Why I refused to go on my course field trip

Photo credit: Jason Polley, Unsplash CC0

In this post originally published on the university’s Vision blog, Abi Whitefield, a former Masters student at the University of Edinburgh, explains why she refused to participate in her course’s mandatory field trip…

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 fieldtrips 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 getting 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 ferry’s to Northern Ireland and trains across Northern Ireland and 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 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!

Abi Whitefield

Abi was a student on the MSc Environmental Protection and Management course run by Edinburgh and SRUC last year. She is originally from Suffolk, but has been in Scotland since 2014 and is currently at St Andrews doing a PhD in the School of Geography, concentrating on perceptions of urban deer management. She has a passion for anything environmental, and is currently on the Environmental Sustainability Board at the University of St Andrews, which is chaired by Professor Sir Ian Boyd.

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