This article is designed to inform you of essential facts, prompt you to reassess certain behaviours and empower you to be part of the solution.
The use of fossil fuels is accelerating the climate and ecological breakdown as billions of tonnes of CO2 are pumped into the atmosphere across the world, every day.
After energy production, transport is the second largest contributor to carbon emissions. Transport that runs on fossil fuels, particularly cars, is also killing us in vast numbers. Pollution now kills three times as many people across the world as AIDs, tuberculosis and malaria combined and is the world’s greatest threat to children’s health.
And don’t think you’re safe in your car with the “inside air only” button switched on. Research shows that cars trap air pollution inside, creating a toxic, personal atmosphere for the driver and passengers.
Beyond our own health, cars and fossil fuel transport are destroying wildlife. The constant noise, movements and pollution deadens our natural world to the point where many animals are now struggling to breed, feed and survive. Roads carve up the countryside, fencing off biodiversity and starving ecosystems. Even plants struggle to grow amid the constant blanket of exhaust fumes.
We have to find a better way of moving, and in that we all have a role to play.
Redefine your movement
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us have been forced to reassess how we move round. Though it has been an undeniable struggle for many, those who have worked from home have seen how ridiculous it was to spend up to and over three hours a day travelling to an office to do exactly the same job they did from their kitchen. Of course, this is a middle class luxury – but so is driving a car.
There has never been a better time to reassess the regular journeys you make, and a more dangerous time to simply fall back into the bad habits you had.
Ask yourself; was I happy in my transport routine, was it necessary, was it healthy, was it my best option? You could find yourself making profound and life changing decisions based on simple questions.
Covid-19 has changed air travel forever. Not only does this hyper connectivity makes us vulnerable to highly infectious diseases, but the unprecedented and sudden reduction in global air travel has made a simple fact undeniable: we do not need to fly as much as we did.
Exploring the world, visiting new places and having a broader perspective of the world we inhabit is a fantastic thing for those who can afford it. And when you live somewhere that is cold and wet most of the time, it’s great to go somewhere warm and sunny. But we should be very clear about the impact and actions of flying when we do.
- The carbon emitted during air travel cannot be offset. CO2 from plane engines is high up in the atmosphere and cannot be sequestered by planting trees. Having said this, everything helps and all flights should be offset in some form.
- Every flight matters. A return journey from London to Rome will expel 234kg of CO2 per person – that’s if the flight is full. A return to New York is close to a tonne of CO2, which is more than the average person in over 56 countries produces in a year.
- Airlines do not exist to take you on holiday. They exist as a business, selling a service to make profit for their shareholders. In 2019, easyJet recorded operating profits of over £466 million. Before November 2019, they had yet to offset any of their emissions or restore any of the environmental damage they had caused.
- In 2019, passengers flew a total of 8.1 trillion km. The equivalent of flying to the moon and back over 10 million times.
- The technology for zero carbon airline travel is decades away. Even with efficiencies, in fuels and aerodynamics, it will not be enough to change the industry.
Before Covid-19, aviation emissions were expected to triple by 2050. With governments and industry desperate to get back to the way things were, this is still a possible scenario that would make halting catastrophic climate change impossible.
As passengers and potential customers, we have the power to stop this madness and save our future.
- Ask yourself this simple question; do I have to fly? Some flights are important, like seeing family on special occasions, but others aren’t. No, you can’t get a train everywhere, but is there another destination or holiday alternative?
- The majority of business flights are unnecessary. Telepresence – a fancy term for video conferencing and other audio/visual technologies – is more than capable of achieving the majority of business needs across long distances. Challenge business flights in your workplace and assess whether they are critical. If they are, ask how they are going to be offset.
- The concept of a personal air mile allowance has been floated in recent years. The idea involves everybody having a limited number of miles they can travel by air per year. Once you use up your allowance, you would have to buy spare miles off somebody else. Though it is likely a long way off, there is no reason why you couldn’t implement a system within your family.
- We have stated how the literal emissions by flight cannot be directly offset. But that shouldn’t stop you from trying and having an effect on the ground. But be careful who you offset with in order to ensure your money is being used effectively.
If you do have to fly, there are small things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.
Pack light. Every kilogram on board means more fuel burned.
Fly direct. Planes use the most fuel when they take off and land, so fly direct to reduce this burden.
Fly economy. It’s cheaper and your emissions are a third of what they are in business or first class.
Choose your airline carefully. Different companies have different emissions standards. Some have none. As of November 2019, only one major airline had a fund for offsetting their fuel emissions.
Tell people. These factors make a very small difference when you consider the flight. But talking about these issues normalises the conversation and makes other people act in a more positive way.
Electric vehicles (EVs) address some of the issues with private car use. They are less noisy and don’t emit CO2. However, the manufacturing of batteries requires large scale lithium mining which, if unsustainably sourced, is harmful to the environment. This of course is nothing compared to the damage done by the extraction, transport, use and misuse of fossil fuels – but it is something to be aware of.
EVs are still a relatively new technology compared to fossil fuel engines. So, as their demand grows in the future, the manufacturing process is expected to improve and refine – particularly considering the environmental drivers behind EVs.
Two other factors may prevent you switching to an EV; mileage and cost. The mileage factor if often misleading. Have you worked out how far you actually drive on a regular basis. Chances are, it is a far smaller distance than you think and your new EV would be perfectly capable of covering the distance. As for cost, it is expected that EVs will undercut their fossil fuel counterparts by 2022 in most regions, at which point the EV will seem like the obvious choice while the fossil fuel engine will look more like the dusty relic it already is.
In all our communities, we need to limit the number of cars on our streets and journeys made. The simplest, quickest and cheapest way to do this is through car sharing. The vast majority of car journeys are made by single occupants. If you give someone a lift, you have removed a car off the road. In times of Covid-19, this is not as a simple as it used to be. But as the world re-emerges from the pandemic and moves to a new normal, ride sharing and carpooling could be a change for the better you can instantly make.
Talk to people in your work and find out how different people get to work.
Have you ever thought of ride sharing as an option for getting around?
Mass transport systems
Many mass transport systems still run on fossil fuels, either directly or through the electricity production they require. But the fact they transport vast numbers of people compared to a private car makes them an unequivocally better option.
Of course, in the wake of Covid-19, precautions should be taken on all forms of public transport and people should follow local authority or government advice. But this isn’t a reason for not using mass transport. It is a cheaper, healthier, more sustainable way to travel around when you have to.
Walking and cycling
Many countries and major cities are reassessing their infrastructure and street design to accommodate and prioritise walking and cycling. Though not an option for everyone, walking and cycling are undeniably healthier, better options for transport.
Many companies offer schemes and funds for purchasing and maintaining bicycles, or you could use hire bikes from docking stations. You don’t have to be clothed head to toe in lycra with fancy clip in shoes to be an everyday cyclist. Just wear ordinary clothes that are easy to change in and out of if you need. We recommend a good pair of gloves to keep your hands warm and dry and always wear a helmet.
Walking and cycling are not the only methods. E-Scooters are becoming very popular in multiple global markets, either rented or bought. E-Skateboards too (although you could go old school for a challenge).
The important thing is to think outside the box, and outside of your car, to see what better alternatives are available to you.
Does your work offer a cycle scheme? Could you use a day rent bike? How about renting a bike for a couple of months and see how it goes?
Can you walk to work? What would be the route? Don’t just focus on the quickest – a slightly longer journey could take you through parks or less polluted areas making it far more enjoyable.
Set a goal. Decide to walk, cycle or get to work other than driving for one month. Write down the pros and cons and then decide what to do next.
Cruise ships are unique in the extraordinary amount of energy they require. Unlike other large ships, it’s not just the engine that needs powering. Cruise ships are full of restaurants, hotels, casinos and other entertainment activities that require constant power. Cruise ships operating in just European seas emitted ten times more sulphur dioxide from burning fuel than all 260 million passenger vehicles on the continent.
Cruise ships burn heavy fuel oil (HFO) to power themselves, the dirtiest fossil fuel available and 3,500 times more polluting than road diesel. Cruise ships are notoriously unregulated too; not required to fit particulate filters or catalytic converters like a car does to clean air exhaust.
When in port, ships don’t turn off their engines. They sit there, pumping out particulates, sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and other disease causing gasses into the local population. This amount is often equal to tens of thousands of new cars suddenly appearing in the port. In Barcelona, 105 cruise ships emitted more sulphur dioxide into the city than 3 million cars. Diesel cars have been the focus of the air pollution crisis in Europe’s cities, but along the coasts of countries such as Norway, Denmark, Greece, Croatia and Malta just a handful of cruise ships are responsible for more nitrous oxide than the majority of the domestic car fleets.
Cruise ships travel very fast and close to shorelines. This causes damage to environmental areas usually protected by industries and human activity. This also makes cruises uniquely damaging to the environment. This is particularly important for the Arctic, where cruise popularity is rising 20% each year, where soot from ships exhausts settles on sea ice, accelerating its melting. This sea ice loss is devastating for Arctic wildlife and is heavily impacting Arctic communities.
Considering how few people actually use cruise ships and their exclusive nature, the amount of pollution they create is especially disproportionate (even within the travel industry). It is both a climate and social injustice that just five cruise ships are allowed to produce the same amount of sulphur dioxide as 260 million cars. It’s reasons like this that the industry is extremely hesitant to take responsibility and decarbonise. So far, no discernible action has been taken by any of the major cruise ship operators.
They may seem luxurious and efficient, but cruise ships are bad for your health, bad for the environment and bad for the population of every town they visit. You are sailing on a pollution machine that brings disease, damage and destruction wherever it sails.
You deserve a better holiday than one with such a disproportionate cost.
Transport involves large scale infrastructure and huge amounts of investment. This means that governments, states and councils hold the key. Many of these authorities, however, have vested interests in the existing incumbents and will sacrifice the safety of future generations for short term financial gain – often personal.
It is easy to be involved at the local, national and international level and demand the change in infrastructure and transport systems we need and deserve as consumers.
Particularly in the wake of Covid-19, when we are evaluating our methods of work, leisure, transport and travel, now is the time for governments to turn a corner and point transport in the direction of a cleaner, healthier and better quality transport model.
- Find out how to change the system and be part of a better democracy
- ACTIVISM: How to do more – from raising awareness to glueing yourself to a door