Tag Archives: impact of travel

“Eco” post – The impact of travel

29 Sep

Howdy Folks,

Last week I was reading an article about a young female backpacker in Australia who described herself as an “eco warrior”. She referred to herself as an “eco-warrior” because usually she flew places and back-packed around independently. But I presumed because the company paying her to write the story, she decided to take a 20 day tour of Australia’s West Coast instead of flying, thus making her an eco-warrior. Oh yeah, she stayed at eco retreats as well.

The story above annoyed me. Yes good on this girl for taking responsibility for the environmental impact of travel (What this post is about), but come on, don’t jump on the band wagon and call yourself an eco-warrior because you did a tour instead of flying. If she had flown she would not have been able to stop off at all the “eco-retreats” along the way of the 20 day “eco-tour”. I sometimes feel the word “eco” is thrown around willy knilly.

This morning I left my urine to sit in the toilet instead of using the water to flush it, does that make me an eco- warrior? Remember, if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown send it down!

Gosh, I’m I getting pessimistic as old age and 30 nears? Who am I to talk, I have worked for oil and gas and mining companies and gone to Antarctica on a cruise ship, maybe I’m an eco-raper? Actually this is half the reason I want to make up for this by making the continent of Africa human powered and aiding a charity that also benefits the environment. I was inspired to do this after meeting one of my expedition inspirations, Robert Swan whilst trying to get to Antarctica.

I don’t see myself as an “eco-warrior”, I’m just trying to give back, take responsibility I suppose. I believe in karma, you have to do what is right, keep things even.

An everyday person who I feel deserves the title eco-warrior is my mate BC who I had the pleasure to catching up with a couple of months ago as he was passing through Melbourne after an 11 month independent travel adventure across Asia. By the way he will absolutely hate me for calling him an eco-warrior. But his stories were eco-amazing and eco-adventurous to say the least, I particularly liked the one where he bought a horse in Mongolia and went bush on it for 3 weeks, gold.

But BC’s trip was amazing, not only due to the sheer adventurousness of it –as well as buying a horse in Mongolia, he also bought a motorbike and rode through India- but due to his dedication to avoid air travel. BC sums it all up pretty dam well in this little blurb he wrote after I asked him to put something together on the impact of travel. By the way, BC is a person who will go to eco-heaven, he is extremely eco-conscious, he’s the only person I know that writes letters to Members of Parliament telling them their environmental policies are bollocks.

In his blurb below he brings to the floor some very scary points, and some great stats like Air travel produces 19 times the greenhouse gas emissions of trains; and 190 times that of a ship. But don’t let me spoil it for you, read on. All I have to say is…………………buy local asparagus!

BC’s eco blurb, written by BC.

In April this year I was lucky enough to be in the beautiful Andaman Islands off the east coast of India. One hot and sticky Wednesday I spent a night waiting outside the Port Blair ferry building for the ticket office to open in the morning. At around 5 am I was with a throng of locals who poured into the compound and jostled for advantage in the queue. After around 8 hours of waiting in that tightly packed mass of humanity it was revealed to me at the ticket counter that all tickets for the boats leaving the islands that month were sold out. I would be forced to fly back to mainland India. I was devastated. I didn’t care that the boat would be a repeat of the 3 day ocean journey I made to get to the islands. I cared that I would have to take a domestic flight for the first time and break one of the covenants of my 11 month odyssey across Asia from Moscow to Kolkata – never to take a domestic or regional flight. Buses, trains, horses, motorbikes and ships had gotten me that far but those remote islands undid me. So what was the psychology shaping that sentiment? There are two questions that point to this:

Why is air travel so important in relation to climate change?

“Flying, particularly on long-haul flights, is so highly emitting that it dwarfs everything else on an individual carbon budget. Many climate groups have calculated that in a sustainable world each person would have a carbon allowance of two to four tons of carbon emissions annually. Any single long-haul flight nearly “instantly uses that up,” said Christian Jardine, a senior researcher at the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University.” (The Guardian, 24 May 2010)

Aviation is both the fastest growing and most damaging form of carbon emissions and this can be illustrated in the following example of the British situation:

British emissions of C02 from aircraft, expressed in millions of tons of carbon, shot up from 4.6 million tons in 1990 to 8.8 million tons in 2000. But based on predicted air passenger transport growth figures – from 180 million passengers per year today to 476 million passengers per year by 2030 – they are expected to rise to 17.7 million tons in 2030. Aircraft emissions that go directly into the stratosphere have more than twice the global warming effect of emissions from cars and power stations at ground level and, based on the Government’s own calculations, the effect of the 2030 emissions will be equivalent to 44.3 million tons of carbon – 45 per cent of Britain’s expected emissions total at that date. That growth alone, the environmental audit committee says, will make Britain’s 60 per cent CO2 reduction target “meaningless and unachievable”. The clash of interests cannot be ducked any more, say the green groups. “The convenience we enjoy in covering huge distances in a short time is one of the fast-growing threats to life on earth,” said Tony Juniper, the executive director of Friends of the Earth. (The Independent, May 27 2005)

What can be done to manage this problem?

In the face of the risk to the environment from air travel, there are four things to consider:

  1. Don’t fly. It’s a hard message to swallow. George Monbiot (Heat, 2007) concluded in his analysis of the British situation that to meet current environmental targets set by the government for 2050, almost all flying will have to stop and the current fleet of planes grounded. It is simply too environmentally costly to fly. As individuals we can take simple actions such as being advocates at our company for video conferencing to supplement business travel and consider domestic holidays rather than international ones. But I can hear you say it, sometimes you just have to take a flight, maybe to attend a wedding or, like Hap, realize a long held dream (not to mention the positive contribution to an NGO). In these cases…
  2. Fly as little as possible. Direct flights are preferable to stopovers due to the fuel use in taking off and landing. Shorter flights are better than longer ones. When you are planning your itinerary avoid domestic and regional flights and reconnect with the romance of over-landing through a place. Sites like http://www.seat61.com are an excellent resource for long distance overland travel.
  3. In those unavoidable situations where you must fly, offset your flights. A carbon offset is where you invest in a carbon reduction project which reduces the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by an amount equivalent to the emissions from your flight. Despite some widespread debate on the efficacy of such schemes I believe given the choice of off-setting or ignoring the issue, one should always offset. High profile environmental campaigners such as Bill McKibben share this view. Off-setting is as simple as going on to a website, entering your flight details, and purchasing the offset (i.e. donating a contribution to a pre-vetted carbon reduction project). However, not all offset schemes are created equal and the Voluntary Carbon Offset Information Portal (http://www.tufts.edu/tie/carbonoffsets/aircalculator.htm) rates Atmosfair and Climate Friendly as among the best providers.
  4. Support changes to the aviation industry that limit supply or demand. On the supply side, the public should be opposed to the development of more capacity at airports. Next time you read an article in the paper that an airport is planning to build a new runway, write a letter/email to the airport and the appropriate local/national politicians in protest. On the demand side, the public should be supportive of increases in the cost of flying. In the US and Europe there is no tax on aviation fuel, in other words, flying is being subsidized. That is a crazy scenario that needs to change. The public should get behind increases in tax on the aviation industry. One example is to impose an increased GST or VAT on flights (currently in the UK there is no VAT on domestic flights). A more comprehensive response is to include aviation as part of an economy-wide carbon tax.

The facts about flying (The Independent, May 27 2005)

* Air travel produces 19 times the greenhouse gas emissions of trains; and 190 times that of a ship.

* Aviation could contribute 15 per cent of greenhouse gases each year if unchecked.

* Greenhouse gas emissions caused by UK air travel have doubled in the past 13 years, from 20.1m tons in 1990 to 39.5m tons in 2004.

* During the same period emissions from UK cars rose by 8m tons, to 67.8m tons.

* One return flight to Florida produces the equivalent CO2 of a year’s average motoring.

* Emissions at altitude have 2.7 times the environmental impact of those on the ground.

* Air travel is growing at UK airports at an average of 4.25 per cent. In 1970, 32 million flew from UK airports; in 2002, 189 million. By 2030 some 500 million passengers may pass through UK airports.

* Cargo transportation is growing by 7 per cent a year. In 1970, 580,000 tons of freight were moved by plane; in 2002, 2.2 million tons. It is forecast to reach 5 million tons in 2010.

* 50 per cent of the UK population flew at least once in 2001.

* Flying 1kg of asparagus from California to the UK uses 900 times more energy than the home-grown equivalent.