Plane travel is the forgotten baggage on the green-home carousel
The carbon footprint of a return flight to London is about the same as the average household’s yearly carbon footprint, according to Moreland Energy Foundation.
When Helen O’Shea, from North Fitzroy, first heard about the greenhouse impact of flying, the information stopped her in her tracks. “Like many other people, I’d changed the light globes, got solar panels and reduced my driving,” she says. “But I realised you can’t take a holiday from that once a year and virtually double your carbon emissions.”
So, four years ago, Ms O’Shea decided not to fly.
She retired recently, after a career in academia in which she had worked around Australia and overseas. “I have friends on the other side of the world who I’d dearly love to see every year, but if I’m serious about adapting my lifestyle to the needs of society and the planet, then I think I can’t do that,” she says.
“Like every resolution, it stands to be broken, but I’ve set myself a goal – and it’s a journey in itself.”
As a part of its Zero Carbon Moreland project, Moreland Energy Foundation coordinates activities and retrofitting deals to help people go green. In the last few months, the campaign has focussed on transport, encouraging residents to take public transport, walk, ride and car-share.
Asha Bee-Abraham, from the foundation, says that if we’re serious about reducing our emissions, we must also think twice about long-haul travel.
“Flying does matter. It’s a difficult issue, because it’s become more and more accessible. And as we’ve globalised, our relationships have spanned the world.
“We’re not asking people to give up the air cold-turkey, but encouraging them to pause and think before they book a flight. Can you have a similar experience more locally, or travel by train or bus instead?”
In the office, she says, workers can try video conferencing instead of scheduling interstate or overseas meetings.
The foundation compared the greenhouse emissions of a journey between Melbourne and Sydney by plane, bus and car, with different passenger numbers. For just one person, driving came out worst, followed by plane and bus. But with a full car, driving was the most efficient.
Ms Bee-Abraham says that although offsetting your flights can be worthwhile, you must do your research. Costs and calculations vary widely, depending on the kind of offset and its assumptions about the aircraft’s load and efficiency, and the effect of emissions at high altitudes. The Carbon Offset Guide website recommends making sure the offsets are independently verified and comply with recognised standards.
(For an alternative take on offsets, visit Cheatneutral, a satirical website which allows cheating partners to balance their infidelity by sponsoring the celibate or monogamous.)
Throughout May, Ms Bee-Abraham is running a local adventures campaign. “Travelling broadens our perspectives, but there are ways we can travel that don’t involve flying. In Melbourne we’re surrounded by beautiful scenery and national parks, as well as places where people can pamper themselves and see things that are very different to our day-to-day lives,” she says.
Likewise, Ms O’Shea says her resolution hasn’t meant foregoing all fun. “If I want to visit friends or have a trip, I take the train and turn holidays into a time where the travel itself is a big part of the adventure.”
For extra inspiration, obey gravity with short story writer Laura Jean McKay. She’s blogging about a year without flying.