By the time July comes around, most of us are tired of the daily grind and in need of an overdose of Vitamin D and a dash of adventure. This yearning for excitement, coupled with the ease and low-price of air travel, has resulted in a societal expectation that most individuals will be shooting off to an exotic destination for a week or two of fun, sun and far too many cocktails.
Following my graduation a few weeks ago, I’ve been at somewhat of a loose end. Although I have been filling my time with various endeavors, many people have said “why don’t you just go away somewhere?” Now, my riposte to this is normally something along the lines of “I spent all my money on my degree”, but my lack of finances is actually just an excuse to avoid a taboo subject: that flying is unsustainable.
On average, each UK citizen is directly responsible for approximately 13.56 tonnes of carbon being emitted into the atmosphere every year. To give you some context of what these figures mean; the Committee on Climate Change has calculated that by 2050, if we are to limit global warming to within 1.5*C (and avoid a lot of trouble as a result), every citizen worldwide needs to have an annual footprint of lower than 1.05 tonnes. To achieve this huge reduction in personal emissions is going to take some doing. Driving cars, eating meat, generating electricity from fossil fuels and buying so much stuff are all going to have to be (and have already started to be) questioned as justifiable behaviours. One topic, which evades conversation however, is air travel.
Of the 13.56 tonnes of CO2 each of us emits every year, about 39% of it is estimated to be due to international flights. Your typical medium-haul return flight (i.e. London – Athens) would release somewhere around 2.5 tonnes of CO2 per passenger. In the 2050 context given above, that would equate to nearly 2 and a half years of my emissions total: just so I can see the Parthenon.
I’ve thus decided that my holidays are going to have become a much more sustainable affair. Over the last month, I’ve been surfing in Devon and cycle toured around Norfolk & Suffolk. Hell, in May I went to the Isle of Wight, in January I went skiing in the French Alps and last September I went to Brussels: though I travelled on a ferry, coach and the Eurostar respectively. These trips were relaxing, exciting and filled with wonderful memories – everything you want from a holiday, albeit without the huge carbon footprint attached.
Our current attitude towards summer holidays is sustain-unable. As long as we normalise and accept the use of aviation as a regular form of travel for short term excursions, we are never going to be able to achieve a sustainable world. So although I strongly believe in taking more breaks from working, in order to reduce stress and improve wellbeing; I think we need to challenge the ingrained assumption that this ‘time out’ needs to be thousands of miles away from home.
If you’d like to calculate your own carbon footprint, head to WWF’s footprint calculator and read their tips on how you could reduce your impact.