Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Flights for lights

I recently calculated my carbon footprint and was shocked to find it was double the target of 3.32 tonnes of CO2 a year per person.
This is the target recommended by the government if we are to reduce our environmental impact and lessen the impact of climate change.

I knew my footprint would be higher than I wanted because my holiday this year involves a long haul flight to visit my grandparents in America. It's a trip I haven't made since I was a spotty teenager and although I keep in contact by email it's not the same as a proper visit.

Sometimes you can't get around the need to fly. Research has shown that although giving up flying would have the most impact on reducing CO2 emissions, it's the thing people are least likely to want to go without.

People are generally happy to recycle, switch to energy saving light bulbs and even grow their own food. However, when you ask people to give up flights they are less receptive.

And I can understand why – I wouldn't want to be told I couldn't visit relatives abroad, and I doubt my boss (lovely as he is) would grant me six months off a year to slow travel around the globe.

What we need to do, however, is take flying a bit more seriously. A cheap flight to Holland might set you back just a few pounds in cash, but the real cost (incorporating the environmental cost) is much, much higher. Likewise, a flight to Scotland might be the quickest option, but definitely isn't a sustainable option.

I'm not willing to give up flying altogether, but I am willing to limit the trips I take by plane. My aim is to fly only once every four years. Last year I holidayed in Devon; this is my year of flight, so for the next two years I must be flight free.

This means I have to plan my holidays better, and take off a larger chunk of time in one go so I can travel by slower methods. The really nice thing is that it means I value this flight much more than I would if I flew every year. It means more because it's a luxury rather than the norm. It also means there is ample opportunity to explore home-grown holidays and really get to know the country I live in.

For all these reasons I was infuriated to see the latest Tesco ad which encourages shoppers to buy energy saving light bulbs in return for a reward of Airmiles.

I can't think of an example where 'every little helps' would be less appropriate. Just in case there is any doubt, switching to energy saving light bulbs but flying at every opportunity does nothing for the planet.