A former pilot who lives in Reading now suffers from eco-anxiety and says he would not now travel by plane unless “absolutely essential”.

Todd Smith, 32, is a member of Extinction Rebellion Reading (XRR), a local branch of the global environmental movement and was until recently a commercial pilot.

His parents mortgaged their house to support his pilot career, with £130,000 needed for training, and he finally broke into the industry after seven years but was later diagnosed with Lyme Disease and not able to fly.

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He has been cured of the disease now but said it is “difficult to imagine going back to flying conventional jets because there isn’t the technology to enable the industry to be sustainable”.

Currently looking for work in Reading, he has called for support from the government to create local green jobs.

And he will join with other XR activists from Reading, Wokingham, and Bracknell at a vigil outside Reading Town Hall, on Friday, from 10am-4pm, in support of Green Party MP Caroline Lucas’ Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill (CEE Bill), which is currently being considered in Parliament.

The CEE Bill contains a series of measures to ensure the UK meets its commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Mr Smith said: “It advocates for a just transition and civil assembly that will ensure all voices are heard.”

The protest on Friday will comply with the government’s Covid-related regulations, with social distancing and a limited numbers of participants, he said.

How a commercial pilot become a climate change activist

Todd Smith In A Plane

Todd Smith In A Plane

After his medical to fly was revoked due to his Lyme Disease, Todd used his staff travels benefits “to see the world”, where he witnessed the effects of climate change and mass tourism first-hand.

The former pilot said: “I wouldn’t have classed myself as being an environmentalist previously. I was a hypocrite.

“It was a combination of seeing Peru’s rainbow mountain [a wonder discovered due to the melting ice caused by climate change], Peru being one of the first countries in the world to be hit by global heating, getting Lyme Disease in the UK and XR protests happening at the same time.

“XR were starting to take to the streets of London.  I made it my mission to really understand the science and when I did, I felt totally conflicted.

“I care deeply about the future of our generations and our planet. The more I learnt about the injustices of aviation and how damaging it is the more I felt I had to be part of the solution and so I joined XR.”

Mr Smith said the Covid-19 pandemic was “the final moment” that made him decide “enough is enough”.

At the beginning of the first lockdown, he became an NHS volunteer respondent, delivering medical supplies and food to people in self-isolation.

He said: “We realised our vulnerabilities during the pandemic. The coronavirus crisis is a wake-up call from nature.”

Eco-anxiety and looking for green jobs

Todd Smith Speech

Todd Smith Speech

Mr Smith now suffers from eco-anxiety, “caused by the lack of action on the climate emergency and know that aviation is the most energy intensive activity per hour that humans can embark”.

He said he would not want to fly as a passenger again “unless it is absolutely essential”.

Mr Smith is now looking for a green job in Reading and has called on the govenrment to do more to enable workers in carbon-heavy industries to reskill for employment the green sector.

He said “So far there doesn’t seem to be a big drive that is required to create these jobs.”

Comparing the Covid crisis and the climate crisis

Todd Smith

Todd Smith

The government failed to prepare for the pandemic, Mr Smith says, and is doing the same for the climate crisis, highlighting continuing road and airport expansions and a gas project in Mozambique.

He said: “In less than 30 years we will have a huge humanitarian crisis. People are dying in the south now.

“Our government’s own advisors are asking them to prepare for a four degrees world. Vast parts of the African continent would be uninhabitable, and Spain would be like a desert.

Former Bank of England governor Mark Cairney recently said Climate crisis deaths ‘will be worse than Covid’.

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And Mr Smith said people see it as something that will happen in a long time but “one in five people now die prematurely due to pollution”.

“It is similar to when we saw the pandemic in Wuhan,” he adds.

“It wasn’t until it arrived on our doorstep that people really felt it. That is why we need to keep raising awareness as best we can and why XR does what they do.”