TL;DR: I fly a HECK of a lot, so this one is hard for me; flying emits a scary amount of carbon emissions; there's no way around this except doing it less; some do-able and sensible alternatives I'm trying (it's not as hard as you'd think), plus an easy way to offset emissions when you do fly.
I'll start with a confession.
On January 25 of this year, my husband and I drove south from our home town of Brisbane to our new town of Sydney, leaving everybody we loved in the world 800km behind us.
In March, we flew to Brisbane for a family wedding, and back again.
In April, we flew to Italy (via Dubai) for a family holiday, and back again.
In June, I flew to Brisbane to visit my mum (it was her Mothers Day present), and back again.
In July, we flew to the Sunshine Coast for a spontaneous visit to family, and back again.
In August, I flew to Melbourne for an academic conference, and back again later the same day.
In August, Mick flew to Brisbane for work and to sort out the stuff we'd left behind in our storage unit, and back again.
In September, we will both be flying to Brisbane for a friend's wedding, and back again.
In December, we will be flying to Brisbane AGAIN for the holidays.
I'm telling you this so that you know I'm not better at this than you are.
Aviation is woven into the fabric of my life. My dad has been an air traffic controller for over 30 years. My parents have lived in a different city to their respective families of origin since I was small, necessitating regular pilgrimages to visit grandparents and cousins. I don't remember the first time I boarded an aeroplane, only that I've felt that hard gangway carpet under my feet at least twice a year for as long as I can remember, and with increasing regularity as an adult.
I'm a free bird; my number one personal value is FREEDOM. I'm the person whose solution to a month-long gap between rental properties is to fly to Bali and live there in the interim. (We actually did this.) I'm a millennial, and if there's one thing we millennials are good at, it's taking long flights to picturesque destinations so that we can post on instagram about it. In the last 12 months alone I've flown to Indonesia twice, for no real reason except that we could, and to Italy.
So what's the problem?
This. This is the problem.
That, in case you haven't clicked on it, is a link to a truly horrifying participatory infographic about the impact of the flights you take. I suggest you take a minute to go and plug your favourite flight routes in now.
According to the tool in the link, there are 13 countries in the world where the average resident generates fewer carbon emissions IN A WHOLE YEAR than I do by taking a single return flight from Sydney to Brisbane (a trip I plan to have taken four times by the end of this year.)
Flying less is one of the four most effective things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint. One study estimated that you would save an estimated 2.8 tonnes of carbon emissions annually by skipping one long-haul return flight each year, and that if a person takes a yearly long-haul flight and eats an average amount of meat, they use up their entire carbon budget for the year through those two activities alone.
There's no way around it, you guys: if you fly a lot, you need to fly less.
I obviously LOVE flying. I love travel. I love stepping onto a plane with a small bag and waking up on a different continent. I live with the reality that almost every person I've ever loved lives in a different state than I do, and maintaining relationships involves a lot of travelling back and forth from everybody involved. And I'm ambitious. I love my work. And until now, I've never let location stop me from taking a job or attending an event. Why would I, when I can just jump on a plane?
I'm hoping for a wonderful future in which aeroplanes run on bio-fuel, and high-speed solar-powered boats are the new normal for moving between coastal cities, but until then, I'm personally going to do my best to reduce my flying. Even by a couple of flights a year.
Things I'm trying:
Offsetting the carbon impact of my flights
Airlines usually offer this as an option at checkout when you're buying your flights - just tick the box to pay a little extra towards a carbon-sequestering endeavour to offset the emissions you'll be responsible for generating. (It's usually, like $3 for a domestic flight, so not a big deal.)
Additionally, so I can feel super sure that my impact is covered, I'm going to start offsetting all my flights a second time through Greenfleet. This is a super simple and cheap way to contribute to the planting of native forests in Australia (you can offset your household car use too!)
Of course, growing a forest takes time, and given the state of emergency we're in, it's better not to create the emissions at all. So I'm also trying:
Taking a train or coach
I haven't actually done this yet, but I've started to investigate the options. Yes, it's inconvenient and takes longer than flying. Yes, it can sometimes be more expensive. But you know what else is inconvenient and expensive? Cataclysmic environmental events that destroy our way of life. The extinction of the human race. Stuff like that. So, I think I'll take the train.
I'm considering going to the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change's National Conference in November, in Canberra. In the past I would have automatically booked a flight, but a cursory google told me that a Greyhound bus from Sydney takes 4 hours and costs $5. Um, that seems fine.
We haven't yet booked our return flights from Brisbane after Christmastime, and we are seriously considering spending 14 hours meandering home via coach and train. It'll be the summer holidays - not like we have anything better to do. And it might turn out to be an enriching experience, much as living without a car turned out to be an unexpected delight.
Just not going
My husband works for a company based in Melbourne, and his boss recently raised the idea of flying in the interstate team members in for a few days of bonding. In other words, me and Mick would be offered an all-paid-for trip to Melbourne to spend a few days drinking beer, eating and having fun. Why would I say no?
Well, it'd save a flight. It would be nice to go, but I don't HAVE to go. So I'm thinking I could just not go, and that will be one fewer flight I take this year.
It's often really difficult to say "no" to trips for work reasons or to visit family. It's a lot easier to control the trips we take purely for fun. So until the impact of aviation is reduced through new technologies, we're going to do our best to avoid flying for leisure, and take our holidays locally, at destinations we can access via lower-impact transport like the train.
What do you guys think? Do you fly a little or a lot?
I'll keep you updated with my progress.
A fantastic piece from another avid flyer about the lie of cheap, easy, endless plane travel.
Plus more information about offsetting flights and whether it makes it okay. (I LOVE the idea of creating a "carbon budget" for travel, aiming to cut carbon emissions in other areas of your life to make up for the impact of your flights.)
Also, just stop driving everywhere all the damn time.