Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Is air travel selfish?

I can't remember what blog I was reading the other day, but someone in the comments had mentioned that they considered air travel to be something that they weren't willing to give up mostly because they felt that what they got out of the experience was worth the carbon consumption, or something like it. In other words, they felt that some of the pristine scenes or natural sights weren't going to be around for much longer, so they should go see them while they could.

And this struck something in me - the question of, do we as affluent Americans have the right to pleasure travel the globe, catching the last of the sights and sounds before the environment changes, all the while contributing to that decline? And what does that mean for the billions of people who can't even travel outside of their region, let alone afford to get on a plane, these same billions who are the ones most adversely affected by climate change? What rights do they have? As an example, with one round-trip flight to Europe (with 3-4 tons of CO2 emissions) you will have caused more emissions than 20 Bangladeshi will cause in a whole year. Unfortunately they are the ones who will lose their homes and livelihood once sea level rise inundates their low lying country. [1]

To put things in perspective, aviation presently accounts for 4 to 9% of the total climate change impact of human activity. And, instead of the amount going down, as it should be to mitigate climate change, since 1990, CO2 emissions from international aviation have increased 83%. [2] Not all of this is due to pleasure travel, but it does represent a huge chunk of climate change, such that all the carbon trading / tree planting you do to offset the impact really won't make up for it.

So, I wanted to ask you guys how you felt. Do you think air travel for tourism sake is selfish? Can't we all get by seeing the world the way people have always done so, through the experience of a few through travelogues, pictures and, more recently, film and documentaries? Must we all see it first-hand? Is the argument that travelling makes one more aware of worldly problems a sufficient one to make up for the impact or is really just a justification for self-satisfaction and consumption?


Daniel said...

As a teenager, I was much better traveled than most of my peers. Seeing the world made me who I am today. I think it is important to see the world, but at the same time, to see it right. We would fly out to wherever we were going, but then take public trans whenever we could and fuel efficient cars when we could not. And I don't fly once a month. Maybe once or twice a year. If you're going to fly, make it count.

Robj98168 said...

Being part of the industry, I should say fly- it causes no harm! But I know the reality. Boeing and GE are working hard to make more fuel effeicient jets and engines, and I am sure that evil airplane builder Airbus is also- But I, like googooww said don't fly much- last time was Vegas three years ago- And like she says make it count! And get a carbon offset!

Anonymous said...

I went to Europe as a teen, on my own, nearly 15 years ago. I love traveling, and if it fit into my lifestyle, I'd travel the world today, but not on a plane. Camel, boat, donkey, car, etc. The only reason I could justify flying today is to see family, which I don't have to do yet; my sister might be about to move overseas. Even then, it would only be once every few years, if that. And yeah, I'll be honest, I think flying all over the world to see some of nature's sights before they vanish because the carbon is "worth it," is totally selfish. If everybody thought like that, well hell... we'd be where we are today. Sure it's worth it, like you said, if you aren't the one whose home gets swallowed by the sea, which, of course you aren't if you have enough money to go swanning around the world.

ruchi said...

Yes, air travel for tourism is selfish. But, I would argue, having children is selfish. Eating meat is selfish. In fact, there is a lot of energy use that can be classified as selfish.

I fly a lot, and I have often had a lot of guilt associated with it. But at the same time, I don't want to give it up. I know it's selfish, but I never claimed to be a selfless being. I have family and friends on three continents and my family and friends are very important to me. And travel is a major component of my life and has been for years, and has deeply impacted me and my desire to help the world. So I have two options. One, I can say, I'm a hypocrite, f**k it, I might as well do nothing. Roll out the SUVs!! Or I can say, well, this is something I'm not willing to give up, so I better do everything possible to make sure I'm doing everything I can to lower my other types of carbon emissions. I choose the latter.

Eco Yogini said...

I hate flying. The only times I have ever flown was to visit family while I was away- and that was only ever in Canada (which is a huge country nonetheless). I could barely afford the flights, so carbon offsets were not an option.

Yes- flying for tourism is selfish. People who love flying will justify it how they like though. Even David Suzuki justifies flying (he buys carbon offsets) by saying that his talks and conferences on the environment tip the scales on the carbon emissions he's contributing.

Either way, we don't fly to travel. We are going to enjoy our beautiful province- I have never been to Cape Breton which is only five hours away. Going to another country to "experience" nature is a bit silly.

Oldnovice said...

I don't think there's anything selfish in flying to see the wonders of the world. Tourism (including eco-tourism) supports many of the populations of under-developed countries. You stop flying to their country and they starve long before climate change sucks their land into the sea.
Like googooww, I think travel plays a huge role in personal development. Spending time with people in their communities, getting to know and understand the cultural differences (including importance factors) is the only way, IMO, to absorb their realities.

BrooklynLorax said...

I think the blog was Flying across the world for a 2 hour business meeting (a big piece of travel) is far more wasteful than tourism. And, the influence of American culture on others is probably more damaging than the flights - think demand for McDonald's, Starbucks, plastic souvenirs, et al.

Zabetha said...

My son works in the tourism industry, he can get me discounted trips to places I could never afford to visit otherwise. And as a result I have visited those places, by flying. Now, I really hate flying and it does my conscience no good to know that it's bad for the earth for me to be doing it. When I was younger, flying was a luxury, now everyone does it and probably half those folks hate it as much as I do.

It's like driving a car now, not a lot of fun, everybody's doing it, few people live in ways that allow the easy giving up of this once-luxury item. I think that's the way it's going to be from here on out, we at the top of the pyramid are going to have our noses rubbed in how much of what we take for necessities are really luxuries the earth can no longer afford.

It's going to be painful.

Farmer's Daughter said...

I hate to fly, and usually end up in tears on planes during take-off.

I've flown to Utah to raft down the Colorado River. I've flown to Alaska to see Brown Bears feeding on salmon in the wild. I've flown to the Island School in the Bahamas for a workshop on sustainable education. I wouldn't trade those trips for anything, and yes, you do appreciate bears much more when you see them in person, yards away, fighting and ripping apart salmon and fishing for their cubs. It does not compare to what you see on TV.

That said, I'm not planning on flying anywhere anytime soon, and I feel I've had all the adventures I'll need for a very long time. At this point, I'd probably be happy not flying ever again.

healinggreen said...

I traveled extensively for the first 25 years of my life -- I visited twenty countries, several of them every year. Now, I'm all grown up, my mother doesn't take me with her to developing countries on business, and I rarely visit my father in Europe anymore because its simply to expensive. I miss traveling. And I also am very glad I don't travel anymore. I love my home. I love my state. I drove through about half the US in my twenties -- I think if you can car travel is the way to go: but it will only save about have the CO2.

I think that where and how you travel matter. I think that cruises and resorts are ridiculous, polluting like crazy and showing Americans nothing of the places they are visiting. I'd rather walk through the town market and old quarters, eat where the locals eat, and see the world they do.

I think carbon offsets are great, and all business trips should use them, and anyone who can afford it.

I think a lot of people are inspired to change and grow when they travel. And that is worth the cost, to me.

Anonymous said...

After decades of essentially being a non-flyer, I will be flying quite a bit this year for work.
This year I will be making 4 trips to the West coast alone.

Can't say that I enjoy flying-but I consider it a "necessary evil" to get me where I need to go.

If I have the time, I will take the train.

When I'm at home,most of my chores are done on a bike. Prior to being laid off, I would commute year round by bike.

Anonymous said...

I have mixed feelings on this. I will travel as long as I am able bodied and can afford it...but how and how much and how far are always flexible. On one hand you have financial reality; Oldnovice made an excellent point about the tourism industry and local populations dependence on it for survival. Then you have environmental reality as you have described so well. And then there is the simple desire to experience people and places, to really enjoy life to the fullest. Plus...I hope by traveling my children will fully recognize that there are many ways of living in this world...not just our way. It is hard to turn your back on the world and its populations when you really know they are there. I guess it is like everything else, a balance.

Anonymous said...

I do think flying is selfish. I traveled a lot with my parents as a teenager, and never gave a thought about the ecologic impact it could have. But now, I know, and I try to avoid flights as much as I can. Air travelling IS selfish, particularly when there is another option, like trains. Seeing the world can change your mind by putting you in the middle of what you could see on TV (which always seem kinda not real, I think), yes, but 90% of air travelers do it for work or to go to holiday hotel clubs where they will be able to lay on the beach without using their brains for a whole week... Many are not looking for knowledge of the world, but for sunny exotic landscapes...
My fiancé wants to go to see his family on another continent and we don't have enough holidays to take a boat (because, yes, you can take a boat to cross the ocean !), so I guess I will have to take a plane this year, but I will certainly try to get carbon offset. And when it is not too far away, it will always be train for me. I couldn't be at ease with choosing plane only for comfort...because it is by doing this that we, developed countries citizens, have made the planet as ill as it is !

Anonymous said...

I am not a big fan of flying-only flew 3 times in 46 years. Is it selfish? Maybe maybe not. My first priority is seeing whats in my own backyard(meaning the state where I live.) There are alot of really great wonders closer to home than one would even know. First traveling within the state puts much needed money into our economy. Many people where I live depend on the tourism dollars coming in. If I were to travel to see the world Secondly I would definately make sure I am buying caron offsets and making sure I am doing as much and more as I can at home to offset the carbon footprint.

Anonymous said...

I think ruchi nailed it. There are many things in this world that drawn on energy that are selfish... who am I (or who are you) to say whether air travel is worse than something else. "Let he among us without sin be the first to condem". So unless you live 100% off the grid, have no kids, don't eat meat, and walk everywhere, you have room for improvement too.

Anonymous said...

Here are the places we see within a two hour drive of our house: San Diego, Idyllwild, Big Bear Lake, Solvang, Santa Barbara, Laguna Beach, Lake Arrowhead, etc.. We live in Huntington Beach, CA, a vacation destination for many. The Tragic Kingdom is down the road. We were married in Yosemite Nat'l Park. Didn't need to fly to any of these places.

Anonymous said...

I hate flying. WITH.A.PASSION. That said, I have flown when my desires have overcome my fears. In the last 13 years I have made 1 trip back home (rest of time - drove), 3 trips to Central America to improve my Spanish, 1 trip to DisneyWorld, several trips to Atlanta(bf) and 1 trip to Arizona. I have made several business trips but we are talking about tourism - not earning a pay cheque.

My trips to Central America were a true learning experience for me. I don't think I could have appreciated what I saw if I saw it on TV. TV still gives you a sense of unreality. Not only did I improve my Spanish, I got to immerse myself in a culture that is completely different from mine. It was a life changing experience.

Perhaps DisneyWorld was selfish but it was also my honeymoon so definitely a special occasion. Arizona let me see all kinds of natural wonders but certainly wasn't a life changing experience. Regardless, we did see another part of the US which always opens your mind to new experiences.

I don't think it is selfish but maybe I am feeling entitled.

scifichick said...

I've been thinking about it lately because of my changed home situation. I haven't flown in several years, last trip being 4 years ago to Europe. But my boyfriend's family doesn't live close to us, so we flew to visit them in Florida. And in couple of months we'll fly to Maryland to visit his family again. So, flying will become part of our lives at least while we can afford it. And so I've been struggling with us erasing all our environmental efforts by flying. That sucks! I've been working to reduce my impact and now it's all down the drain. But I don't see a choice in this. So, I keep on implementing environmentally-friendly efforts, and I'll look into buying offsets for flying.
As far as flying for tourism, I think it all depends. Some people fly for leisure and they couldn't care less for countries and people they visit. And for some people it's a really eye-opening experience that awakens them to the other people's struggles.
On the other hand, I think there are way too many flights with planes being half-empty flown around. When we flew to Florida, early morning flight had a lot of empty seats. I think if only full planes were flown around, there would be less impact.

Greenpa said...

I think it's hard to ignore the selfish aspects; they're there, no matter what the benefits. And as one who has traveled more than most, sure- the benefits are huge.

I've thought for a long time that what we're really looking at here is an opportunity for someone to get into a new business.

Sail based vacations. Spice's and my honeymoon was on a sailing ship; 8 days (in the off-off-off season). It was wonderful.

My only complaint when we filled out the report cards at the end was - we didn't sail enough. The ship of course also had modern engines (even bow thrusters!) and they had a new captain, who I think was dead set on keeping to schedules. So a lot of the time, we were under power.

I'd bet my shirt you could easily- easily- sell vacations with schedules that read- "arriving somewhere between June 8 and 10; sailing 36 hours later; arriving next port June 14-16...) You'd still need engines on the boat/ship; for storms and in-harbor; but otherwise- sail only. Rail to port.

Ok, it's a small niche. But fabulous, I think- and it would make the news, bigtime; and even maybe set a style for travel that is best- not fastest.

Similar stuff could be done on land- but I haven't thought as much about it. I've had sails on the brain since I was a kid.

Anonymous said...

The reason for plane travel is just that it's faster. You could see the world on a train, a bike (I know people who have gone across more than one continent that way) a bus, a boat - you'd just have to take enough time to do it. And collectively getting more vacation time is going to be easier than reversing global warming.

A lot of the flying I see people do is the "what the heck, the airfare was cheap" sort - nobody gains cultural understanding from a weekend.

May said...

The rational of using air travel for eco tourism sounds just like the rational that "historians" used to strip native tribes of their most valued artifacts. They figured since they were going to be extinct soon, it didn't matter. I find both attitudes smug and horrifically self-centered.

Greenpa said...

Rosa: "A lot of the flying I see people do is the "what the heck, the airfare was cheap" sort - nobody gains cultural understanding from a weekend."

Yeah, totally agree.

May: "The rationale of using air travel for eco tourism..." etc. Partially agree. How about Mom and Pop taking their kids to (x) to see something of the world? It's possible to combine vacation and education.

I have 2 sons; both very bright, raised green. One has spent 5 months in China after his BS, including way in the backcountry. He understands "poor" (by USA standards). The other has traveled to Europe, NZ, Oz, and resorts in Mexico. He- doesn't, quite. He gets it perfectly on an intellectual basis, and is as compassionate as one can be from that standpoint.

But for the visceral understanding of the other places in the world- I don't think there's any substitute for spending real time there. No, in most cases, "eco-tourism" doesn't really qualify. But it's a start.

I once had the privilege of riding on the ferry up Lake Chelan in WA, after days backpacking; and sitting next to a very senior National Parks official. Who had also been backpacking.

The conversation got around to "why do the Parks build so many paved camping grounds for those RV and trailer people, when they just spend all their time in their vehicles watching TV on their satellite dish, or playing cards?"

His answer was thought provoking. He'd been watching it all for decades; and what he saw was- the children of the RV/Trailer crew- mostly came back to the parks as- backpackers. Because they'd seen it, as children- and knew there was more here than they were getting from the pavement.

Anonymous said...

See here for a great take on carbon offsets...

Jennifer said...

I think you need to balance the air travel with the TIME you will spend. If you are going to go on a plane, you should spend a good amount of time in the place as a tourist. Heck.. for many places, this tourism is helping save forests and natural places (ecotourism).

As with any trip, the longer you spend somewhere, the less wasteful it is. Think of a trip to the store in the car. If it's for a loaf of bread you hsould have picked up on your grocery trip last weekend, it's wasteful. If it's for two weeks or a months worth of groceries and part of another trip to go pick up whatever, thne it becomes less wasteful.

Anonymous said...

I didn't have the means to travel at all growing up, but then I married someone from another country, so now we have to make it a part of our budget to visit about every year or so. I feel so ridiculous doing my bits of conservation--no bags ever, local food eating, not turning on the heat, etc.--when I know that our long flight every year makes us more wasteful than someone who doesn't do any of these things but who stays home watching TV.

With that said, the US is a country of people from differenct countries, and it is also a country with a lot of global influence. I think that it is important for Americans to travel at least a bit if it helps them understand other countries and cultures more. I mean, would we want a president who has never left this continent?...ahem...

Anna Marie said...

I've never been on a plane. Mostly because the opportunity and desire never presented itself. Now, I'm kind of proud of that, though it's through no work of my own @@.

I am considering going down to California, to see their academy of science (so cool!), and I feel guilty about how much carbon that will release. I want to go by train, because I think that would be cool, and because I think it has a lesser impact on the earth than driving would. And really, driving all the way to Cali? Blah, please no.

Shadow said...

There are many, MANY more selfish acts than traveling. I fly for business quite often & I have a deeper understanding of China, Taiwan, Korea, and Thailand now that I have been there a few times. It is expensive, but it's also one of my goals in life to get my DH on a plane to see the far east as well.

For me, it was such an eye-opening experience that I want to share it. We'll do it using frequent flier miles, and we'll stay for at least 2 weeks. I think there are many other choices that are just as selfish and add up to as large of an impact on a per-year basis.

Anonymous said...

I mean, of course it is. I'd say every single thing rich people do while much of the world lives in squalor is selfish (and I'm guilty of this too, relatively speaking). But does that stop them? Of course not.

I once had an idiotic boss who bought those corn-based water bottles for the whole office so we'd stop using plastic ones because she was sooo concerned about the environment, while at the same time, she was jetsetting all over the world like every week without a second thought.

I guess carbon offsets help, but as far as I know about that process, it'd really be best not to fly in the first place.

Meadowlark said...

Ruchi touched on an interesting point - many of us are willing to give a "pass" to air travel, but ohmigoddon'tsaySUV.

Carbon is carbon is carbon.
And yes, I drive an SUV and haul my life in it and live in the sticks. But I don't fly. Do I get a "pass" for this? Because I'm certainly using less than someone who drives a car (that is old and pollutes more than my vehicle ever thought of) but flies here and there.

Just a thought.

Crunchy Chicken said...

I don't think anyone is arguing that travel isn't fun, doesn't have some sort of utility or, as many people have said, doesn't have some intrinsic or life-changing value it in. The question is, can similar experiences be achieved without air travel, in other words, using a different form of transportation that has less impact? Do we even consider that when making travel choices?

Clearly, Greenpa has, but I know a lot of us don't. In many cases air travel is cheaper than taking the train and a hell of a lot more palatable than taking Greyhound.

I've travelled extensively through Mexico, living and travelling like the locals. We drove to So. Cal, took the train to Guadalara, bus to Mexico City and bus to Merida and the Yucatan. Was it comfy? Hell no - taking local trains in Mexico is not for the faint of heart. Neither is flying on a local airline for that matter (I wanted to travel back overland, but I lost that argument with my husband).

So, being on the ground and seeing how people live in the far outskirts of poverty stricken areas has certainly framed the way I view the world. What I'm yammering about here, is that, there are many ways to skin a cat. And, it's possible to have life changing experiences without expending a lot of carbon.

Clearly, visiting family or friends in overseas regions has its limitations, but humans have been transient for a long time. Do we need to visit those individuals as frequently as we do, or do we do it just because we can and want to. It all boils down to the need vs. want argument.

But, this topic may be moot in the next few decades unless some major advancements in jet fuel come about. And, I suspect that air travel will be reduced to what it was 60 years ago - only for the rich and/or "important".

Anonymous said...

I don't fly anymore, but the truth is it's because I'd rather not get on an airplane with my kids if I can possibly avoid it. Our family lives nearby, and so we take local vacations and we're fine with that.

I think that there is some value to travel that makes it worthwhile. But I think most people could get that out of taking a single trip to a less-advantaged area. Frequent trips for pleasure are probably selfish, considering the resources they use. I am much less traveled than other people I know, and I don't think that I'm really the poorer for it.

Sharlene said...

I don't air travel is selfish. I do think using private planes to go from one place to another to save timecan be borderline selfish. Or perhaps flying for the sport of flying with no destination in mind. BUt I also think there are alot more harmful things to focus than air travel. If air travel and its pollutants is the worst thing we have to worry about then I would say we are doing very well as a planet.

e4 said...

Sharlene said: "But I also think there are alot more harmful things to focus than air travel. If air travel and its pollutants is the worst thing we have to worry about then I would say we are doing very well as a planet."

That's exactly the point though. Air travel and its pollutants are about the worst way to travel, and most of that travel is unnecessary. To steal a quote from George Monbiot:
"...the climate impact of aeroplanes is not confined to the carbon they produce. They release several different kinds of gases and particles. Some of them cool the planet, others warm it. The overall impact, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is a warming effect 2.7 times that of the carbon dioxide alone. .. (and)...aviation has been growing faster than any other source of greenhouse gasses...Unless something is done to stop this growth (in flying habits) aviation will overwhelm all the cuts we manage to make elsewhere."

I see a lot of rationalizing of air travel here. I see very little true justification.

Kim said...

I think it was just went to Tunisia and was writing about it.

But onto your question. It's not an easy answer.

I don't see it entirely as a question of "do we have the right?" I see it also as a question of "Do we have the responsibility?"

On the one hand, in terms of "do we have the the right?" yes it is selfish. You can't really get around that.

On the other hand, in terms of "do we have the responbility?" Yes, we do. It's not only selfish, it's wise. First of all, Americans would be a lot better off to actually expose themselves to other cultures in the world, and understand that we are not the be all and the end all. Secondly, do you know how many people in so many regions of the world are entirely dependant on the dollars the get from affluent American and European tourists? If we were all to stop visiting these areas so as to not create the carbon output A LOT of people would suffer for that lost income.

I think the way to balance out the selfisihness that comes as a result of people assuming they "have the right" because they have the money vs. responsibilty to be educated about the world at large, and to share our wealth by being tourists in economies that depend on that money is to be the "right kind" of tourist.

Do things such as frequent businesses that are locally owned and which put their earnings back into their local economy, support individuals who use sustainable techniques...Don't do such things as go to an exocitic local and spend all of your time staying in a hotel owned by a multi-billion dollar international corporation and jet-skiing on top of already bleaching out coral reefs.

That's my over-simplified answer to a complex question.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Actually, the comment was from another blog, not greenasathistle, just for the record.

Heather said...

Instead of 'is it selfish', why not ask 'is it worth the consequences'? Bangladeshi scientist Dr Atiq Rahman reckons that for every 10,000 tonnes CO2 emitted, a Bangladeshi family dies. The land on which they live and grown their food and the water that the drink become contaminated by salt and they die. He thinks, for every 10,000 tonnes *your* family emits, you should take in the Bangladeshi family *you* are displacing. You can read more about Bangladesh and Dr. Rahman's ideas here. He's not a quack - he's an IPCC scientist who's well-respected in UN circles.

For reference, the average American over an 85 year lifespan is responsible for emitting around 2000 tonnes of CO2 (taking 2003 data from here
). So, roughly speaking, every five Americans (or Kiwis) conducting 'business as usual' are displacing and probably inadvertantly killing a Bangladeshi family.

We can fly as much as we want, so long as we are prepared to take that family into our own homes. If we carry on as usual yet don't take them in, we are probably killing them. Is our flying/SUV/beef etc. *worth* the incovenience of having them in our homes, or their deaths if we don't?

It's a question I'm definitely asking myself as I make my choices.

--Heather from New Zealand

Anonymous said...

Crunchy, we've managed to see a good bit of the US without flying (not visit my brother in South America, though - not til the kiddo's a little older, I think.) Your Mexico trip sounds fabulous, and way more of a learning experience than flying to Cabo San Lucas for spring break (which some of my old coworkers did)

On an individual-trip basis, it's not a whole lot better to drive than to fly (we did the math, and the break-even point is 3 people in a recent-model Toyota Camry). But what I've noticed is that, since we have to take so much time for each trip we don't take as many (4-day drive to the Texas coast one year, 3 days to the Grand Canyon last year). We have friends who fly five or six times a year - Christmas, Thanksgiving, niece or nephew's birthday, and a few "couples getaway" weekends - on the same two weeks of vacation time.

When I was young, childless, and worked part-time, I did some train travel based on Amtrak's weekly special deals - $50 round trip, Chicago to Boston, one time. Without that flexibility, train trips are *way* more expensive, and I wouldn't take a toddler on a multi-day bus trip.

Aside from environmentalism, one of the problems I have with air travel is that it sucks away the middle-class business that makes buses safe & clean, and trains affordable. That degrades the bus & train infrastructure for people who don't have access to cheap hub cities for flights. My hometown has an airport because the Senator from there earmarks federal money for it; but it hasn't had a Greyhound station for about a decade, so the city has to cough up the money to have the (only) city bus drive an hour out to the highway to pick up Greyhound riders.

People's lives are different -if your family is spread across contintents, that's different than if you (like I did one year, a long time ago) saw "Fly to London or Edinborough for $299!" and went to the UK for a weekend. I do think we could pare out a lot of the casual flying without too much pain, and leave the carbon from important trips alone.

From the lion's mouth said...

So I guess all you people who are saying air travel is selfish are going to stop selfishly driving your cars?

Because travel by car is responsible for more than twice as much carbon as air travel.

e4 said...

Rebekka - flawed logic. For one thing, I don't know too many people who fly who don't also have cars. Not saying it doesn't happen, but most people who fly also drive.

Besides, driving 10 miles to the store or to a job is a whole lot different than flying a thousand miles to "better ourselves" as some people here propose.

Just to be clear, I'm not excluding myself from the realm of selfish acts. But let's not pretend that flying is somehow altruistic.

e4 said...

I have to say the tourism argument is problematic too. Pouring lots of money into a country so we can traipse around their wonders and buy their trinkets is all well and good until the economy falls apart and they're suddenly left with an economy built on a house of cards.

Besides, it's very easy to prove that more money doesn't make a place better or it's people happier. Examples are plentiful.

Crunchy Chicken said...

I'd add more right now, but I have to go make dinner...

Anyway, I wholeheartedly agree with e4 and what he's saying. Thanks for reading my mind and saving me time typing.

Green Fundraising Ideas said...

I was simply struck by how passionate people are about this issue. I live under the flight pattern of the planes coming out and in of the airport. It is trying at times listening to the noise. It also makes me realize just how much people travel on planes. I'm hoping they come up with a more eco-friendly way to achieve air travel.

JessTrev said...

Interesting conversation, as usual. I tend to feel less strongly about tourism vs visiting family -- since I have a 97 year old grandmother across the country. Seems like some distinction is in order. But I agree with you that it's degrees of rationalization. I also feel uncomfortable with carbon offsets -- I feel like emitting the carbon in the first place is something I should avoid - so offsets smack of guilt-relievers that don't impact the bottom line.

Katie @ said...

As if there weren't enough debate going on here, my husband and I struggle with something. There is a program called Engineers Across Borders at his university. As engineers passionate about the environment and alternative energy, this group flies to poor countries to install solar panels at schools to provide them with light in places like Rowanda.

All those students flying across the world multiple times to provide an alternative energy solution... is that greener than the gas burning system the villages had before?

The subject of flying is so tricky. It's been really interesting reading how everyone feels. Sorry to throw in something new to the mix. I'm an American living in Europe... the effects of flying are on my mind all the time.

Anonymous said...

I live in Idaho and have family in Oregon and Alaska and some back East. We have always flown once a year or 2 years to see each other. I don't want to keep doing this. I wonder how much less carbon would be used by taking a train? Would that be a big difference?

Bucky said...

I'm late to the party here. It's been interesting. People seem to feel strongly about their flying.

I agree that travel can be transformative. I just have a question for all of those that are trying to justify their pollution -- how has your travel made an actual difference in the world? Your travel has been of great benefit to you. What about to the rest of us?

I'm a huge fan of education, but at what price?

Anonymous said...

Interesting question Bucky. But truly how much of anything we do is actually for someone else with no benefit to ourselves?

We lessen our carbon footprint simply for the rest of the world or because it also benefits us (or our children) too? We lessen the chemicals in our life because it only benefits the watershed and not because we aren't worried about the effects of chemicals on ourselves or our children? It is a rare person that would continually do something that has absolutely no benefit for themselves. Somewhere there is a benefit no matter how obscure.

But a small example... I went to Central America to learn to speak Spanish. I just wasn't learning it in my mostly English speaking environment. I could read and write but not speak. I succeeded in my goal. After coming back from my first trip, I volunteered for a year teaching Spanish speakers English and Citizenship so they could pass their Citizenship exam. I became a volunteer for many years that involved visiting a home bound elderly man once a week to provide companionship. He only spoke Spanish. Spanish speaking volunteers are apparently hard to find. But I didn't volunteer solely for the benefit of the people I helped and I won't pretend that I did. I got quite a bit out of that volunteer work even something as simple as someone to talk to on a lonely night.

Anonymous said...

Rebekka, not that it's the same issue, but - if you subtract out the long trips we take instead of flying, we drive our car about 10% as much as "average American". We bike or bus for commuting, and bike or walk for local errands about 75% of the time.

A wholistic look at your total carbon consumption is a pretty big project, so Crunchy breaks it down into individual issues. But really, we should all be working on all of them.

Anonymous said...

I have some things in common with previous posters, such as my travel being responsible for opening my eyes and mind and making me want to contribute in a positive way to the world, understanding in a tangible way the many many issues we face and create, and flying, but then using low carbon emission local transport, and next time we fly we'll do carbon offsets.

But, the bigger thing to me is the issue of quantification of environmental cost. I would like to see the costs of offseting all environmentally damaging things be collected; either taxed, or mandatory carbon/other offsets. People will then consume less (and maybe actually understand their impact), and their consumption will have less impact.

Anonymous said...

To Bucky:

International travel inspired me to become a civil engineer in water resources. The issues I saw traveling made me aware of people who have poor access to clean water and sanitation, and how they are suffering. It also showed me how people are suffering in poverty to supply western countries with commercial goods that we throw in landfills. I could see the effects of poor environmental stewardship, and also the effects of good environmental stewardship. I'm just an average mainstream middle class white person, who really needed to see it to understand and feel it, and do something about it. As a non-traditional 30-something student, I started a chapter of Engineers Without Borders at my school, and now every year for the past 3 years, 15+ students design engineering projects in developing countries for their senior design, then travel to implement them. They get a deeper understanding of their work as engineers, and of the need in the world. When their firm is consulted to do something like constructing infrastructure in a developing country, they will do it from a different place in their hearts. It changes everyone who participates, for the better.

My travels in developed countries helped me understand history and other cultures and my place in those. It's helped me talk with people I interact with about important issues, and discuss and deepen our perspectives. It helps me vote, it helps me volunteer, helps me make decisions on what I need and what I want, it helps me raise my child. And it has helped me get more out of life, and will be passed on to my offspring and others.

Anonymous said...

I don't fly, have kids or eat meat (because these things are hugely selfish!) and drive less than 10 miles per week. I made my life this way because it's the least harmful way I can think to live. I don't think I deserve more than that. By the way, anything (a square inch of dirt, sitting under a tree - think Buddha) can be transformative if one simply pays attention.

Anonymous said...

Haha, yeah, I was wondering if it was me you were talking about -- but no, I definitely didn't go on a plane to Tunisia so I could see environmental damage up-close and in-person. And in fact, I was there with about 8 people for a group vacation and we specifically chose that country because it was smack in the middle of where everyone was currently living; so in a roundabout way, it involved the least amount of flying possible.

But personally, I agree with Oldnovice on this topic -- money from tourism is keeping a LOT of these poorer countries afloat, and the people there realize this. As well, no, there is no substitution for face-to-face interaction with another culture and landscape. Looking at a National Geographic mag won't do it; neither will reading book after book about a place. Plus, if you have friends or family living abroad, no amount of Skype video will replace an actual embrace. I will fully admit that air travel is selfish and destructive to the Earth, but it's something I'm going to do a couple times each year, so that's why I'm trying to do everything that I can in other parts of my life to treat the planet well.

The Nurturing Pirate said...

Ah, Greenpa's comment about sail travel got me thinking about my childhood. When I was a teenager, my family and I lived on a sailboat and sailed around the world. How long did that take? 4 years. So, while we saw a LOT of the world (and how they really lived), it took a long time. Really, it was a matter of an entirely different lifestyle. While I LOVE Greenpa's argument for more sail travel, I see two problems: time (people already get bent out of shape if they miss their flight and are delayed for four hours, never mind an entire DAY or two, due to a bad weather) and location. There are already sailing vacations, but they're located in places that you have to fly to: the Caribbean, the South Pacific, the Med.

Anonymous said...

Bring back the zeppelin, I there was a way to travel in style :)
By the way, did you know you can actually travel as a passenger on some freighter ships? I found a website devoted to that a while there are other options than flying.

Megan said...

I wish this discussion had gone on longer.

From what I've read, flights involve both CO2 and nitrous-something-or-other (can you tell I'm not a climatologist?) that is LOADS worse than CO2. Comparing it to a per mile car ride isn't the same. (Although yes, we should be trying to limit the use of all of them).

Is it selfish? Absolutely. I live in the UK, my entire family (apart from my husband) is in the US. I miss them a lot. We e-mail, we call, and I'm trying to go from flying home twice a year to once every two (and would do it even less if I didn't think they would freak out). I will not be flying for tourism anymore. Period. I simply can't justify that lack of respect--no matter how much I would gain from the experience.

There seems to be an awful lot of cognitive dissonance in this thread.

Your carbon footprint is your responsibility and it affects everyone in the world and flying greatly adds to it. That's the bottom line.

Anonymous said...

I do absolutely think air travel is selfish.

So travelling is so beneficial to you, but how does that help Bangladesh when they are covered in water? If you really care about the planet, then if you really must travel, use transport other than air and stay there for a long period, don't use fly around here and there for a week. Always wanted to go to India? Fine, spend a year or two or more there, work for a development agency or something.

That being said, of course I am selfish too, and of course I sometimes choose to put my own desires ahead of the planet.

After not flying anywhere in 4 years, I flew twice this year. I do feel kind of bad about it, not so much the trip to see family as the professional conference I attended (totally optional). At least I don't drive a car though (over 30 years old and I've never had a license!).

Everyone is so quick to say that MY travel is justified, it's the OTHER people's travel that isn't, but is that really the truth? The truth is we are all trying to justify our actions, but are they really justifiable?