows the power of the aviation industry, or maybe it shows the sketchiness of the pandemic. It depends on how you look at it.
Chris: Yeah. Well, I mean, I, I was born in the eighties. I didn't know this, but apparently at the beginning of air passenger travel after World War II, virus testing and vaccine passports were common. They were the baseline requirements for traveling.
Samie: I understand the frustration when everything so back and forth. And if it was really about protecting us in our health, at least from this aviation perspective, I think thinking about the fact that aviation was able to rebound so quickly, when that, as you said, was a key factor in this becoming a pandemic, I think is something to consider.
And I think, yeah, it should be looked at in terms of like the power of aviation and why we feel like this is the way to reach economic development and also just rethink economic development as a form of growth and wellbeing in general. Like what is the aviation industry really bringing us as a global society, especially going back to the amount of people who are actually flying versus who's on this earth and has to live from the resources that we're extracting and polluting.
Chris: I want to return for a moment to what you were mentioning earlier about this notion that when we travel via airplane and even trains and buses, that we often miss the journey, we either not off into sleep or listen to music, but even if we're looking out the window, we rarely see anything as the land zooms by in our field of view.
In the past, people would either travel with the aid of animals or on their own feet. And as they moved over changing scenery and climates and meeting new communities and cultures and people, their bodies and their minds would slowly adapt. They could sense physically sense. The shifting changes in what was in front of them below them and above.
And so we've definitely lost that. Right. And it's nothing new. This is something that I think has been documented pretty distinctly over the last couple of centuries. And it said that more or less began with the invention of the railway with train travel. Right. So I wanted to come back to this theme of train travel because I know it's something that stay grounded offers up as an alternative to air travel.
Especially in Europe. Right. And so given the distances between places, given that the distances between places are much shorter in Europe, Such a thing seems to make a lot of sense as an alternative, but I'm wondering about the rest of the world, right? Having grown up in Toronto, Canada, and now living in Oaxaca, Mexico, this continent you realize very quickly is massive and takes unfathomable amounts of time to travel compared to the countries and regions of Europe.
In north America, there are huge swaths of land without infrastructure for track. And maybe that's a good thing, but as far as finding alternatives to airplanes, it doesn't seem like train travel would work very well here, unless there was a, a kind of unparalleled investment into it. So I'm curious what stay grounded position is on these, uh, asymmetrical realities between.
What kind of alternatives could we imagine that go beyond simply mitigating our consequence in the world?
Samie: I was wondering what you meant by that question, the consequences of the alternatives.
Um, and yeah, I think as an organization, we definitely don't think that it's equal. We recognize very much that it's easier and very much more plausible to have the grounded vision of travel that we've envisioned in Europe and very much not so in other places.
The US for example, another very high flying country. The infrastructure is there, but it needs to be updated. You know, like these trains that travel across the country, are slowwww. Nobody wants to take them. And I think it is a priority issue in a country like the US that has the funds for almost anything that it would like to do, but in order to change that, it disrupts the global elite, it's like a hundred hundred wealthy men who would be upset by the idea of switching to grounded travel. Or they wouldn't be upset, their pockets would be influenced by switching to grounded travel or updating the infrastructures in the way that we need, or just providing healthcare to its citizens.
So I think it is plausible in a place like this, but it's an issue of priorities. And then we talk about places like India, for example. India has huge train infrastructure and they have electrified a large part of it. So, that's also possible. In some places that's not the case, right? Like in South America, in Brazil as a place that I've been talking to some activists, some of our members there.
And I mean, they just don't, even at least this group of people, they don't even think about traveling those distances. They live in their regions. And like I said, again, 80% of people have never been on an airplane and most of those people probably don't even think about it so much. It's not like those 80% of people are dying to get on one.
You know, the aviation industry tries to tell us that everybody wants to fly. Everybody wants to do that, but that is not true. A lot of people don't even think about flying. They're very happy in their regions of the world where they are, have full, beautiful lives. There's plenty of people in the global north, in Europe as well, who are happy in their regions.
And don't think about flying all over the world. So this idea that everybody wants to fly and then we have to have the infrastructure for this is unrealistic and false. And, um, So, yeah, as much as the infrastructure needed for the alternatives for air travel are not necessarily they're everywhere. I'm not sure if they always need to be, which is why it has to be a collective conversation on what is needed for who and where rather than like the same everywhere.
I hope that answers your question. I think it's, it's not an easy answer. There's no one size fits all. Like this is the way we should travel, but we definitely don't all want to, or need to be air traveling.
Chris: Yeah, I think it's possible to approach the issue of global air travel, um, from a local point of view as well, you know, that we can move towards a re localized understanding of these dilemmas as well as a realization of life itself, in order to both understand and undermine the things that drive us elsewhere.
Sometimes incessantly, you know, whether that be our jobs or culture. Uh, the politics of the day or wanderlust. I mean, now more than ever, it seems that deepening our imaginations and working in solidarity with others, both at home and abroad can have the effect of re localizing a sense of belonging, a sense of wellbeing and the economic and social identities that, that seems to be, you know, very much fraying at the edges, in our time.
And so this realization is something that I think has to be done at home that we're not going to find it elsewhere, playing a constant game of whack-a-mole with different destinations, you know, largely unaware of our consequences, even though the problems we face today are often global in nature, or at least that they appear to be global in nature.
In the last month, in the last few weeks there was, uh, the United nations climate change conference in Glasgow. COP26.
A lot of the reactions I've seen on social media point to the conference amounting to posturing and overtures by global elite and governments, but little to no action, at least not sufficient action for what's needed in our time. What is Stay Grounded's take on what happened in Glasgow or what didn't happen?
Samie: Hmm. Yeah. I think it's similar to what you said. I mean, we just, we just put a blog post up for those who want to read in more detail about our response to the COP26 decisions or commitments. But generally, yeah, it's again about this international aviation climate ambition coalition.
And we find it not ambitious at all and full of the normal greenwash, which is what we expected, which is why we launched these greenwashing fact sheets around the same time, because this ambition coalition is really focused on offsetting again, continuously offsetting and these very false solutions that are not coming in time for the climate crisis and will not affect the largest percentage of flying and fliers
So, yeah, it's a lot of hot air. It's a lot of false promises and it's why these fact sheets are super timely and important to help our members and other climate activists set the record straight and push for genuine climate action that is not going to come from a COP, unfortunately.
I know some of our members, well, some of stay Stay Grounded organizers were there and it's always good to be part of the people's assembly and see who else is around and meet people and be inspired by all of the incredible activists that are out there pushing for alternatives. But yeah, I mean, we have to stop putting hope into these big international organizations.
I mean, I read that the biggest coalition at the COP this year, as always, is the fossil fuel industry still in 2021. You know, like what will we expect from an international gathering that has the biggest coalition of fossil fuel industry lobbyists? I mean, They still have our economy and our societies in a stronghold and will not let go until I don't even know what will stop them.
So we just have to continue, like you said, re localization is important and people can do that from the bottom up. And I think it will always be important that we have grassroots movements showing that alternatives are possible while we continuously push for top-down political change as well. And going back to a reprioritization of governments and government funding, a lot of that is tied into subsidies and it's not just aviation, it is all sectors of our society are subsidized in some way. Food and agriculture is subsidized heavily and results in us eating horrible food, for the most part. Aviation's similar. Like I said, the only reason the aviation industry was allowed to exist and persist through COVID is because they were bailed out and subsidized.
It's why stay grounded, launched the "Save People, Not Planes" initiative and why we are very focused on a just transition for people in aviation, but also in tourism in places that are dependent on this. We need to be showing that alternatives are possible. And if we were to subsidize the right things in society, things that are more sustainable, then we would go much farther.
This industry that would allow for faster trains to be possible in places like the US or Canada, that could be subsidized from the same subsidies that are currently subsidizing very climate damaging aviation. And so if, and when we choose to do that, it would happen quite quickly. Like what if we decided that we're no longer subsidizing aviation?
How long would it really last? How long could those businesses stay afloat without our taxpayer money? Right. Like what do we really want to see? And I think it's especially hard to watch here because people are so just caught up and struggling to survive capitalism, that it makes it hard for people to step out of line and really put their foot down for things.
But that's really what we need.
Chris: Yeah. From the grassroots. I know that, uh, you know, of the 180 plus members that you have listed on your website, that it is a global network, right? So people might be able to get in touch with those local members as well or organizations.
Samie: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, if you're interested in the work that we do, please reach out and be in touch. Yes. We have a wonderful map on our website that shows where these organizations are and who they are. And so if you're nearby them and interested in learning more of them, I'm sure they'd be happy to hear from you.
We, as a network are also always happy to hear from people who are interested in the topic and like I said before it's not just about flying and aviation. It's about the impact of aviation in our global economy and this kind of hyper mobile, hyper consumerist society that we have built for ourselves and moving away from that.
So if that's something that interests you, even if you're not completely focused on aviation, then also please join us. And yeah, let's see how we can collaborate and work together because it's about this entire economic shift and the way that we live, work and enjoy and consume together.
Chris: Yeah. On your behalf or on behalf of stay grounded then, is there anything, any parting words you'd like to offer our listeners, given the very different circumstances that everyone has in their own lives, how they might proceed differently in regards to air travel.
Samie: I think my parting words on my behalf a bit for stay grounded, but also just think about the fact that life is where you are.
And so much joy and fulfillment can come from being present in the place that you're at. And we shouldn't always be thinking of what's going on out there and what we can do. And that's very much influenced by our hyper capitalist society, that's mostly through our phones these days, right. We're always seeing what could be out there and what is there and there, but life is right where you are, with who you are, and building the type of society that you want to live in.
And so, yeah, I often say that, just do what you can, where you're at and don't be afraid to replicate good ideas. You know, we should all be replicating good, sustainable ideas of ways to live together and little networks of that all over will create the society that we finally are dreaming of.
It's just slow, it's slow. And I know that, but if we're all doing that in our own little spaces, I think that's, there's lots of hope to be found there.
Chris: Mm. Hmm. Thank you. As difficult as it is to stomach, sometimes for people that dreaming, at the end of the day, it's not for us, right.
That any kind of post-capitalist world that we'd actually want to live in is likely not going to be, inhabited in our lifetime. And any willingness to walk away from the work because of that understanding, we can just remember that, you know, the way things are now are the way they are in part, because the people who came before us either didn't have the capacity to do this work or they didn't want to. Right. And so that's the inheritance, that's the same thing we'd be passing on otherwise.
Samie: A thousand percent agree. People talk a lot about legacies and especially in a US context. I don't really know the rest of the world, but I feel like a lot of my US friends talk about legacies in terms of their children.
And I think legacies can be very communal based as well. And you are building things for generations to come and contributing to a society that you want to see. I think that's as valuable of a legacy as any other.
Chris: Well, I'd like to on behalf of our listeners and the end of tourism podcast thank you Sammy and the Stay Grounded team for being willing to come on the pod today and to speak with me and to offer our listeners a really important understanding and imagining of how things are and how things could be.
And, uh, so I offer a deep bow to you for your time today, on behalf of them.
Samie: Thank you so much, Chris. It was a pleasure speaking with you.