7770. That’s how many kilometres I’ve flown this week. 1.08. Is the tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent that my journey emitted (for me as an individual on two flights)*. In simple terms is the same amount of energy used in an average Australian home for 96 days or equivalent to sending 570kg of food waste to landfill**. This week I’ve travelled from Brisbane, Australia via Bangkok, to Ranong in Thailand. I’m here to volunteer with the Marist Asia Foundation that works with Burmese migrants in Ranong on health and education. Ranong is just south of the Myanmar border and has the highest density of Burmese migrants in Thailand.
This is not the first long haul flight I’ve taken this year. I’ve taken several in fact. As a sustainability advocate I always feel a bit hypocritical whenever I fly. I am acutely aware of the contribution airplane travel has towards increasing climate change: the aviation industry is estimated to be responsible for about 3% of global carbon emissions. I confess that much of my travel is for selfish reasons. My need to connect with family and friends spread around the globe. My quest for adventure. My desire to experience different cultures, see beautiful landscapes and immerse myself in something foreign. Thus, flying presents a quandary to me. When is flying justified, and when is it not? Should I feel guilty for knowingly contributing to climate change?
On land, I’m a firm believer of less carbon intensive travel modes. I regularly walk and cycle; I take public transport where I can; I try to minimise car use. I’ve found that my transport mode differs in different places. Living in Edinburgh I cycled or walked practically everywhere (even in some pretty dreadful, ‘character building’ weather); whereas in Brisbane, a much larger city, I use cars and trains more often. When it comes to international travel, however, my desire for new experiences outweigh my knowledge of contributing to climate change. This current opportunity wouldn’t be possible without me taking at least one flight.
It’s interesting isn’t it? There are many things in my life which I’ve been prepared to change to reduce my footprint, like eating less meat, driving less, using less single-use plastic. But flying, I find hard to totally relinquish. If we all stopped flying tomorrow, would the world be a better place? I doubt it. Carbon emissions would certainly fall, but so would our connections with each other, our understanding of different cultures and of people separated by oceans and mountains. Globally, I think we’ve got a long way to go in developing true intercultural understanding and respect, but travel can help this process.
Am I simply a privileged person, justifying my behaviour? Perhaps. I’d love to hear your views on this. Do you have similar conflicts with aspects of your life you are not prepared to or can’t easily change?
*There are many carbon calculators online which allow you to estimate carbon emissions from your flights and other activities. They use slightly different methods, and I’ve not done a full review on which is best. I used Climate Care’s calculator, which was easy to use.
** I used the Watch My Waste tool.