I consider myself en Environmentalist. I eat vegan, don’t own a car, buy second hand fashion and consume mostly local and organic food. But I fly. Several times a year, to go on holidays, see my family or discover a new country, I pack my bags, head to the airport and hop on a (often long-distance) flight.
Yet, flying has a HUGE impact on the planet.
According to the International Civil Aviation Organization, there were 3 billion air passengers in 2016 and the number is expected to rise to 7,3 billion by 2035. Meanwhile, CO2 emissions of the aviation sector represent 2% of global emissions which, if aviation was a country, would make it the 7th biggest polluter in the world, between Germany and South Korea. And it could actually be worse. CO2 emissions are not the only green house gas emissions coming from planes: nitrogen oxides, water vapors, particulates, contrails and cirrus changes all have additional warming effects.
So, you could think that I’m a hypocrite for claiming to care about the planet and generously contributing to its warming because of my personal choice to travel the world right? And there would probably be a part of truth in that statement. I could absolutely never fly again in my life and be perfectly fine.
So why do I fly?
Traveling inspires me to be greener.
This statement might seem totally absurd but hear me out. I grew up in a big city and 25 years later I still live in one. I can tell you how easy it is to feel completely disconnected from nature and how difficult it can be to imagine the beauty of what’s out there, mainly biodiversity wise and the urgency to protect it.
By traveling to places where nature is still intact (Madagascar, Central America, Sri Lanka, South East Asia), I see with my own eyes what is worth fighting for. I have been outraged to find plastic in pristine locations while diving. I have been shocked to see forests cleared down for cattle or palm oil plantations when my plane lands. I have been amazed by local projects rescuing abused or poached wildlife. I have been inspired by beach clean ups, night watch to protect endangered turtles, marine protected areas where biodiversity is thriving. All of these experiences inspire and motivate me to go home and fight harder for the protection of our planet because there is so much left to fight for that I could never have imagined had I never left home.
Left: A Lemur in a tropical forest 2015 in Madagascar and right: The Lke Atitlan in Guatemala 2016
Traveling inspires me to be more compassionate and live simpler.
One of my favorite things when traveling is meeting the locals, seeing how they live and learning about their culture and traditions. I often feel disconnected from the western way of life based on consumerism and permanent entertainment. By traveling to places where tradition and spirituality still mean something strong and where the community plays a very important role, I usually find myself more at peace that in any cities I’ve lived. The importance of caring for your neighbor, your community, of living a life that is NOT based on excessive consumerism, of finding happiness in a different way, based on spirituality and simple living is one of the most inspiring and beautiful thing I have ever witnessed.
Whether it’s selfless help from locals in Sri Lanka, being invited to diner at his own house by the headmaster of the school I volunteered at in Cambodia, living with a rural indigenous family in Mexico for a few days just become I took interest in their work, these acts of generosity and compassion always enable me to come home a tiny bit more happy that when I left. I try to apply those principles of compassion and slow living when I return and believe I was able to make many significant choices in my life thanks to those learning.
Traveling helps me “find myself” and find my tribe.
Admit it, you read that and thought what kind of new age hippie BS is that? I didn’t believe it either but leaving your comfort zone to travel far from home is better and more efficient than any self development book or podcast, shrink session or long term therapy. It’s a killer way to find out who you are, what you stand for and what you want in life, trust me. But It has also enabled me to connect with incredible like minded people. I love my friends at home, I do. But just like I can feel disconnected from the way of life people live at home, I can feel disconnected from my friends who live that way. While traveling, I’ve always met incredible humans who share my passion for discovery, who do not need more than they have, who agree to share a taxi brousse for 15 hours stuck between a chicken and a baby without complaining and who marvel at the natural world endlessly. These guys are my tribe and it’s also one of the main reasons I get on the road so often.
Left: Fellow divers in Honduras 2016 Right: Kiwis in Oxaca Mexico 2012
But just because my love for traveling is so powerful doesn’t mean I’m not also super concerned about the impacts of flying. So here's how to make a "bad" habit a tiny bit better for our dear Planet Earth.
1. Well the first obvious way of reducing the environmental impacts of flying is… to fly less! Let’s avoid flying often just because it’s cheap and choose to fly only when really needed (visiting friends of family) or when you’re going somewhere far for a long time. Could driving be better in some cases? Well studies show that the longer the distance, the most efficient flying become because cruising requires less fuel. So if you’re going somewhere close, definitely choose driving, if you’re going far, and hopefully for a long time, let’s hop on that plane!
2. Fly direct. According to many scientific sources, the most fuel is used during take off and landing. Therefore, if you’re trying to lower the emissions linked to flying, avoid short flights and stopovers and select direct when possible.
3. Fly coach. According to the World Bank, the emissions associated with flying in business are three times as great as flying in coach. That’s because, bigger seats mean fewer places and therefore less people being moved for the same amount of fuel. Finally a reason to feel happy to be stuck in coach for 12 hours!
4. Offset. Offsetting basically means paying a little extra to compensate the emissions from an activity (whether traveling, foord construction etc) through projects including reforestation, investments in renewable energy etc. While some airlines offer the option to offset directly when paying the ticket (Quantas, Delta, United, Ryanair etc), most don’t even have an offsetting program. Meaning that if you’d like to compensate the emissions linked to your journey, you need to go to an independent organization’s websites. My personal favorite include: MyClimate, ClimateCare and newbie Greentripper who all offer strong credentials and verified carbon projects throughout the world. They're so easy to use, just write in where you're going to and from where, whether there are stops along the way or if it's a direct flight, how many people are flying and whether you're in coach, business or first class and the calculator tells you how much you should donate to offset your emissions. Boom, as simple as that!
Well not quite... Joseph Romm of climateprogress.org compares offsetting to “trying to save the Arctic by collecting left-over ice cubes and shipping them up north.” Truth is, it’s not the ideal solution. In a dream world, planes would function on sustainable fuels or even better on renewable energy. But until this happens and because depriving everyone of the ability to travel and experience its amazing benefits is just not possible, offsetting is the least we can do when we’re flying across our beautiful world.
Would to hear your thoughts on the subject as I’m sure everyone has a different opinion on the topic!