First of all, this isn’t supposed to be a preachy post. We all love to travel and there is no need to stop. Sure, travel for leisure does generate emissions, like most things do, but it can also be incredibly valuable too.
For example: In this fractured global political climate, cultural exchange through travel helps us to understand and respect others cultures at a grassroots level.
The fact of the matter is though, that for me personally, travel generates the biggest portion of my CO2 and that is the reason I want to examine this topic.
Before his passing and at time of writing in 2017, Prof Stephen Hawkins remarked that the earth would likely only have around 600 years left, if we continue down the path we are on. Now, this year (2018) and after extensive study, it is scientifically widely accepted he completely underestimated environmental damage and the earth has just 12 years to change course.
He said that either global warming or over-population would be the most likely cause of its end. Now many leading geographers are claiming the population boom is coming to an end, that leaves only one focus.
So for me personally, this post is a way of me thinking through my own CO2 output which, at time of writing, is currently 7 tons per year.
I’m asking myself how I can get it down to 5 tons per year – the recommended per person target – and ways this can be done without sacrificing travel (Nov 18: I have since reduced my co2 output to 3.5 tons per year, following this advice).
Head over to the WWF Footprint Calculator if you’d like to understand the estimated amount you are producing. If you aren’t UK based then estimate your flight distances, as if you were in the UK. It’s a great tool.
Take Fewer but Longer Trips
Weekend breaks can be a very tempting prospect throughout the year but the facts are, taking one or two longer, slower trips per year is a more CO2 efficient way to travel. You will use fewer flights this way and that is the biggest cause of CO2 for most travellers.
Public transport via land is much more energy-efficient than via air. Travelling solo via car is the only method of transport that is less efficient, with the exception of electric or hybrid vehicles.
The most efficient ways to travel per mile, is by train, closely followed by bus. These overland methods are around 25-30% of the output of planes.
Of course, nothing beats pedal power or travelling by foot.
Recently we’ve seen the start of trendy economical travel with some famous faces flying the flag. Prince William and Madonna have both been spotted in the economy cabins of planes recently, as luxury air travel is much less efficient.
The more people who can fit on a plane, the more CO2 efficient it is. A business class seat takes up the room of three economy passengers.
Shipping food around the world is a high contributor towards CO2 production. Whenever you are travelling somewhere, then eating the local food and produce will reduce the amount that is shipped in from around the world.
This should be a no-brainer for any traveller, as you are there to sample their culture and eating local, is one of the best ways to do that.
Also, using a water filter rather than bottled water will help too. I need to get one of those! If you use one and can recommend one to me, please leave a comment in the comments box at the bottom of the page.
Only Fly with Fuel-efficient Airlines
Below is an example of transatlantic operators and their fuel efficiency. These have been worked out by industry insiders and are a reliable guide to a per passenger amount. Choose your airline wisely.
A full list of the global airline ranking can be found here, from the Atmosfair organisation. Also take a look at our post which explains how air miles programs are a strong contributor to ruining the planet.
Fly on a Fuel-efficient Plane
This can be quite a complex and technical thing to work out but don’t be put off – it’s easy when you know how. Simply put, you need to find out exactly what plane you are flying on and how many seats it has to work out what your share of the emissions will be. Refer to this article from the IPFS to help you.
The best planes to fly will achieve more than 90 miles per gallon and are generally Boeing aircraft.
The most efficient planes right now are the Boeing Dreamliner 787 and the Boeing 737-Max. So long as a Dreamliner has 240 seats or the 737 has 150 or more seats on board it, then you can see you’d hit the over 90mpg target.
You can also double-check the number of seats it has on websites like Seat Guru. You just need the full aircraft code, i.e. ‘Boeing 787-800’ is a Boeing Dreamliner 787 version 8.
Hostels generally operate in a more fuel-efficient way than hotels do, so try to travel in a communal way where ever you can.
Couchsurfing is perhaps the ultimate way to travel efficiently. It might also be the best way to live like a local and truly experience the place you are visiting. I haven’t done this yet but will try it soon – why not! I guess it could be awkward if approached with a bad attitude but if you are travelling with a closed mind, are you getting the most out of your trip? Check out the Couchsurfing website here.
Offset your carbon
Some environmental champions say that offsetting you carbon doesn’t tackle the reductions that we need to achieve and they are right. It is a reactive correction, not a method of prevention. It does demonstrate some mindfulness however.
As a result I have decided to offset every trip I make and for my next trip to Italy in December I have offset the carbon as you can see from this certificate. I must still strive to hit my 5 tons per year target however, and do feel like this is a bit of a cop out.
To me, it appears as though many of the most efficient ways of travelling – flying economy, using public transport overland and using hostels or couchsurfing – are the ways that are the most social and cultural too. It’s a win-win situation.
If we get more from travelling, not inspire of but because we are doing it in a more environmentally conscious way, then it seems clear to me that this is the right way forwards.
Clearly however, many travel companies don’t consider green travel as a big priority. Many airlines place profits, market dominance, status and comfort well above the needs of the planet.
The biggest wins in green travel will be made when airlines and hotels make it easier to travel in ways that are environmentally efficient. A business culture change is needed and soon, before the damage goes too far, if it has not already.
In the meantime, I will endeavour to follow these practices and will report here, on Resfeber, as I do.