Meet the aircraft engineer who quit to fight the climate crisis

21 Nov, 2021

Read the Big Issue article, featuring Safe Landing co-founder, Finlay Asher, here:

Millions of people go to work in high-polluting industries every day. But at what point does consciousness about climate change collide with your role in driving it? These workers share why they quit their jobs over the crisis.

It’s a story familiar to Finlay Asher, a former aircraft engineer.

As a keen graduate, Asher wanted to find ways to reduce the environmental impact of flying, and started working on designs for sustainable aircraft engines.

It wasn’t long before his efforts felt futile.

“What was really frustrating for me was that there weren’t any resources given to developing these advanced designs, and the industry was lobbying hard to prevent regulations which would make [sustainable designs] more profitable,” he says.

It turned out, says Asher, that airlines thought it “not worth the technical and economic risk” to work on sustainable aircraft due to the designs being radically different from old ones and jet fuel being tax-free and cheaper than more eco-friendly options.

He recalls Greta Thunberg’s decision to journey across the Atlantic in a boat rather than a plane to COP25 as a pivotal moment in his decision to leave the job.

“That put the industry on the back foot, and the biggest aerospace manufacturers released a joint statement on their sustainability strategy”, he says.

Asher read it and “disagreed with every single sentence”, finding the strategy to be “misleading to the public, to employees in the industry and politicians”.

It focused too heavily on “unproven technologies” like sustainable aviation fuel rather than demanding reduction, says Asher, who believes that reducing demand for flying will be critical in minimising aviation emissions.

Though he later set up his own sustainability group to push for change internally, Asher found that industry leaders were unwilling to engage with the group’s suggestions and research around sustainable aviation. In 2020, when coronavirus brought about the opportunity for voluntary redundancy, he took it.

Since then, Asher has set up a group called “Safe Landing” for aviation workers concerned about the climate. He also runs a Youtube channel exploring sustainable aviation and industry greenwash.

Though he’s had workers join the group from around the world, he believes there’s one powerful force stopping others from doing so too: marketing.

“It’s difficult to convey how much greenwash around aviation taps into people’s emotions, taps into technological fetishism and self-worth. We’re up against a multi-billion dollar marketing and media machine,” he says.

“A lot of people in the industry really care, but they buy into the greenwash,”

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