‘Tis the season to get travelling! From heading home for Christmas to visiting friends over the summer holiday or (if you’re in the northern hemisphere) taking an all-important getaway to escape that winter chill — whatever the reason, this is always one of the busiest (and most expensive) times of year to travel.
But, with the dangers of climate change and other environmental issues dominating our newsfeeds, many of us might be thinking twice before purchasing those plane tickets this holiday season.
Tourism and travel are one of the greatest causes of greenhouse gas. In fact, travelling somewhere far away is now known to be the single biggest action an individual can take to worsen climate change. In 2016, two climatologists published a paper in the prestigious journal Science showing a direct relationship between carbon emissions and the melting of Arctic sea ice. The report showed that a cross-country flight one-way from New York to Los Angeles shrinks the summer sea ice cover by 3 square meters.
The carbon emissions from aeroplane travel are huge, but travelling by boat is actually worse - even the most efficient cruise ships emit three to four times more carbon dioxide per passenger-mile than a jet. Driving is less carbon-intensive, especially if there are multiple passengers, but most long trips are out of practical driving range.
So, what can we do to help minimise our environmental damage this travel season?
Know your damage
The time for pleading ignorance is over — it is up to each of us to understand our own contribution to environmental impact and to take responsibility for the decisions we make. A vacation may seem like a pretty innocent (and well deserved!) pleasure, and we’re not here to guilt anybody about their right to book that trip to Bali. But, it’s important that any decisions you do make to travel are in full knowledge of the impact. It’s actually fairly easy to quantify the carbon footprint of your activities — try this handy calculator.
Putting a stop to long-distance travel is never going to be a reality. People need to travel for work, to visit family, to explore the world and to better understand other cultures. Tourism creates millions of jobs and boosts economies in many places that desperately need it. And luckily, there are ways to counteract the environmental cost. Carbon offsets offer a direct way to contribute financially to beneficial activities like planting trees, building wind farms, and capturing methane from cattle operations, which do help to reduce greenhouse gases. Many airlines now offer a carbon offset option when you purchase tickets, or you can find your own carbon offset broker. And, the best part is, you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to make a difference — carbon offsets can be bought for as little as $10 per metric ton.
Stick closer to home
In this globe-trotting era, many of us are guilty of not ever really taking advantage of what’s on our doorstep — the far-flung adventures always seem so much more appealing. But you’d be very surprised by some of the experiences that are likely within a few hours drive from home. Exploring your own backyard not only reduces your greenhouse gas emissions but also means that your travel dollars are going to support local businesses and communities. Get to know your regional landmarks, visit local wineries and artisanal producer. Keeping your travels close to home also means less time cooped up on planes and trains, more time actually enjoying your loved ones, and no jet lag when you get home = win, win, win!