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Do you offset? The environmental impact of air travel...

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How do you feel about the environmental impact of your travel, and do you compensate for it?
12 years ago, October 28th 2006 No: 1 Msg: #8209  
I have only recently discovered the facility for offsetting carbon emissions, only to find that a recent report (usefully summarised by MSN) from Oxford University on managing the looming environmental problem in the face of surging demand for air travel does not think it a good idea.

I guess my questions are; how much do environmental considerations inform your travel plans, whether you try and compensate for the negative effects of your travel and how?

(BTW, The report recommends the government taxes air travel as a means of discouraging it, thereby constraining demand and heading off what would otherwise be a potentially significant impact on the environment (It also suggests that people should be encouraged to take their holidays in the UK, which makes me want to go and beat the authors about the head with a blunt instrument)).

For my part, reading the report has encouraged me to consider energy saving measures I can make, managing my back-to-the-rat-race life around public transport rather than buying a car, and planning travel with a more environmentally considerate approach, but definitely not giving up the prospect of future travel. Reply to this

12 years ago, October 30th 2006 No: 2 Msg: #8249  
I've looked at offsetting but I'm not entirely convinced, but then I'm hardly an expert. I'd be prepared to invest/donate money into new technologies but haven't done so.

The overall message seems to be - we have to reduce emissions.

I'm probably one of the worst offenders - having been travelling for sixteen months and now my job involves lots of air travel.

The front page of the Independent recently quoted an assessment that said that to meet the UK Governments target's for greenhouse gas emissions (or CO2, not sure which) all other sectors would have to produce zero greenhouse gases in order to sustain current levels of emissions from air travel. That depressed me quite considerably, particularly as I was about to get on a plane to fly around Europe for the week. I guess the problem with such statistics is it makes people think - why bother? I can't help anyway. It's just the papers scaremongering again. Ignore it and it'll go away. Cough. Is that Bird Flu?

Another depressing though - if you look at, for example, California, where Governer Schwarzenegger is setting stiff targets for reducing emissions by 2050 (I think) ... to a level if achieved that will be the same per capita as the current average level in the EU today.

There are some easy things we can do - there a lots of suppliers of 'green electricity' around these days, including in the UK most of the major power companies. I'm sure it's not all kosher but some might well be.

The argument that there is no point developed countries trying not to do something as a small increase in growth in China or India will wipe out any gains anyway is a rather lazy one. It is the developed countries (and our technologies) that have created this mess and that still create a fair bulk of greenhouse gases. The 'West' cannot force the hand of China, and perhaps has only a limited influence on India and the rest of the developing world. What we can do is lead by example - something that might give what pressure we can bring more credence.

The other factor that seems to be coming into play is that private sector companies in many areas are realizing that they can save money and reduce costs by focusing on reducing emissions. It's fairly obvious really - energy costs money. It looks as if it's going to lead to a battle between large and powerful interests - those that benefit from energy extraction and sales against those that are increasingly paying the cost.

I'll still be getting onto planes but I wish someone would make me stop (easy to say, we've just got back ;-) )



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12 years ago, October 31st 2006 No: 3 Msg: #8267  
Actually aviation emissions currently are quite modest relative to other sectors (3%!o(MISSING)f the total of all emissions in Europe, 5.5%!o(MISSING)f those in the UK, I believe). The issue I think The Independant was reporting is that whilst other sectors are reducing emissions, increased demand for aviation will result in aircraft generating quite a significantly greater proportion of all emissions by 2030 - 2050.

According to The Times today air travel will be a prime target for new green taxes which leaves me wondering about the future for voluntary offset schemes anyway.
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12 years ago, November 2nd 2006 No: 4 Msg: #8302  
The Independent was keen to highlight that the British Government had very conflicting aims - to reduce greenhouse gasses whilst promoting a massive expansion in air travel.

The exact quote from the Independent was ...

"The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research calculated last year that if Britain was to meet its target of cutting greenhouse gases by 60 per cent by 2050, and aviation emissions were not reduced, all other emissions - from households, businesses, energy generation and motor transport - would have to go to zero. Flying would be taking up everything that was available."

(http://comment.independent.co.uk/commentators/article1876704.ece)

I guess that's ambiguous - I took it to mean Aviation emissions need to be reduced from todays levels, not from 2050's projected levels. However that contradicts your statistic that aviation only takes up 5.5% of UK emissions.

Whilst attempting to check the facts from the last article I notice the global-warming vs plane travel issue has made the front page of the Independent again today. That's twice in three weeks. Reply to this

12 years ago, November 2nd 2006 No: 5 Msg: #8318  
So far all my information has come from the green end of the spectrum but it does seem that the expansive plans for UK airports are at odds with the objective to cut emissions.

That was the gist of the report I mentioned in my original post, from which the 5.5% figure came as well as the green solution to address the potential problem in part by holidaying closer to home.

As well as quoting just 3% on the front page today, The Independent mixed up their figures when quoting the Tyndall Centre research. A 60% cut in all emissions by 2050 is set on the basis of a target CO2 atmospheric concentration 550 parts per million. In this scenario Tyndall Centre predicts that untrammelled aviation could represent 50% of all UK CO2 emissions (a scarily high figure nonetheless). The 100% figure applies only if the CO2 target is set at 450ppm which the Stern report (on economic implications of climate change) deems an unreasonable target now.

The paper does seem to have a bit of a downer on air travel.

And I obviously need to go travelling again very soon :-) Reply to this

12 years ago, November 3rd 2006 No: 6 Msg: #8322  
B Posts: 71
Global Warming is a topic we have been hearing more and more about especially in the last few years. The message is we need to act NOW not aim for slowly reducing emissions down the track.

I believe we should be taking major steps in reducing emissions ASAP and even though there has been a major push on it recently, I have always thought about it. I'm a stickler when it comes to turning off lights and electrical devices when they are not needed. Recycling as much as possible. Yet, I am a user. Computers, TV's, Stereos all play a part. My biggest passion, espeically of the last few years has been my travelling, that means using air travel. So here I am screaming that were doing wrong yet hypocritically adding to the problem.

The exact amount of carbon emissions given from air travel is debatable but there is little doubt that if all air travel ceased around the world, there would be a massive difference. I do actually make a conscious decision to travel ecofriendlier. Especially in Europe where I have been travelling most recently, if I have to make a trip somewhere, I will opt for the bus, train or ferry as opposed to taking a seemingly pointless 40 minute flight. Sure buses have their emissions as well but not as much as air travel, thats a fact.

Something Cumberland Sausage said caught my eye. With China being a major offender on the emissions world stage, it is true that we can't force them to reduce emissions but it is worth noting in their defence that they are also one of the leaders in implementing "greener" power. There is a certain city in China (I can't remember which one) that I saw on a documentry that has basically rehauled how and which power is supplied to the city making it on of the most advanced cities in the world for reducing carbon emissions. The country itself has taken bold steps in cutting back on coal use. Officials in Beijing have established 40 "Coal-Free" zones in the city centre and have made plans to construct natural gas pipelines. In 1999 they also ordered all city vehicles to change to clean burning liquefied petroleum gas. We could all learn from China's example, however as for India, well it is true that they need to do something and drastically yet to look at their emissions as opposed the major players like the US, China and the EU, it is not the biggest concern.

As for travelling in the future, I think to reform which fuel planes use or to totally redesign them is the only real long term solution. Sure it would be a massive task but if we as a world want to survive and are serious about taking on global warming, we need to do something like that and now.

Travelling now is a concern as it is getting cheaper and easier for people to trot across the globe. Yet who says a round the world trip needs to use huge amounts fuel. Travelblogs very own Bikepacker is travelling from England to Singapore... on a push bike. Sure so it's not for everyone but maybe that is a way to reduce emission. Maybe not round the world trips but do some smaller trips like the length of Vietnam or around the UK.

There is no way to totally stop carbon emissions but there are steps we can take. In fact if we all (I mean governemnts and citizens alike) take decent steps to reduce emissions we can acutally cut our emission levels to below what our levels in the 70's were. This point is proven in the very thought provoking "An Inconvenient Truth" Al Gore's wake up to the world. See the documentary, read the book or attend the slide show. Anyone who hasn't, do it. Yet after all his statistical nagging he neglects to mention the main theme of this forum, air travel.

I'm afraid to say that I believe that there will be uncomparably major sudden drastic world wide steps taken to stop global warming when we realise it's too late. So at the moment do what we can as individuals, buy energy efficient light globes and turn them off when they are not needed. Buy a car with a smaller more efficient engine or better yet sell your car and take public transport if you live in a big city. Better still, buy a push bike or walk. There are small steps we can all take but dare I suggest on a forum on travelblog... travel less??

Hmmm... nah! But do it responsibly Reply to this

12 years ago, November 3rd 2006 No: 7 Msg: #8333  
Thanks MC for clearing that up.

I've never been a stickler for turning off power. Since we've got back both Kim and I are improving quite a bit - even if our electricity is supposed to come from Wind Power (which I don't entirely believe). We've started to use the tumble drier much less, have the heating on less, switched to energy-saving lightbulbs (mostly) - and I haven't yet bought a car. But we've hardly made a great effort.

I fear that "The Nomad" is likely to be right - at some point we will be forced into a relatively sudden adjustment in lifestyles - something akin to but much greater than the changes the internet has already provided in many cases.

BTW - I don't have anything against China's energy usage - it's more that I've heard people say several times 'what's the point in us doing something when the developing world will just negate the savings anyway.' Not a lot of logic in that argument but I've heard it made recently both by very intelligent people and by very rich people.

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12 years ago, November 6th 2006 No: 8 Msg: #8371  
I offset by not driving to work. And I think this is something we can all do. Offsetting your flight across an ocean by donating money to plant trees is a great idea, but the same could be achived if people chose to use more public transportation in their own community.

I can't speak for anyone else here, only my own community. Here in Vancouver during the rush hour 50% of people drive and in those cars there are 137 people in each 100 cars. Not a good ratio.

Leading a life that uses a smaller ecological footprint between holidays should be the first step to offset someone's vacation by airplane.

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12 years ago, November 6th 2006 No: 9 Msg: #8376  
We were in B&Q (a large nationwide hardware store in the UK) yesterday buying some paint. The small energy-saving lightbulb section was buzzing with people trying to save the planet pushing and shoving each other out of the way. We calmed down when we realised none of the bulbs fitted - they were all physically too large or had the wrong fittings (screw not bayonet). The B&Q man said they were struggling to get stock as their suppliers were struggling to make a profit on them and were stopping supplying them.

This morning I popped round the corner to a local little lighting shop and they had all I needed. Nicely-sized Phillip's bulbs at half the price of the equivalent B&Q offering (one of which has already blown). But the nice man did say that the UK government subsidised energy-saving lightbulbs until two months ago and currently they were hard to get hold of. Tony Blair my a*se.

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12 years ago, November 12th 2006 No: 10 Msg: #8491  
And following on from the last post the new winter schedule from my local rail station has resulted in a 34%!c(MISSING)ut in services to one of the two main cities close to where I live, which doesn't seem very joined up thinking. Fortunately its not the city that I work in so I can still rely on public transport for my daily commute and satisfy/fool myself that I have something in the bank to offset future travels.

I'm currently looking into the feasibility of a rtw trip without using any air travel (and www.seat61.com looks like a very useful resource for this). Getting into and out of Kamchatka however is proving difficult. The city of Petropavlovsk is apparently the second most isolated city in the world, with no land transport links with the rest of Russia. Everything I read says that air travel is the only way in and out, though a number of cruise trips do overnight stops at the port there.

I'm still not convinced that "...if all air travel ceased around the world, there would be a massive difference" as posted by The Nomad, with currently just 3%!o(MISSING)f all emissions generated by air travel globally. However, I have been reading that by emitting at altitude the greenhouse effect of emissions from aircraft are multiplied (by a factor of 2.7 according one report I read). From what I can gather though the research into this aspect is still early days.

Finally, especially in light of the Stop Climate Chaos link posted elsewhere, I can't help but provide a link to one of the leading climate change researchers' BBC Green Room article which provides an interesting view on the way the issue is being handled in the public eye. Reply to this

12 years ago, November 13th 2006 No: 11 Msg: #8523  
B Posts: 5,186
It's a complicated issue and I'm not going to do justice to it here at all.

But one thing I have been wondering is just how much air-travel pollutes in relation to all the other activities that I take part in? What is it's cost per mile?

Is my long haul flight from the UK to Quito offset by the fact that for the next year in South America, I will:

Use less heating - most of the time I won't be using any heating.
Not have a car - travelling around mainly on antiquated polluting local transport.
Buy less - only things that I can carry really.
Eat food from local sources - eg. I won't be eating strawberries flown from Ecuador to a supermarket in Basingstoke, or buying roses or etc.

Maybe I can justify this flight as being impact neutral - but for shorthaul flights around europe? - I don't think I can - there I have to justify them solely on an economic basis. What an incredibly crazy world where it's cheaper to fly from Amsterdam to London than catch a bus - plus so much more convenient. Changes in this area need to come from the top - carrot and stick - transport needs to be taxed fairly in proportion to the damage caused to our environment, and the least damaging alternatives need to be subsidized by these taxes.

Ps. stopclimatechaos.org - is the link MC was talking about. Reply to this

12 years ago, November 13th 2006 No: 12 Msg: #8524  
CO2 emissions calculator, which oddly enough indicates that air travel is less polluting than your average car, so there's a solution, build lots more airports and fly everywhere!

And sorry, I seem to be stomping all over this thread - I don't have any axe to grind one way or another. I do wonder how much one can travel and still be environmentally considerate.

I guess voluntary offsetting hasn't really loomed large in people's travel plans, and to be honest I'm still humming and ah'ing about the £148 or so it would take to offset the flights on our recent trip. Reply to this

12 years ago, November 23rd 2006 No: 13 Msg: #8746  
It's great to see so much discussion of the issue. One of the biggest problems we face in addressing climate change and other environmental problems is the sheer complexity of the issues. The interaction of so many different factors makes it almost impossible to do anything that is entirely free from environmental impacts. So it's really important that we just have the debate.

Having said all that, we're pretty freaked out about global warming. When we first started talking about leaving the UK and moving to NZ we had a list of about 100 countries that we wanted to visit on the way back. It was only when we were looking at seat61 that we realised that we could get a long way there on trains rather than by air. So that pretty much dictated our route. The big problem for us has been the stretches between Asia and Australia and between Australia and New Zealand. Having spent quite a bit of time looking for non-flight options it seems that taking a freighter is only way. And it's so expensive. 110 euros a day each for a seven day trip from Kuala Lumpur to Perth. The leg from Sydney to Tauranga costs almost as much. Flights - even at this late stage - would be about half the price. The only way we are justifying those sorts of costs is that this is a once in a lifetime adventure. So it won't be an option once we've run out of things to do in NZ. Not to mention the flights we will have to make back to the UK to see family.

We have off-set in the past with Climate Care. I'm not sure how good the science is, but it's one way of taking some responsibility for our decision to fly. I have to say, the more I think about it, the more unsustainable I think travelling is. We've all been to those special cultural treasures with thousands of people crawling all over them, and I'm sure you've all wondered how long it will be before tourists are banned or walled off from the main attraction (Stonehenge). I've read recently that the only way to protect Australia's Great Barrier Reef is to stop tourism there. But at the same time it is our tourist dollars that are allowing so many countries to pull themselves out of poverty and there's no denying that it broadens the mind and there's a lot more of that needed in the world at the moment.

What I would like to see is a lot more Government action that treats the so called 'externalities' as part of the costs of doing business; that dumping CO2 in our atmosphere is something you should pay for up front; that the cost of disposing of plastic bottles that can't be recycled should be charged for up front; that the whole life cycle of products and services is considered rather than just the 'useful' life. In short, we should be paying the real costs for things.



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12 years ago, December 18th 2006 No: 14 Msg: #9271  
I may be hated for this, but I like to play devils advocate. Yes I drive a car that gets 30 mpg, I recycle, buy local and conserve electricity. However, I truly believe things must get worse before they can get better. Examples in society are numerous, but basically I believe that sea levels must rise 20 feet and most of the worlds glaciers must melt before any widespread change happens. After I saw Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth", my first reaction was "How can I reduce my carbon footprint even further?". Then I started to reflect on human civilization, and how the earth is probably at or near the carrying capacity for humans. A quote from a great book by Lester R. Brown:

http://www.earth-policy.org/Books/PB2/index.htm

"If at that point China's per capita resource consumption were the same as in the United States today, then its projected 1.45 billion people would consume the equivalent of two thirds of the current world grain harvest. China's paper consumption would be double the world's current production. There go the world's forests."

If China one day has three cars for every four people, U.S. style, it will have 1.1 billion cars. The whole world today has 800 million cars. To provide the roads, highways, and parking lots to accommodate such a vast fleet, China would have to pave an area equal to the land it now plants in rice. It would need 99 million barrels of oil a day. Yet the world currently produces 84 million barrels per day and may never produce much more."

It seems that as a species we are destined for disaster. Its not just reducing emissions, its fundamental ways we live- consuming forest products, products of petroleum. If the worlds countries want our standard of living in the Western World, we are surely going to have some sort of population check, be it running out of oil, water, excessive pollution or rising sea levels. Its going to take a lot more than CO2 emission graphs, increasing temperatures and enironmentalism to fundamentally change the way human society consumes resources. Its going to take entire cities dissappearing under several feet of sea water for that to happen. In this sense, I dont see anything wrong with carbon emissions: Its speeding up an already too slow process for relying on pollution free sources of energy. But is this even feasible? Is it even remotely possible that 6 Billion people can live sustainably on the earth?

Lets not forget, human population is always increasing- 10 Billion people(almost twice as many as we currently have) by 2050?!
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12 years ago, December 21st 2006 No: 15 Msg: #9350  
A frightening but realistic argument - the main risk being the possibility that the accelerating effects of a positive feedback loop or loops cause extinction.

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12 years ago, December 22nd 2006 No: 16 Msg: #9363  
Maybe it's an intro to another topic altogether: can Homo sapiens become extinct? I don't think we ever could become extinct. Even during the most massive extinctions on this planet certain animals made it through, mainly the ones who could hunker down for months while the sunshine and then the plants returned, like crocodiles and small rodent like animals. If in 2 weeks a 10 km wide asteroid were to hit the planet- its a guarentee certain priveledged few would make their wait to government bunkers that could sustain them for months, possibly years. When the 'nuclear winter' of impact cleared, invariably these only few hundreds of survivors would be able to repopulate the entire earth. We would be starting over, but we would not be eliminated. And thats the essence of our humanity- our tool use has become so advanced, we can even survive extinction events that would eliminate nearly every other land dwelling creature on the earth. A Scary thought, because a thousand years after repopulation- we would probably begin to detroy the forests and mine the oil and metals all over again... Reply to this

12 years ago, January 6th 2007 No: 17 Msg: #9675  
B Posts: 30
Its a scary thought that we live at a time when we really do need to start looking and working on changing our lifestyles so they are more eco-friendly and sustainable in the future. I dont think as a species we're going to become extinct but nature has a way of bringing down even the biggest beast, so it were. I think eventually there will be a global 'force' that will kill off millions of people and give the earth a chance to heal, while those that survied, will lead responsible lives....for a time.

As for offsetting my travels, I havent done so yet, but I am looking into donating to organizatons like the Sierra Club of Canada, TreeCanada, and Ducks Unlimited that work towards the betterment of our environment. I'm also recycling like a fiend and turning off every possible light/electronic equipment in our house, and turning down the heat in our home as much as possible; taking very short showers, not using the dishwasher, not drying clothes in the dryer are all small steps that I take to live a greener lifestyle. They may be small but every little bit helps. Reply to this

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