As we’re getting into holiday (and ice cream!) season, many of us will be thinking about leaving the white cliffs behind and heading abroad over the next few months.
And with good reason. From access to the actual sun to snapping that perfect Instagram photo there is much to be gained from travelling. Just a few decades ago even travel to the further reaches of Europe could be considered intrepid - today journeys to other continents seems unremarkable.
We have the modern miracle of affordable flying to thank for this. And the accessibility of travel, combined with the many joys and benefits it brings, means it is something more and more of us do.
Now for the bit all of us wish wasn’t a thing (but is).
Flying’s dirty secret
Increasing numbers of us hopping on planes presents serious problems for urgently addressing the climate crisis. In fact, globally, flying is the single fastest growing source of greenhouse gases that, right now, are heating up our planet at a very alarming rate. Current projections could see emissions from aviation leaping to 15% of the global total by 2050 (that’s the same share as all food production today).
Despite that, flying isn’t covered by the international agreement signed in Paris in 2015 to limit climate change (along with international shipping). But if we’re serious about avoiding climate breakdown (and we are serious, right?) we simply can’t afford to ignore it.
So what can you or me do about it?
First, let’s put this is context. According to the boffins behind the ecopassenger website, if you took the train to Berlin and back instead of flying you could make the journey eight times before you emitted the same amount of carbon as just a single return flight. Or to put it another way, the carbon emitted from a return train journey to Berlin weighs about the same as you - the carbon associated with a return flight would balance a pygmy sperm whale on the scales.
So, simply swapping plane for train where possible is a brilliant place to start. But if you are thinking ‘but I only take one flight a year - shouldn’t people who fly more often cut down first?’... well - interesting question, we’re glad you asked!
Who is doing all the flying?
Turns out flying is mainly the preserve of a relatively small number of relatively rich people (globally, that almost certainly includes me and you). Incredibly, only about 5% of the world’s population has ever seen the inside of a plane. Zoom in on the UK, and you find that 15% of the population takes a whopping 70% of all flights. If you’ve taken three or more non-work return flights in the last 12 months you’re part of just 20% of the population to have done so - and yet half the population took no flights at all.
So, while it would be better if all of us swapped planes for trains, ask yourself whether you’re a frequent flyer. If you are, then perhaps it’s fair to suggest you think about how you could cut down flying first.
A new adventure to try
Luckily, train travel across Europe is an adventure waiting to be discovered by those of us who have grown used to sailing above the clouds. Travelling overland is an opportunity to rediscover and reclaim the journey itself - swapping sterile airport lounges for a good book (or podcast/movie/Instagram/insert other), beautiful scenery and the satisfaction of keeping your carbon emissions grounded. Give it go, you might be surprised where it takes you.
If you’re ready to get on board with a new way to travel, these websites are your friends. The Man in Seat 61 has taken almost every train in Europe to make planning your route very much easier. And the good people at Loco2 have knitted all Europe’s train booking systems together into a rather snazzy website to make booking a doddle (they’ll even tell you how much carbon your saving too).
If you want to support a campaign to make flying fairer while cutting carbon, check out A Free Ride.
This blog post was written by our climate activist pals over at 10:10