I would like to think my lifestyle is eco-conscious. I religiously recycle and compost, I’ve never owned a car and I rarely eat meat. I do however have a big fat carbon footprint. Why? I regularly fly. Leonardo DiCaprio must have the same confliction, but I want to investigate the dilemma.
As a British person living in Australia, I’ve clocked up a significant amount of air miles over the last few years travelling back and forth to see family and friends. Travelling, like most people, is also a really big passion of mine. I love to visit new countries and see friends abroad (I blame my international parents). Flying is unfortunately one of the biggest contributors to global warming, contributing two to three percent to the global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
What is the impact of flying?
Ironically, I’m writing this article on the same day that I’m flying from London to Sydney. To put that into numbers, later today I’m nearly contributing the same carbon emissions on my round trip as half an average Australian’s lifestyle would in a year. I’m also not unique, flying is a common and growing method of transport, with nearly 40 million passengers flying internationally in Australia just in 2017.
The Airports Council International estimates that the number of airline tickets sold per year will double to more than 9 billion by 2025.
Planes emit large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere when flying, due to petroleum fuel burning with oxygen in the air. Carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere, causing global warming. There are also other greenhouse gases emitted from aircrafts such as nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide. Don’t even get me started on the excessive waste on board…
Can I stop flying?
The fact is, flying is bad for the environment and the obvious answer is to fly less. Unfortunately I’m too selfish to give up flying completely as I want to see my family, friends and the world. There are however, small changes that might make a big difference to my impact.
- Don’t act like royalty
This really isn’t an issue for me personally but if you avoid flying business or first class, it’s more fuel-efficient. It makes sense, the less room you occupy than the more energy-efficient your trip is.
- Pack lightly
Don’t pack excessively, it will save your back and fuel. The heavier your back is, the heavier the plane will be and therefore the more fuel will be required.
- Reduce your waste
Bring your own reusable cup, cutlery (stick with plastic or bamboo utensils and avoid metal forks and knives, they usually get confiscated when screened by airport security) and even food if possible. It will hopefully reduce the amount of plastic landfill waste from your flight.
- Wrap up
On long-haul flights pillow and blankets are generally wrapped in excessive amounts of plastic, which inevitably ends up in landfill. To avoid them, bring your own neck pillow or wrap up warm. Planes are always cold.
- Fly direct
The jury is out on this one. There are credible sources that claim that the most fuel is used during take off and landing. Therefore, it would make sense to avoid short flights if possible and stopovers.
What about offsetting?
When booking flights online there is commonly an option to ‘carbon-offset’ at the checkout. This works by adding an extra cost to your ticket to remove the equivalent carbon dioxide from the atmosphere e.g. planting trees or investing in renewable energy. The Qantas website, for example, lists its carbon offset projects and explains in detail its offsetting program here.
‘Qantas offsets its corporate travel and ground fuel emissions to help counteract the unavoidable impact of air travel. We do this by supporting people and projects that make a real difference to the environment.’ Qantas emissions statement 2017
Carbon offsetting is a good way to reduce your impacts from flying, however there are criticisms. Airlines commonly do not advertise the option of offsetting clear enough and the projects can sometimes be unverified. You can also purchase offsetting through other websites. Read further advice here.
What about long-term changes?
As always, the best advice I’ve ever received to reduce my environmental impact is to be a conscious consumer. Flying is no exception. To make bigger changes in the world as consumers, we have to be aware of our impacts and question the decisions we make.
- Be mindful
I’m going to start being conscious of when and why I fly somewhere. If I can avoid flying somewhere just because it’s cheap, I will.
- Go local
Local weekends away are just as exciting, take public transport or go via a car share. For some inspiration, check out We Are Explorers for some local micro-adventures in Australia.
- Ask questions
Look at the airline company online before booking to investigate their sustainability practices. Check out the transparency and verifications of their carbon-offset projects and sustainability initiatives. Atmosfair is also a handy website that ranks airline efficiency.
Over to you: How do you balance your love of travel with your efforts to live sustainably? Feel free to share your experiences, struggles and advice below.