Traveling In The Face Of Climate Change – How Can It Be Sustainable?

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Travel by air

We here at Travel Gear Depot love travel. But we also love our planet. We do not believe that some people have the right to sustain a lifestyle that means putting limits to other’s.

So what does this have to do with you and your travels?

Since flying became possible for everybody, travelling around the globe has steadily increased year by year. Between the years of 1992 and 2005, airborne passenger kilometres have increased as much as 5.2% yearly. That means more aircraft flying more people more often. It also means more freight transports by air.

As good as this is for meeting other cultures than your own and cultivating tolerance and acceptance, it also has some severe environmental impact. Ever heard of the threat of climate change?

Global Warming, Climate Change – How, What and Consequences

Ever since the Industrial Revolution, atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide has rapidly increased. Carbon dioxide is a so-called greenhouse gas, preventing heat leaking out into the universe. It’s true that the Earth’s climate historically has changed in regular cycles, but the levels of carbon dioxide are now way above what has occurred in the last 650 000 years.

We must do all we can to keep the warming inside +2 degrees, or preferably less, to avoid severe effects for both humans and wildlife. We will not go into all the possible consequences here, but only give one example.

When the globe’s temperature rises, the sea levels will rise due to the expansion of the seawater as it gets warmer. Melting of glaciers and polar ice caps will also add to the water volume. When this happens, lowland coastal areas and islands will become permanently flooded. Whole nations in the Pacific are facing a very real threat of disappearing altogether.

So What About Flying And the Global Warming and Climate Change?

Flying produces the most emissions compared to driving or going by train or boat. These emissions today stand for 4-9 % of the total impact from human activities on climate change, compared to 2 % in 1992. That’s a lot, considering how small the flying industry is compared to other areas in the economy. (Figure below is from the IPCC report Aviation and the Global Atmosphere.)

Freight comparison-IPCC


Planes emit a number of gases and particles, as well as so-called contrails. These are the thin lines behind the plane, formed from water vapor from the engines, that have condensed into droplets. These contrails also contribute to the global warming.

Plane in sky with white trails behind

Do I Have to Stop Travelling Then?

No, we don’t think so. And that would indeed be sad, we think. Connecting with people across the planet is good on many levels. It’s good for you as a person. You grow, you widen your horizon and expand your mind.

In a world that is facing increasing migration movements, and in its trail sadly enough also increasing xenophobia, travelling is more important than ever. Meeting people in their own environment and sharing their culture make us realise that we have more in common as humans than we have dividing us.

So What To Do?

There are many things you can consider to lessen your so called carbon footprint when it comes to travelling:

  • Although we have just stated that travelling is important, you may consider cutting down on some of it. Think through on why you want to make a certain trip. Could you achieve what you want some other way?
  • Skype with distant family and friends? Instead of flying once a year for a shorter vacation, why not make longer trips with a few years in between? Spend time in a country, travel around in it by bus or train, discover both rural and urban areas.
  • Why not be a tourist in your own hometown? Or go look around in the region where you live. Many times we travel far but never explore our own surroundings.
  • Consider destinations closer to home, that are perhaps reachable by train. When you calculate the time for travelling by air compared to going by train, you often forget an important fact. There is a considerable amount of time needed at the airport both before and after the actual flight.
  • When you go by train, you may arrive 10 minutes before departure and just climb aboard. And train stations are often located in the midst of cities. No need for transportation from the airport.
  • When you have to fly, try to find the most direct route, since it’s during take-offs and landings that the most fuel is used. Try also to fly during daytime, since the contrails disperse quicker and thus have less impact on the global warming effect.
  • Book economy seats. Now, what has that got to do with anything? The thing is, the more people that travel with the plane mean less emissions per person. So, to be even more fuel effective, airline companies should make all seats economy. Ain’t gonna happen, if you ask us.
  • Pack light! Now this is a good advice even when not considering the environment and the threat of global warming. Read our packing tips and never again pack more than you need.
  • To compensate for the emission of greenhouse gases that your flight causes, you can buy so-called carbon offsets. But, be wary of what the offsets concern. An important aspect to consider is so-called ”additionality”. This means that the offset project should be something that would not have happened if it was not for the sale of offsets funding it. Ask for offsets from the airline. If they do not sell them, ask them to consider it.
  • Ask your airline how they plan to work towards reducing aviation’s climate change impact! And ask your local politicians the same question. How do they work towards limiting the carbon footprint from the flying industry?

Currently, there are hardly any regulations regarding the aviation industry and emissions of greenhouse gases. Some airlines, like British Airways, take actions on their own.
BA aim to speed up the use of new and low-carbon fuel as well as the switch to more fuel-efficient planes. They have also initiated the Customer Carbon Fund, where donations help fund community renewable projects in the UK.

Sustainable Travel – Does It Exist?

We believe it sure does! Take the time and make the effort needed to think your travel needs through, and make a plan. Find out how to travel to make the smallest impact possible on the environment, and the smallest possible contribution to the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Green Travels

Your travel experience will get a new dimension to it. You know that you are a part of the strive to minimise the effects of climate change, instead of being a part of causing it.

Bon voyage!

Read More About Climate Change and Travelling

David Suzuki Foundation