Travel choices
Sustainable Living

How Your Travel Choices Help the Planet

Alison and I have been spending time looking at different areas of our lives where we can take personal action and help the planet. The recent IPCC Report on climate change was fairly overwhelming, so we wanted to check in and dive a little deeper on a few areas.

We’ve looked at a few areas of our lives so far, such as our food choicesenergy choices, clothing choices, and even our internet use choices. This week I’m looking at how our travel choices impact the planet and changes we can make to reduce our impact.

travel choices
Source: Free-Photos from Pixabay

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The Problem with Air Travel

Impact of Air Travel

We’ve been discussing how various choices in our lives impact our carbon footprint, and emissons related to travel make up about 25% of our footprint globally. And this carbon, once created, remains in the atmosphere for surprisingly long periods of time.

Carbon dioxide’s lifetime cannot be represented with a single value because the gas is not destroyed over time, but instead moves among different parts of the ocean–atmosphere–land system. Some of the excess carbon dioxide is absorbed quickly (for example, by the ocean surface), but some will remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years, due in part to the very slow process by which carbon is transferred to ocean sediments.

United States Environmental Protection Agency

Therefore, changes to habits in this area of our lives can add up to a big difference now and in the future!

This week I’m focusing on our travel choices with respect to air transportation as we all start to consider how, as we move out of the pandemic, we will travel in the hopefully near future!

Air Travel Background

“In 1960, 100 million passengers traveled by air, at the time a relatively expensive mode of transportation available only to a small fraction of the public. By 2017, the total annual world-wide passenger count was 4 billion.”

Environmental and Energy Study Institute

With such a significant increase in air travel comes a corresponding increase in climate impact related to the flights. And it isn’t just pollutants released by the aircraft that impact the environment.

Source: Atmosfair

Interestingly, the water vapour released as part of the exhaust can, when the conditions are right, create “contrails” or “cirrostratus clouds of ice” that, according to Atmosfair, trap infrared light and may actually create a more significant warming effect than the CO2 from the exhaust. However, the carbon emissions, and their related impact, due to air travel are not insignificant.

In 2013, global CO2 from commercial aviation was 710 million tons. In 2017, that number reached 860 million tons, a 21 percent increase in four years, and it climbed another 5 percent to 905 million tons in 2018. The United States, with the world’s largest commercial air traffic system, accounted for 202.5 million tons (23.5 percent) of the 2017 global CO2 total.

Environmental and Energy Study Institute

So what air travel choices can we make to reduce our carbon footprint?

Better Air Travel Choices

There are some simple and complex ways to reduce the climate impact of air travel as follows:

  1. Choose to travel using climate-conscious travel providers / operators that can connect travellers with responsible hotels and transportation, for example, and travel to climate-conscious destinations.
  2. Do your research and select airlines based on, for example: a) how fuel efficient their fleet is b) if they perform any offsetting c) if they ensure their flights are full d) if they attempt to limit stopovers, as these are some ways reduce the overall carbon impact of a flight.
  3. Look into offsetting your flights with a company such as Get Offset!
  4. Use your investment dollars to support innovations in technology that will allow for more climate-friendly air travel. Check out this article to learn about some exciting changes we may be seeing in the near future!

Do you plan to travel more as worldwide restrictions ease?

23 Comments

  • Michelle (Boomer Eco Crusader)

    In non-pandemic times, I would travel to the USA three or four times a year for business. Over the last few years, I have been happy to see Air Canada move to smaller aircraft for these flights. I always try to fly non-stop if possible. You can save money by taking connecting flights but, when you factor in time and the environmental cost, is it really worth it?

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      That’s great to hear about Air Canada as I imagine that makes a huge difference with how many flights they must make. And such a good point about direct flights

  • Jaya Avendel

    When I took my first plane trip a couple years ago, I was shocked and amazed to see how packed and busy the airports were. I had never seen so many people; I could not conceive that so many people needed to travel and that constantly, every day, thousands more were commuting. It was eye-opening and gave me a better perspective into why things like flights are such a big factor in climate change.

    Love the article you linked and the sounds of Get Offset! Being even a smidgen more conscious makes a big difference in the end.
    Thanks for sharing!

  • JamieAdStories

    This is THE MOST IMPORTANT post I have read in ages and I am glad you gave the detailed background to why air travel is so problematic. I gave up flying seven years ago and it takes effort but I still travel widely. Thank you.

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      Thank you so much Jamie! That’s amazing to hear you’ve given up air travel. That’s a huge commitment to our planet and really admirable.

  • Caroline

    I’m really scared of flying so I seem to have pretty much avoided it! My family and I tend to go on a ferry to travel, though we only go to France, Spain or once Italy. I would love to explore some more of Europe, but I’ll definitely be going via train 🙂 x

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      That’s definitely a great thing about Europe is that everything is so close and trains are so accessible. So awesome you’re taking advantage of those options over planes 🙂

  • readandreviewit1

    This is such an informative post! I’m looking at going away next summer and I’m leaning towards train travel as it’s so much better for the planet. Thanks for sharing, this is such an important topic, particularly with restrictions beginning to ease up!

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      Thank you!
      Train travel is so much fun too. It’s such a great way to see difference scenery on top of being better for the planet 🙂

  • crystalsandcurls

    Great tips! I don’t fly too frequently – usually once every two years or so to visit back home to the UK. But I always feel so guilty because it’s a 24 hour trip! I’ve definitely become more mindful about other options – we’re lucky here that you can easily roadtrip around or hop on Greyhound tour buses 🙂 x

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      That’s awesome you’re mindful of other options! Some travel will likely always be inevitable, but as long as we’re all collectively trying to do better, I think that’s an important thing 🙂

  • thetravelvine

    I love to travel. In fact, it’s my life! But one thing that worries me more and more is the impact that I have on the planet every time I set foot on a plane. I live in Australia, so train travel to over countries is totally impossible, but I try and help in other ways, like picking up other peoples rubbish at the beach, taking cans to the recycling centre, being conscious of water consumption, reusing things. I think that we are all as a society getting better, but we still have a long way to go. Great post 🙂

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      We love travel too! It’s played an important part in my life. That’s great how mindful you are of trying to offset your travel by doing good deeds. 🙂

  • Isa A

    This was an excellent topic. Personal travel choices impacting climate. I would say that it’s not just airlines but road vehicles we use too. Covid lockdown cleared away pollution because of that. It’s a sad reality that when we book flights, we don’t like for those that emit less carbon but those that offer less fare. But we should learn to make conscious choices I agree. Great one. Xx
    Isa A. Blogger

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      Thank you so much! We really did see some amazing things with Covid and pollution clearing. Hopefully it was a wake up call to many people. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts 🙂

  • Karalee

    Next year hopefully I’ll be flying to my parents’ house in the USA so I’ll definitely take your suggestions into consideration & look into Get Offset as well.

  • Elle

    This is such an important post. Thank you so much for sharing how air travel can impact. I found this really good to read! Xo

    Elle – ellegracedeveson.com

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments!

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