Skip a long-haul flight

Last updated Wednesday 30 April 2008

Sky-high carbon savings for skipping a guilt trip

Long-haul trips have the biggest climate impact of all our travel. Even with jumbo carbon savings on offer, this is a tough luxury to quit.

The 'jet set' isn't as exclusive as it used to be - more of us are flying further than ever before.

This has made flying one of the world's fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050 plane travel looks set to undo all the carbon savings we make elsewhere.

So what's the alternative? Taking the train to Europe or holidaying in the UK could substitute for a long-haul holiday. Otherwise taking the time to travel overland could be the only solution.

Skipping a long-haul flight is one of the most effective climate-friendly actions you can take - but can a holiday with a clear conscience overcome the allure of exotic destinations?

Read more below
Photo: Skip a long-haul flight

Saves 2,150kg of CO2 a year

525 Bloomers are doing this

CO2 reduction 4 out of 5

Cheapness 4 out of 5

Popularity 4 out of 5

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How will it make a difference?

Pub Fact

  • A third runway at Heathrow is predicted to raise CO2 pollution by the equivalent of the national output of Kenya
  • Over half of Brits never fly
  • Flying to Australia and back is the energy equivalent of leaving over 15 low-energy light bulbs on for a year

The most accurate figures available suggest that a return flight to Thailand emits over 2000kg of CO2 equivalent per passenger, adding 50% to their annual direct emissions. To save that amount by eating local seasonal food, for example, would take a full year.

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What's the debate?

It's hard to state exact savings because of scientific uncertainty about the additional effect emissions have at high altitude. These could be up to four times as damaging as those at ground level.

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How do I do it?

No other form of transport can cross continents as quickly as flying; this action requires a change of outlook.

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What's stopping me?

"Don't planes only create about 2% of global CO2 emissions?"

While 2% sounds small, it equates to millions of tonnes of CO2 on a global scale. In the UK flying contributes 7% of emissions and is growing fast.

"But don't developing countries depend on money from tourism?"

While it's true that tourism is a major source of income for developing countries, wealth from tourism will not necessarily 'trickle down' to all.

Using an example of a Kenyan game safari, author George Monbiot argues that very little of the entrance fee to the game reserve will go to providing amenities for local people, whereas the impact of the flight contributes to worsening famine in other parts of Africa.

If this is your concern, you could improve matters by opting for local 'home stays', for example, where you can ensure money goes directly to people you visit and not to a middleman or travel agent.

"Can't we offset flying by planting more trees?"

Offsetting is a controversial issue; many claim it's not an effective substitute for reducing emissions.

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Comments

Steve, Shropshire 2009-02-13

Disappointed that Dick Strawbridge advocates flying to Cornwall in his promotion for Visit Cornwall in the destination Guide.
I shall drive there in June in my low emission - with DPF - diesel car

Anonymous 2008-08-28

You can't say planes produce more CO2 than cars unless you account for the result of paving over thousands of acres of forest with asphalt, and repaving the road every five years with belching diesel road machines. Aviation Week calculated that even an older 767 gets far more than 100 mpg, and it doesn't need a road or a train track. The only common method of long-distance travel that produces less CO2 per mile than a modern jetliner (787/A350) is an electric train powered by nuclear plants.

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Glossary terms used on this page
CFL bulbs
CFLs are compact fluorescent lamps. They operate on the same principle as fluorescent lights but the tube is folded into a more compact design so they are more versatile and can be used in devices designed to take traditional incandescent bulbs. They use about 80% less electricity than traditional bulbs to produce the same light and last considerably longer. Their mercury content means disposal, especially of broken bulbs, requires extra care. Also referred to as low-energy lightbulbs.
CO2
CO2, or carbon dioxide, is made up of the elements carbon and oxygen. It exists quite naturally in our atmosphere, as part of the carbon cycle. Everyday processes in the plant and animal world both add CO2 to the atmosphere and take it out. However, because it is a greenhouse gas - meaning it affects the temperature of the earth - the exact level of CO2 is important. Burning fossil fuels releases CO2 into the atmosphere, hence the anxiety that extensive use of these fuels is causing climate change.
CO2
CO2, or carbon dioxide, is made up of the elements carbon and oxygen. It exists quite naturally in our atmosphere, as part of the carbon cycle. Everyday processes in the plant and animal world both add CO2 to the atmosphere and take it out. However, because it is a greenhouse gas - meaning it affects the temperature of the earth - the exact level of CO2 is important. Burning fossil fuels releases CO2 into the atmosphere, hence the anxiety that extensive use of these fuels is causing climate change.
Carbon
Carbon is the fourth most common chemical element in the universe, and carbon compounds - in other words, carbon chemically combined with other elements - are the basis of all known life forms on earth. Pure carbon appears in many apparently diverse forms, from diamond to graphite to charcoal, but it is much more commonly found in substances such as coal, oil, natural gas, wood and peat that we use for fuel. When we burn these substances to provide energy - either directly in our homes as heat, or in power stations to produce electricity - the combustion process produces 'oxides' of carbon, including the gas CO2.
Eco-friendly
Eco-friendly, or environmentally friendly, is a term applied to goods, services, processes or people deemed to do minimal harm to the environment. The term is shorthand for 'ecologically friendly', ecology being the study of the relationships between living organisms and their environment.
Emissions
Emissions are the CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) produced by energy use, usually calculated and stated as an annual tally: also referred to as your carbon footprint. Your personal emissions can be direct - such as the gas you personally use to heat your home or the petrol you burn to power your car - or indirect - meaning the energy use that has gone into the products or services you buy. The latter, such as the emissions caused by the manufacture of your new TV, or the packaging your food comes in, are also referred to as embodied emissions.
Greenhouse gases
Greenhouse gases raise the earth's temperature through the greenhouse effect. There are six main examples. As well as carbon dioxide, they include: water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and CFCs (which include sulphur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs). Of these, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs are controlled under the Kyoto Protocol to limit their concentration in the atmosphere. The heat warming capacity of each gas is measured by its 'global warming potential': how much heat it traps depends on its chemical make-up and how long it stays in the atmosphere.

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