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The High Price of Racing Around the World Isn't the Airfare

The High Price of Racing Around the World Isn't the Airfare

One of the biggest single issues with affluent societies is cheap cost of travel. Cheap dollars, but expensive for climate change

It feels like we are all far more mobile than we used to be and our mobility comes at a bigger cost than most people realise.There is a lot of argie bargy about air travel emissions - mostly around what gets counted and what doesn't - and which country it is attributed to. There is also one other significant issue in travel. While it might seem like 'everyone' is travelling to far flung exotic destinations, the facts are that only a small percentage of people are responsbible for the vast majority of personal air travel emissions.

CO2 emissions and Radiative Forcing

Aviation accounts for about 2.5 percent of global CO2 emissions and around 12 percent of all transport. These numbers don't account for a thing called 'Radiative Forcing', which affects the atmosphere in more ways than emissions. As well as emitting CO2 from burning fuel, planes affect the concentration of other gases and pollutants in the atmosphere.

They result in a short-term increase, but long-term decrease in ozone; a decrease in methane; emissions of water vapour; soot; sulfur aerosols; and water contrails. While some of these impacts result in warming, others induce a cooling effect. Overall, the warming effect is stronger. When you add non-CO2 climate impacts, aviation accounts for 3.5% of global warming.

Aviations' big challenge is fuel

The key challenge for the aviation industry is that it is particularly hard to decarbonize. Electric vechiles, renewable energy and other solutions will reduce emissions for many of the largest emitters such as power or road transport.

Aviation is a little trickier, especially at the bigger end of town. Sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), derived sources such as algae, jatropha, or waste by-products have been shown to reduce the carbon footprint of aviation fuel by up to 80% over their full lifecycle. But these are a long way off viability.

Airbus have announced plans to have the first zero-emission aircraft by 2035, using hydrogen fuel cells. Electric planes are emerging, but are likely to be most viable for  small aircraft due to the limitations of battery technologies and capacity. 

Air travel is actually a bit elitist

Analysis undertaken by Stefan Gössling at Lund University and Linnaeus University statistics show that a very small share of air travelers contribute greatly to emissions. The reality is that just one percent of the world’s population accounts for more than half of the carbon dioxide emissions from passenger air travel. His results show that only 11 percent of the world’s population used air transport in 2018, of which slightly less than 4 percent were made up of international flights.

Of course, the worst are the individual users of private aircrafts. They contribute to emissions of up to 7,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. The corresponding figure for the average traveler is 130 kilos of carbon dioxide per year.

Catch a train if you can

This is a tough one for those living on a big island in the middle of nowhere. The way you travel does make a huge difference to your carbon footprint. But trains have a very low carbon footprint and are a real option worth remembering for travel across Europe, Asia or within countries like Australia; or after you land in a destination country.

Catching a train to a holiday destination instead of driving or flying can be a great way of the family spending time together and still having space to move about - and get away from that pesky sibling or parent if needed. Train travel emits around 90% less CO2 than plan travel.

If you are flying, you read it here -  economy is actually best

There have been a number of studies conducted on the impact of your chosen class of travel - including the one that anyone who has ever travelled already knows - you are certainly sucking on far less air down the back.

Even as you might be looking at this pic and noting to self that this is the very reason it's called 'cattle class', in 2009 a World Bank study declared 1st class travel to have a carbon footprint 9 times greater than economy class. So squish in and feel good about more than just the cost of your airfare!  

Fly direct as much as you can

Apart from the completely hideous business of layovers, about half of a flight's emissions are used on take off and landing, so the less of them you support, the better! 

Always buy carbon offsets

Pretty much every second person has a conspiracy theory on carbon offsets, but in my mind, they are better than the alternative. (No offset.)  Anyway, they are inexpensive and there are a number of excellent programs attached to them so you are making some kind of difference. Feel good about it and invest your few dollars every time you fly. 

If you travel a lot, join the airline lounge

This might sound like an odd thing to advise, but one of the great benefits of airline lounges is access to un-packaged food and beverages. Apart from avoiding all the packaging at the dreadful airport food courts, it doesn't take long for the annual membership fee to pale into insignificance against the high cost of airport food and the amount of unnecessary purchases you make loitering in airport shopping malls.

Images: Unsplash - Hanson Lu

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