So, France has banned domestic short-haul flights where train journeys of under two-and-a-half hours are available. This is expected to cut carbon emissions by a good deal, considering that CO2 emissions from flights are staggeringly high compared to other modes of mass transportation.
Flying less will also be the quickest way for a flier (more so for a frequent flier) to reduce their individual carbon footprint by a huge margin. Consider this: a return flight from London to San Francisco emits around 5.5 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per person – more than twice the emissions produced by a family car in a year. Basically, if you are a regular flier, flying is your biggest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, way more than what the lights in your house or your commute to and from work add up to.
The International Energy Agency has highlighted the shift from aeroplanes and private cars to rail as a key strategy for reaching net zero emissions, and advised governments to set out targeted policies to improve rail. (In case you are wondering, net zero refers to a state in which the greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere are balanced by their removal out of the atmosphere. Net zero is the internationally agreed upon goal for mitigating global warming in the second half of the century.)
Much of the focus of this ‘let’s go net zero’ movement is on those mega enterprises, big guzzlers of earth’s finite resources. That is as it should be. More and more of us are demanding greater and meaningful accountability from them – we are watching them, all right.
At the same time, what about the rest of us? Yes, we are talking about eliminating single-use plastic, segregating waste, minimising waste, embracing minimalism and eco-friendly materials and ways, and all of that. Very slowly, some of us are making that transition, while hoping that the numbers will grow.
Is that good enough though? Because the fact is that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by half by 2030 and to net zero by 2050. The world is already 1.2 °C warmer than pre-industrial times; a 1.5 °C increase will cause more intense droughts and more devastating floods, more wildfires and more storms. (Researchers say there’s now a 66% chance we will cross the 1.5 °C threshold between now and 2027, as reported in BBC.)
So, while our little bits of pro-planet actions are adding up, we will have to also start looking at those aspects of our lives that have the lion’s share in our individual contribution to those bad emissions. Flying is definitely one aspect that we need to do a double think on.
Businesses can of course make a huge difference here, by reducing the requirements on their staff to fly. This is utterly doable – make conference or video calls the norm, allow staff extra holiday time to go by train, and so on.
Maybe it’s time we put our focus on other ways to travel, other ways to do the same things, other ways to be. Not maybe, for sure we need to.
Fly if you must, but consider ways to do that in a way that mitigate your share in the emissions. For example, it is better to book an economy ticket rather than go by business or first class. A first-class ticket on a long-haul flight emits, on average, four times as much as an economy seat on the same plane. This is because more expensive seats take up more space and weight on the plane. Not to forget, choose direct flights without layovers.
You could also consider compensating the emissions from your flight by buying a carbon offset. However, there’s no knowing for sure that an offset will permanently ‘absorb’ the emissions your flight gives out. Trees, for example, need years to grow enough to reabsorb the carbon from your flight.
Last but not the least, spread the word. Talk about what you do. Flaunt. Cajole. Inspire. Greta Thunberg sure has, having given up flying. (By the way, strike that cool airport-look pose by all means – there’s no rule that requires us to take the flight afterwards. Or is there?)