Climate change and travel

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6 – 7 min read

I am travelling to New York for the very first time next week. The prospect of hopping across the pond on a 7 hour flight to visit friends and explore a whole new city is very exciting.

But something is weighing on me. My carbon footprint.

In addition to my transatlantic travels this year, I will be flying to Vienna and Stockholm for long weekends. And there’s the small matter of a big trip to Hong Kong and Japan, via Stockholm, alone racking up eight separate flights. I’m also travelling to Amsterdam (but with less carbon guilt – more on that later).

FACT: By the end of the year I’ll have travelled at least 25,126 miles by plane. To put that into perspective, the Earth’s circumference clocks in at 24,901 miles. 2018 will be the furthest I’ve ever travelled in one year of my life.

Meeting this landmark comes at a carbon cost. If you think about it, given that the fossil fuels we use are the chemicals from hundreds of millions of years’ worth of carbon-rich animal and plant remains, that’s a lot of carbon that humans are releasing into the atmosphere in a short space of time!

We have a long way to go to combat climate change and the growing impact humans have on the planet. So, where to start on a personal level? How can we do our bit and still enjoy world travel?

1. How big is yours?

WWF environmental footprint questionnaire results - feet
The amount I travel takes my environmental footprint above the UK average according to WWF. It is three times the world average. © WWF

To find out how big your footprint actually is, there are plenty of calculators out there, but I recommend taking the WWF Environmental Footprint Questionnaire. How I compare to the UK average and to the world average is pictured above.

Knowing that mine is only going to grow in the next few months makes me even more determined to reduce the impact I have on the planet while I’m trying to explore it.

2. Training

The Glacier Express in Switzerland
Travelling on the Glacier Express in Switzerland to St Moritz, 2013 © Kate Crowther

Think about your route, is that internal flight really much cheaper than a train, could you mix up what transport you use? I’m looking forward to taking the recently launched Eurostar to Amsterdam in May – we will enjoy seeing some of the countryside as we roll through, and 80% less carbon is produced compared to the alternative flight.

Japan’s train services are legendary and I’d be mad not to get a rail pass while I’m out there. Money and time always comes into it though. A bullet train now links Tokyo with Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido. However, I’m using airmiles to fly me speedily between the two regions. The return flights are costing me £3.60!

Eurostar (yes, they are pro-trains!) did the maths to show that taking the train to Paris as opposed to flying cut carbon emissions by a staggering 90%. Since 2007 Eurostar has been making every journey their passengers take carbon neutral. That gets a gold star from me.

Hopefully all travel companies and airlines will offset all their emissions in the future, getting air travel closer to carbon neutral.

3. Going neutral

The Jungfrau summit in the Swiss Bernese Alps © Kate Crowther
The Jungfrau summit in the Swiss Bernese Alps © Kate Crowther

If Eurostar has made my trip to Amsterdam with them in May carbon neutral, how much would it take/ cost for me to do the same? First thing’s first though – how much CO2 would the flights be responsible for?

FACT: The CO2 emissions from all my 2018 flights weighs in at a whopping 6.26 tonnes. That’s 447kg on average per flight that I take this year*. Yikes.

This is the first time I’ve ever put a number to the amount of carbon produced to get me from A-Z on my travels. If someone dropped 447kg of plain flour all over my garden every time I flew somewhere, I’d see it and I’d want it cleaned it up!

And that’s a big part of the problem, a disconnect between what we do and what we see. What if Earth treated us the way we treat Earth?

4. Go plant some trees

Amazon Rainforest tree canopy
Amazon Rainforest tree canopy at Sacha Lodge near Yasuni National Park

With all of this in mind, what can we all do to get a little closer to being carbon neutral?

Pay your way

Climatecare has a simple to use calculator for assessing the CO2 impact of flights and other activities and the money you donate to offset your travel goes towards green projects around the world, from water purification in Kenya and providing solar energy in India to fuelling efficient cooking practices in countries such as Honduras, Vietnam and Uganda.

My flight to Stockholm cost 0.43 tonnes in CO2 and the amount Climatecare suggests paying towards offsetting that is £3.22*. I will be donating every time I fly to a new destination, in turn helping someone in need around the world gain better access to a way of living that is also sustainable.

Green searches

Make those hours spent searching stuff online do some good somewhere. Search engine Ecosia uses the profit made from searches on their site to plant trees. And to date that amounts to over 26 million across the world. On average it takes about 45 searches to plant a tree. I’m working on it!

Economise

Because first class and business class seats are roomier and less people take up that space, CO2 emissions go up considerably per person. Breathe a sigh of relief as you turn right.

#Plasticfree

While the act of travelling from one country to another is carbon costly, so too of course is simply doing your weekly shop. Blue Planet has reignited the debate around the shocking environmental impact our love of plastic is having on the environment. High levels of carbon go into the production of plastic, and so choosing to go plastic free whenever you can is only going to be good for your footprint. Why zero-waste supermarkets are the new, old way to shop.

Try before you buy

The atmosfair Airline Index 2017 compares and ranks the carbon efficiency of the world’s 200 largest airlines. The rankings on their website are only in PDF form (way to go) but ThePointsGuy.com has picked them apart.

So, I’m making a promise. I’m going to search green wherever I can, support green projects whenever I can and offset my carbon use by any means possible, including paying cold hard cash. I choose green, not greenhouse.

Will you do the same?

————

*Figures an estimate based on where I’m flying to and from in 2018, using the Climatecare calculator: London Stansted – Stockholm Skavsta 0.43 tonnes / £3.22 to offset. London Stansted – New York Newark 1.53 tonnes / £11.50 to offset. London Gatwick – Vienna 0.41 tonnes / £3.10 to offset. London Heathrow – Hong Kong Intl via Stockgolm Arlanda 2.73 tonnes / £20.50 to offset. Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda one way 0.48 tonnes / £3.59 to offset. Tokyo – Asahikawa, returning from Sapporo 0.27 tonnes / £2.03 to offset. Osaka – Hong Kong 0.41 / £3.07. A total of 6.26 tonnes. Phew.

 

 

 

 

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