It's a flying shame

G Magazine

With greenies taking stock of every aspect of living, Greg Foyster wonders why our love of flying is still never spoken of.


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The average environmentalist will install solar panels and sermonise about the CO2 savings, go vego and lecture all within earshot on livestock emissions, spend hours stalking supermarket aisles for chemical-free cleaning products and then, as if to reward themselves for all this well-intentioned fretting, they’ll take
a little holiday. To London. By plane.

Little do they realise the return flight could cancel out an entire year’s worth of painstaking do-goodery.
The Moreland Energy Foundation has estimated that a couple flying to London and back has a greater carbon footprint than two people living in an average Aussie household for a year.

When it comes to flying, it’s not just the carbon dioxide we need to worry about. Passenger aircraft emit other gases (such as nitrogen oxides and water vapour) and these have an impact on the Earth’s temperature.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that for the period 1992 to 2050, the overall warming effect of aircraft will be two to four times larger than their carbon dioxide emissions alone.

But what about offsetting? Yes, there are some credible companies, but paying a poverty-stricken Papua New Guinean to plant trees or protect rainforest on your behalf is a classic case of shirking responsibility. Instead of prompting people to change their behaviour, offsetting helps them justify their wasteful habits. Worse, it lends false credibility to inherently unsustainable practices, like jetsetting across the globe to spend two weeks on the beach in Spain.

Giving up flying doesn’t have to mean giving up travel. You can get to most Australian capital cities by overnight train or bus, and the conditions aren’t as torturous as the horror stories would have you believe.
If you’re travelling internationally, you can catch a freighter or hitch a ride on a yacht. These alternative options are usually more hassle (and often more expensive), but you’ll get off the tacky tourist trail and have a real adventure.

In some ways, technological advances have made business travel unnecessary. Thanks to video conferencing tools like Skype, fly-in fly-out business meetings are quickly becoming an archaic tradition, a bit like a king sending out royal servants to deliver messages in person. New technology can help us move beyond such inefficient and outdated modes of communication.

It’s time for environmentalists to put an end to high-flying hypocrisy. After all, if we don’t take the lead, who will?

Greg Foyster is an environment journalist. He’s currently cycling around Australia researching a book on simple living. www.simplelives.com.au