For most of the 150 delegates who traveled to Germany for a gathering of church leaders in historic Wittenberg, the trip was a matter of a few hours, thanks to one of the many low-cost airlines that now ply Europe’s skies.
But for Anglican Bishop Richard Chartres of London, who has pledged to refrain from air travel for a year, as a sign of his commitment to the environment, the journey earlier this month meant a 1,000-kilometre train voyage with changes in Brussels and Berlin.
“Travel takes rather longer,” Bishop Chartres told Ecumenical News International in Wittenberg. “I left Waterloo [in London] at 7:15 p.m. and arrived in Wittenberg at 9:30 a.m. the following morning.”
Bishop Chartres signed a pledge to refrain from all air travel for 12 months during a Stop Climate Change demonstration in London in October.
“I shall not flinch,” Bishop Chartres insisted, although he acknowledged the effects of his decision were, at times, “very inconvenient.” Still, “One useful result is slowing down a bit,” he noted. “I think it also focuses the mind on going to things that are really valuable.”
Last year, Bishop Chartres was criticized by Michael O’Leary, chief executive of low-cost airline Ryanair, after the bishop was reported saying it was sinful to pollute the planet by catching a plane for a holiday. But, the 59-year-old cleric said in Wittenberg: “If one is saying ‘cut the carbon’ … one has to be very alert to one’s own footprint. This is a new way of being faithful, of walking lightly on the earth.”
In the meantime, Bishop Chartres’ staff have had to reorganize his travel arrangements.
“I’ve refused invitations,” he noted, referring to a request from the Norwegian government to attend an environmental awareness conference in Tromso, in Norway, north of the Arctic Circle.
He acknowledged doubts that he will be able to keep up his flight-free stance once the 12 months is over. “It comes at a cost, not just financial, but improving the efficiency with which one can do one’s work,” Bishop Chartres noted. “But I shan’t go back to flying as much as I did before.”