Todd Smith is a keen pilot who first fell in love with aircraft when he was five years old and went to see the Royal Air Force conduct aerobatics. Todd’s dream throughout his childhood has been to become a pilot. So, even though he belonged from a modest background in the suburbs of London, he gathered his act, chased his ambition, and became a pilot.
It costs €150,000 ($162,000) to train and become a commercial pilot. Unfortunately, Todd’s family did not have that sort of money. However, when Todd sought a loan to fund his training, his family saw that it was all Todd desired in life. So his grandma sold her home, his parents remortgaged their home, and he saved his income for five years to ultimately become a pilot.
Todd later recalled that “the examiner said to me afterwards, ‘you’re a credit to aviation, and you’re going to go very far in your professional career.'” My mum and dad were there. It was incredible.”
“I feel very at home in the air. “It gives me a sense of freedom and tranquillity,” he told DW.
But now, he has discontinued flying until the industry makes tangible steps to address the effects of climate change.
Todd had to take a break from flying in 2018 since he suffered from an inflammatory disease. To improve his health, he accepted his doctor’s challenge to stop eating meat and move to an entirely plant-based diet.
During this time frame, he watched a few documentaries about the impact of the met industry and its greenhouse gases on the environment.
When, during his medical leave, a tick bite in a London park left him with Lyme disease and grounded for even longer, he began to dig deeper.
As he learned more about climate change and its consequences, he became aware of the extent of the devastation we are causing to our planet. He recounted a painful memory from Peru when a guide told him, “Peru is going to be among the first places to suffer from climate change. There were people walking up and down it like ants,” Todd recalled.
“It was stunning, but we shouldn’t have been able to see it. Its magnificent colours had previously been covered beneath a layer of snow, which had melted increasing temperatures,” he added.
Todd became aware that he was living a life driven by denial. So he began devoting more effort to researching the issue of climate change. That is when he discovered that the aviation industry was responsible for more than 2% of global emissions and that many of the 80 percent of individuals who have never flown are disproportionately affected by climate change.
“I was struck by the injustice of it all. Especially since half of those emissions are generated by 1% of the population,” he said.
He started discussing the same with his fellow pilots but could not find many who thought the way he did. So he joined the Extinction Rebellion protest movement after he quit flying, for whom he is now a spokesperson, and started “taking climate activism really seriously.”
Simultaneously, he owed his family a lot of money. However, flying to pay them back was not an option.
“I couldn’t even go on a plane as a passenger now. Let alone fly one,” he said.
It has taken some time for him to make his parents realize the nobility of his cause. Finally, this spring, they joined him for their first protest event.
“It was a really incredible moment. And they really do get it now, so we can share in conversations about oil companies and stuff like that.”
Todd is also a member of Safe Landing, an organization working now to change the aviation industry from within.
“With the remaining carbon budget we have, we can’t continue to double air traffic every 15 years, like we have historically. We want to empower aviation workers to understand that we need to fly less if we want to ensure a long-term future in the industry,” he said.
He still is passionate about flying and longs to be in the skies again, but he won’t return until the industry takes its climate commitments seriously. In the meantime, he plans to continue honouring his own.
“As pilots, we’re trained to think, free from bias, to mitigate risks, to preserve life. I’m simply following my training and trying all I can to get the industry to mitigate its risks. After all, safety is our No. 1 priority.”