Travelling and the climate: what you could and shouldn't do
Climate has been on the forefront of international negotiations in the past decades. The evidence of human-induced climate change and its consequences is abundant and ever increasing. While states are delving into seemingly never-ending negotiations, citizens and other non-state actors are increasingly acting on reducing emission through all kinds of easy and more inventive ways. One contradicting issue rises, however; the increase in welfare in combination with decreasing flight prices is causing a boost in international aviation numbers. While I am trying to be a person who lives in a sustainable way, I have to admit that I am also one of the people contributing to air pollution by flying to Japan, Ecuador, London, etc. I find it difficult to come clean with myself about how much I am polluting through my travels, especially since this is one of the things which makes me truly happy. I became vegan for the environment, I take very short showers, I stopped using shampoo, I try to buy local products mostly, but then my flight just compensate for more than everything I am trying to contribute. Therefore, in this blog I want to write a bit about sustainable ways of travelling, to make myself more aware, but also to maybe help you if you're struggling with the same contradicting lifestyle.
While there is so much knowledge about pollution and travelling I will not claim to use everything here. That would just be way too much to cover in one blogpost. I will, however, look at trustworthy pages and share them with you (some might be in Dutch, but I will summarize what they say here). First of all for example, the Dutch website www.milieucentraal.nl, an organization focussing on the environment which was started by the former ministry of environment in 1988. They have a page called 'Vliegen of ander vakantie vervoer' which means 'flying or other ways of holiday-travelling' (https://www.milieucentraal.nl/duurzaam-vervoer/vliegen-of-ander-vakantievervoer/). On their page they give a simple comparison of the pollution caused by different ways of travelling. Visiting the page can be useful even if you do not understand Dutch since they show some figures you might understand. They give four tips, useful to keep in mind when planning your holidays:
- Go less often on holidays, but go for a longer period of time
- Travel by train or touring car to reduce your contribution to pollution
- Choose a suitable destination close to home, so if you want to a sunny place to lay on the beach and tan, go to Portugal instead of South America for example. You can do the same and you can seriously lower your environmental impact.
- Compensate for your pollution by investing in sustainable energy or tree planting (however, make sure you choose the right project for planting trees, since they are not always very socially sustainable since the trees might be planted on other peoples bought territory in African countries for example).
They also compared several ways of travelling within Europe with the first one being the most sustainable: train/touring car, car with multiple people, airplane or car with only one person. However, they say you have to keep in mind the type of car your travelling with, since some are more sustainable than others. A trip by plane is usually around 7-11x more of a burden on the environment than a trip by train.
If you do decide to fly, however, then you can at least try to reduce the impact as much as possible by keeping in mind the following things:
- Most of the times a direct flight is the best. For long intercontinental flights, however, this might be different.
- Fly with an aviation company that uses modern planes and that cares for the environment (check their website for example or call the company)
- Flights of companies trying to be as cheap as possible might be more sustainable than more expansive flights since they try to fit as many people in the plane as possible. However, they should then use modern planes.
- Again, choose a good destination close to home
- Travel by public transport to and from the airport
The Guardian also released an interesting article about the impacts of flying. The article is from 2008, so a long time ago, but you can get the idea: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/apr/06/aviation-q-and-a . One of the important things they mention is that the impact of flying is not just about CO2 emissions, since this is not the only impact flying has on the environment. The contribution to global warming is often much higher than what you expect only based on CO2 emissions.
A relatively recent article in The Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/27/climate/airplane-pollution-global-warming.html) also stresses how bad flying is for the environment. However, they again give some recommendations to keep in mind
- Fly less
- Offset it
- Fly coach
- Listen to flight attendants (they sometimes give some hidden fuel saving tips)
- Know your fuels
If you want to know more about these tips I suggest you read the article since it is interesting to read and well-written!
Yale Climate Connections also offers a good explanation of flying and its impacts. It is definitely worth a read: https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2015/09/evolving-climate-math-of-flying-vs-driving/
So what now?
Well, I am still in doubt about my next trip and definitely more aware of what I should and should not do. Now I at least know how I can reduce my impact if I decide to keep travelling by plane, which I am honestly not yet ready to totally give up. I am focussing more on other modes of travelling however. Especially travelling by train has caught my attention since you see so much more of the country then by flying, and since it's effortless in comparison to driving or biking. For example: I would love to go to China, and one way to do this and at the same time see so much of other countries is by taking the Trans Mongolian Railway for example. There is also the Danube Express in Europe (which is more of a luxury train), the Ghan in Australia, the California Zephyr in the USA, the Golden Eagly (Moscow-Tehran). The Telegraph also gives a great overview of train rides in the world https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/rail-journeys/the-25-greatest-train-journeys-in-the-world/. While it might take longer to travel by train, it is worth it when you decide to take fewer but longer trips. Other ways of travelling are by foot, bike or boat.
Well, I hope you learned something throughout this blog and that you can make up your mind. Good luck and enjoy planning your next trip! I see reducing my emissions as a fun and rewarding challenge.