Killing the World, One Flight at a Time

In his post Out of Context Observation: The Travel Ethic, Thomas notes, in the context of “democratization of business travel due to low costs,” that “we’re starting to see the extreme liability air travel has compared to other travel forms in terms of global warming.”

Having been back and forth to Europe three times this year, something that it tells me here, saw me responsible for more than 3.78 Tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, this is something I’m painfully aware of.

It’s hard to be an advocate for more world travel and an advocate for climate crisis action at the same time, especially where you’re a Europhile like me who looks across the Atlantic for cultural, culinary and aesthetic sustenance.

One of the foundations upon which our mostly successful adoption of life here on Prince Edward Island is based on is the requirement that we be able to get off the Island on a regular basis. This doesn’t imply that the Island isn’t a great place to live, simply that our need for constant stimulation with the new and different can’t be properly fed here.

And so the current working model is “PEI as a wonderful home base, with frequent trips out into the world for what we can’t get here.”

While that’s a great plan in theory, it runs at cross-purposes to dealing with the carbon dioxide problem: all the supposed good I do by parking the car 99% of the time and walking, riding my bike, and taking the bus around town is rendered moot by my itchy feet.

Neither of two obvious ways of mitigating this conflict — trying to remake PEI in the image of elsewhere, or moving elsewhere and trying to remake it in the image of PEI — seem particularly achievable. Or rational.

I’m not sure where this leaves us.

In the meantime, this Sunday’s edition of The Observer contains a compelling article titled The Great Green Rip-off? in its travel section:

It’s travel’s biggest bargain — pay someone to plant a couple of trees and you can keep flying with a clear conscience. But where exactly does the money go, and will it really save the planet?

What their research uncovers suggests that the “travel, but plant trees to make it okay” model isn’t working as we think it is. Indeed from what else I’ve read on this notion, it seems that the very idea of trying to “offset” carbon emissions by “making it up” somewhere else isn’t sustainable, and that the ultimate solution lies in absolute reductions.

The Observer, and its sister paper The Guardian, have been doing some excellent reporting this year on the environmental impacts of travel, starting with What is the real price of cheap air travel? in January. In the world of $398 tickets to London from Halifax, and almost “free” travel around Europe, this is something we should all be reading more about.


Matt's picture
Matt on December 14, 2006 - 19:16 Permalink

This very topic was discussed in detail yesterday morning on CBC’s The Current. It was a great discussion and you can listen to it here:…

Jyri's picture
Jyri on December 14, 2006 - 19:24 Permalink

So it’s 1) stop flying or 2) don’t give a damn — can’t do either so what’d be number three?

oliver's picture
oliver on December 14, 2006 - 19:45 Permalink

That “Rip-off” article claims no rip-off whatsoever. It doesn’t say planting trees is ineffective! It’s just trash-talking a superficial fixes to more persuasively argue for a fundamental one—and to urge us to change our traveling behavior and take the train instead of giving to a carbon charity to offset the harm they’re causing by flying when they don’t need to. But people who can do both. In fact, many people can do more offsetting than giving up of air travel. Maybe in Europe and Canada where the government is already on board, citizens don’t need to vote with their dollars for CO2 reduction, but in the U.S. I think this very visible grassroots spending is bound to matter—if not to regulations then to manufacturers’ and power companies’ perception of the demand for green energy.

John D. Rockefeller's picture
John D. Rockefeller on December 15, 2006 - 02:02 Permalink

Easy. First pull out U.S. military support for the entire Middle East, stop subsidizing the Alberta, Newfoundland, Alaskan, North Sea and Siberian oil patches, and stop propping up corrupt governments in Nigeria.

Let the price of oil go to its appropriate level of around $500/barrel, then let the airline companies and transportation economy adjust to where it should go.

The population who want to travel and can afford to will find more carbon-friendly means. Death-spewing jet engines will go the way of the dinosaur, and the combustion engine will be a thing of the past.

No gas cars, no diesel trucks, no annoying airplanes. Use your own 2 feet and electric trains and maybe ocean liners or ferries. Get rid of suburbs. Get rid of fresh fruit flown in from Chile, get rid of wine from Australia, fresh flowers from Malasia… Can the entire globalization economic model.

Retract every human being’s carbon budget by 25% instantly with a huge jump in the price of oil. Eat food grown within 100 km of where you live.

Too frigging simple. We can do it if government gives us the financial push. I don’t think Rona Ambrose will ever lead the charge to do what’s needed, and the average person, whether they like exotic food from the other side of the world, or like travelling every 6 weeks, isn’t going to make the jump either.