How to Travel More Sustainably
See the world with a clear conscience
Words— Jeremy Freed
Thanks to cheap flights and the holy trinity of Kayak, Airbnb and Google Translate it’s never been easier to explore the world. As more of us take advantage of this new golden age of travel, however, we’re exacerbating a serious problem for the planet.
Basically, airplanes burn a lot of fuel and as a result they produce a lot of greenhouse emissions—so much that if current trends continue, air travel could account for almost a quarter of all carbon emissions by 2050. As summer temperatures soar in the arctic and sea ice melts at an increasingly alarming rate, we can’t afford to ignore the effect our travel habits have on climate change and the future of the planet. Here are 5 ways to change your flight plan for the better.
A trans-Atlantic flight produces almost 2 tons of carbon emissions per person—enough to melt 30 square feet of sea ice. Buying offsets is a good way to lessen that impact. Offsets are essentially credits that can be used to counter your own carbon emissions by reducing or avoiding emissions elsewhere on the planet. It could take the form of supporting a reforestation program in Panama, providing clean-burning cook stoves for communities in Rwanda or funding a wind power generation project in India. While far from a perfect solution to all of the emissions North Americans create, offsets do represent a great way to support progress towards a carbon-neutral future (and can make you feel less guilty for taking that vacation to Thailand). Check out The Gold Standard for more info on how to responsibly offset your travel emissions.
The more people you have on a plane, the more fuel efficient that plane’s journey will be per-person. Since business-class seats take up far more room in the cabin than coach seats, they produce more emissions per passenger. Naturally, flying privately is even worse for the planet, so somebody should definitely mention this to Drake next time he gases up his new jet.
Fewer short hops
While passenger airplanes are much more efficient than they used to be (and getting better all the time) taxiing and takeoff remain the most inefficient parts of flight. So while a long-haul flight might burn more fuel in total than a short hop, it’s much more efficient per kilometre. Also, since long haul flights tend to carry more passengers, this also makes them more efficient per-person. Basically, if you’re going to fly, make it count.
Ride the train
One of the best ways to lower the carbon footprint of your trip is to stay on the ground. While train travel is much easier to do in places like Europe, where distances are relatively short and there are lots of trains, it poses more of a challenge here in car-loving North America. That said, the Quebec City to Windsor corridor is well served by VIA Rail, with regular downtown-to-downtown service between Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Likewise, the Acela Express offers multiple daily departures and stops in New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore along its route between Boston and Washington DC. It takes a bit longer than flying, sure, but there’s a lot more to see out the window.
Do you really need to take that business trip? In many cases there’s no replacement for face-to-face contact, but there are certainly occasions when a Skype session or webinar can replace a trip. After all, wouldn’t you rather sleep in your own bed after a long day of work than in some anonymous hotel room?