I will state this on the beginning of every post because it is something we have to always take into consideration. And that is the privilege of a choice. There are a lot of people with disabilities, people living on a very tight budget, people with allergies, people in extremely poor communities or developing countries (where most of our waste ends up) that pay the cost of pollution, busy working parents that do not have time to make these changes. There are people that do not have the choice I have. I am speaking from the position of a privileged, white, European woman, living in safe Austrian mountains, with a budget, health and options big enough to be able to choose. Choosing to spend less and have less is different than being required to live on less.
Don´t worry, I will not tell you to stop flying, to stop travelling. I will not shame you for taking a trip to Bali every year. That is up to you to decide. I would just like you to know the real price of your flights, of all your flights. And that you are not too small to make a difference, your carbon footprint matters, your choices matter. Your future, my future and the future of next generations matter.
The true cost of flying
Today we fly more than ever for the lowest price ever. While flying is still by far the most environmentally damaging way to travel. The demand for flights is growing because the number of people that can afford and want to fly is growing as well. And you´ve probably seen and used those 5€ to London offers by low budget airlines. Who wouldn´t take a 5€ trip, right? I´m definitely guilty of that. But is the true cost of flying a price we will pay later?
And a return trip from Trieste-London creates 719kg of CO2 emissions. With that, we would use 1/3 of your yearly emissions only with this short flight. As you know, we need to limit CO2 emissions to under two tons per person if we want to limit the global temperature rise.
The good news
is that the industry is changing, developing and planes are getting better every day (fuel consumption has fallen from 6.3 to 3.7 litres per person per 100 kilometres in the last 20 years!).
Right now, most companies are looking at what it means for commercial aircraft, like Airbus building an electric plane prototype with Rolls-Royce and Siemens or startup Wright Electric partnering with easyJet to bring an all-electric aircraft to market. But smaller lightweight planes are already developed. Did you know that Slovenian Pipistrel company is one of the leading companies in developing electric planes? If you want to know more about their work and the development of electric planes, you can watch this great documentary about the true cost of flying.
On the other hand, Sweden already introduced a new aviation tax that will add an extra charge to all passenger flights from the country in a bid to lessen air travel’s impact on the climate. All flights departing from Swedish airports will have an added charge of between 60 to 400 kronor (six to 39 euros), depending on the destination. Majority of Swedes support new aviation tax.
How can we make our flight more sustainable?
People still need to fly to visit their family, visit a doctor, have a business meeting that can´t be done over video call… But there are some things you can do to make your flight a bit more sustainable
- Choose a direct flight It´s easier and faster to do that anyways. But another reason is that most of the emissions come from a take-off. So if for your trip you do that less, that´s always better.
- Choose a more eco-friendly airline You can check the whole report on atmosfair.de (a nonprofit organization for combating climate change), but the airline that ranked the highest is TUI Airways (formerly Thomson Airways) Best charter airline worldwide. Flies consistently with highly efficient aircraft (e.g., B737-800). Seating reaches almost maximum capacity. Combined with very high occupancy rates, even compared to the previous year, TUI Airways scores winning points.
- Flight coach Business class seat can have up to 9 times the carbon footprint of a coach seat.
- Order a vegan meal on the plane, not only it´s better for the environment, but you will also get served first.
- Skip the meal and bring your own. But I think you will need to do this one when buying the ticket. Otherwise, they will pack a meal and heat it up for you that might just end up then trash after you refuse it.
- Bring a reusable water bottle and a coffee cup so they can refill those on the flight.
- Pack light More weight means more fuel to carry that. And also travelling light is amazing.
- Get a digital boarding pass I know this one can´t even compare with the damage the flight does, but still.
- Close the blinds to regulate the temperature and save some energy.
- And don´t brag about the flight on social media. Don´t post photos from the flight, so you are not promoting flying.
- If you do post, let people know the true environmental cost of the flight or that you offset your flight
Offsetting your carbon emissions
So if you do fly you can offset your carbon emissions. As long as you don´t use them as a reason to fly even more. We first need to try to fly less and use offsetting as a last resort.
Here are some ways you can do that:
- donate straight to an NGO or a project that is fighting climate change, planting trees, working on renewable energy,
- donate through platforms like UN carbon offset platform, Carbon footprint page, Atmosfair
- certain airlines are starting to offer to offset when you buy the tickets
- Make some other lifestyle changes like eating less meat, buying local food and products, buy 2nd hand products, ….
I am aware that there are many people living in locations that don´t allow them to travel by bus or a car because the distances are too big to do that in a short period. And that some countries don´t have a rail system or fast trains, that would give them a fast alternative, as we do in Europe have. And also that some people have health problems, disabilities or any other reason why they can´t say no to flying.
But since I´m in Europe and I think most of the people reading this are. We can choose to take a train ride or bus anywhere in Europe. But the extremely low prices for flights and high train tickets are not helping us out to do the right thing. I love trains and love the experience of travelling with them, so I´m willing to pay a bit more (in some cases) and travel on the train. But I understand that everyone can do that. So what we need to do is to make trains more affordable.
And we need to think about the future. We will need to explain to next generations why we didn´t act when we had a chance to. Why we were still flying to our holidays with them if we knew that by doing that we are putting their future in danger.
So let´s go on more local trips, explore Europe, take more trains, have a video call instead of flying to that meeting and skip a flight or two and keep our carbon footprint down.