The air travel conundrum by Angela Caldin
My younger daughter and her family have been visiting Auckland for the last ten days and flew off back to the Sunshine Coast this morning. My son lives in New York and is bringing his family to visit us in July. If we want to see each other in person, we have no alternative but to fly. There is no other means of transport we could use. That means that our carbon footprint as a family is large and we are making a disproportionate contribution to climate change.
What should we do? Should we give up the pleasure of seeing each other once or twice a year in favour of the preservation of the planet? Should we make do with video calls two or three times a week to maintain contact and build loving relationships with our children and grandchildren? Increasingly, children take up job opportunities far from home instead of in a nearby town; are we as grandparents to accept that we can’t see those children as much as we would like? I saw a recommendation somewhere that each of us should aim for one short haul flight a year and one long haul flight every eight years. If I stuck to that, I would quite likely be dead before I made another long haul flight to the States.
There are some things we can do to mitigate our heavy footprint. We can choose to fly with an airline that uses the newest possible aircraft for the route and produces fewer emissions. We can travel economy class rather than business or first. 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. First and business class also tend to end up with more empty seats. We can reduce the amount of stuff we take with us because anything that reduces the load on an aircraft will reduce the fuel burnt. We can avoid very large planes with four engines and we can choose direct flights with no layovers.
There‘s an irony in the fact that air travel has opened up the world and made every corner accessible, but at the same time is contributing to the destruction of that world unless something is done. We’ve encouraged our children to travel, to explore, to seek opportunities and challenges, but we might have done better to persuade them to stay near home.