Maybe you’re already driving a hybrid or a Smart car. Maybe you bring your own cloth bags to the grocery store, bike everywhere you can, replace your appliances with energy savers at every opportunity, and weather-strip the hell out of your home.
Still, you may be guilty of generating tonnes of excess greenhouse gases every year, simply by getting in a plane and flying somewhere.
The most recent report on the impact of air travel was tabled by a group of scientists at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the U.K., appraising that country’s serious efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. According to the report, commercial aviation will account for two-thirds of the U.K.’s total C02 emissions with annual increases of airline emissions of 12 per cent.
“We could close every factory, lock away every car and turn off every light in the country,” wrote Mark Lynas in the New Statesman, “but it won’t halt global warming if we carry on taking planes as often as we do.”
The rise of budget airlines, globalization of business and growth of tourism are credited for the increase in flights, with the number of flights increasing on average nine per cent per year for the past 40 years. I would add a few things to that list from my own personal experience — the fact North Americans take shorter vacations (thereby ruling out train travel), government subsidies to airlines at all levels that make tickets artificially cheap, the fragile economic state of the budget airline industry that makes it impossible to impose regulations on the industry without destroying it, and the slow adoption of technology — just as e-mail has actually increased the amount of paper used by offices as workers print out every message they get, business travel is increasing despite the ready availability of video and VOIP conferencing. Business still places too much emphasis on face-to-face sales, and the personal touch.
I fly back to Toronto ever year or two to visit family and friends, a round trip that according to one carbon calculator produces 740 kilograms of C02 — not to mention significant amounts of nitrogen dioxide and water vapour, which also have an impact on global warming. That’s the equivalent of burning roughly 385 litres of fuel, enough to fill my small gas tank about eight times.
Flying is still slightly more efficient than driving to Toronto and back, and you can’t beat the convenience, but a long-distance round trip to Europe or Asia from Vancouver would easily match or beat my fuel consumption for an entire year.