Why I refused to go on my course field trip

Abi Whitefield studied Environmental Protection and Management when she decided to not participate in her compulsory course field trip to Morocco due to its carbon emissions. We find out more about her decision. 

When I applied for the MSc course in Environmental Protection and Management at Edinburgh I knew a field tour to Morocco was a compulsory component of the degree. I didn’t want to go. Not only due to a slight fear of flying, but due to the immense environmental impact of the journey there.

Flying is one of the most polluting activities individual humans can engage in. Carbon calculators online will give you various numbers as to how polluting these journeys are, but all make it pretty clear that planes are very polluting! Using the WWF calculator, the journey to and from Morocco by plane was calculated to produce 2.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Other websites predicted this to be equivalent to the annual emissions of the average person in India. For me, according to the WWF calculator, the emissions produced from a return flight to Morocco were equivalent to a quarter of my annual carbon emissions. There was no way I was flying there!

I told my course director from before I had even applied to the course that I would not attend the field trip. They were completely supportive of my decision and started planning alternative activities for me, even discussing travelling to Morocco on public transport instead. Eventually, it was decided that I would undertake an individual study, which focussed on environmental behaviours. I sent out a survey on environmental beliefs, behaviour changes and barriers to change, even asking the public about their opinions on flying. Turns out, a lot of people fly less because of the environment. The results of this survey were fascinating and were worth course credits, so it was great!

Flights have an immense impact on the environment. Yet people take them without even considering this effect. The draw of exploring other countries and cultures (or even just spending a week on a sunbed in a resort) is too much for many, preferring to holiday abroad instead of staying in their home country. But there are other ways to experience new cultures! From the UK, by trains and other land-based transport, you can get to other continents to explore. Plus, there’s also a lot of the UK to explore too!

We need to stop engaging in unnecessary plane travel. We can do so much without travelling by plane! We can travel via land, or experience new cultures online. For business, travel by plane seems entirely unnecessary. Do you really need to fly to meet those people? Could that not be done via the internet? For many field trips, UK alternatives may provide better opportunities. In Morocco, for instance, the drone work that my class had wished to undertake was not allowed in the country. This could have taken place in the UK and enhanced the students’ experience. UK alternatives for field trips need to be considered.

Currently, I am thoroughly enjoying a train-based holiday. I’m exploring the Scottish Highlands via public transport, getting to my destinations, but also get to view the beauty of the Scottish countryside at the same time. Previously, I have travelled to the south of France by rail, and all across the UK from Cornwall to Cardiff, to Inverness. I’ve got ferries to Northern Ireland and trains across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Although time above the clouds may be impressive, the cultural interaction of finding your way about via public transport and the beauty of experiencing vast amounts of the scenic countryside on land cannot be rivalled. All without having to sit for hours in airports, in security queues or be stuck on a plane…

So my message is: just have a bit of a think before you make a plane journey. Is the journey necessary? How much of an impact on the environment is it going to have? Are there alternatives? Could I have the same (or better) experiences with a different travel method? Do I really need to travel to another country to have that experience?

You can enjoy the beauty of the world just as much without being in the sky!

Want to learn more?

Get tickets to our Visions for Change event on Business Travel

Learn about the University’s Roundtable of Sustainable Academic Travel

Find out your own carbon footprint

4 thoughts on “Why I refused to go on my course field trip”

  1. A person of real principle Abi. A well written piece that explains
    extremely well your passion and concern for the environment. Some
    would say that you not going on the trip made no difference as the
    plane flew anyway. However they would entirely miss the point of
    your action. You have shown integrity in refusing to participate in
    what you believe to be an entirely Wasteful exercise and explained
    your reasons clearly and objectively. You may not have saved the
    environment on this specific occasion as trip went ahead but the
    future?? We all need to think of our individual and corporate
    impact on the environment. For those who say my little saving won’t
    make any difference, I say that one hundred individual pennies
    saved make up a pound and a pound could give a homeless person a
    hot supper from a soup kitchen. This makes a world of difference to
    that person and could save their life. Meaning that every little
    thing we do as individuals for the environment adds up in the whole
    and does make a huge impact overall. Yes a lot of our climate
    change is natural but not all. Pollution Must be cut and better use
    of natural resources must be found. All praise for your stance on
    the subject and all credit to your tutors in allowing you to carry
    out your action and help to find an alternative bit of work for
    you. A lesson for us all. Keep up the good work.

  2. It’s really interesting to hear about Abi’s decision and how it
    went down with the University. We would be very keen to share Abi’s
    story and experience on the Flight Free blog – would that be
    possible? If so, Abi can contact us by emailing
    info@flightfree.co.uk. Many thanks, Anna (Director, Flight Free UK)

  3. Sorry Abi as someone who is disabled I do not share your love of
    trains. My trip to France on Eurostar was painful to say the least
    as it rocked and rattled about. To do Paul’s monthly trips to
    London for hospital appointments (he is part of a trial for a rare
    cancer) by train and taxi is very expensive not to mention
    unreliable and it is much more comfortable to drive ourselves. I do
    fly though these days only to Europe because I am usually looked
    after well by the special assistance team and the flight is usually
    much smoother than other transport so less painful. Though flying
    out of Brisbane between two cyclones was somewhat bumpy!!! As long
    as we are able we will continue to seek the sun during the winter
    months as that is a blessing for both of us we will continue to
    fly. Sea travel does more harm anyway re waste – you only have to
    walk the shoreline to see that.

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