Continued from Claire’s post here.
There’s now vanishingly little doubt among scientists that climate change is happening on an unprecedented scale and that it is caused by human activity.
The average European has a carbon footprint of around 7 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. A single long haul flight from Delhi to London accounts for around one tonne of that, so taking one or more flights a year accounts for a huge proportion of the carbon we’re personally responsible for.
Keeping below the 2°C limit of warming above which scientists believe climate change will have catastrophic consequences in our lifetimes requires big cuts in emissions starting now. Numerous unproductive climate summits have shown how unlikely governments are to make the necessary changes on their own (there’s yet another ‘last chance’ summit coming up in Paris in December).
It’s now up to you and I to lead by example. The simple and convenient solutions promoted by some parts of the green movement over the last couple of decades (not overfilling your kettle, using the stairs instead of the lift and carrying a reusable shopping bag, etc) are not going to cut it on their own. We need to set our sights higher and reduce more, but this is not austerity in another form – quite the opposite. Scientists, environmentalists and even some politicians are suggesting lots of changes that can not only help divert catastrophe, but simultaneously create jobs, promote equality and generally make us all happier. Claire and I reckon transport is going to be a big part of this.
Why not offset?
In times gone by when I’ve declined to take a flight for a holiday or to a work conference, people have often asked why I don’t just offset the carbon. Just tick that box to say that a bunch of trees will be planted somewhere abstract, suck up the carbon and leave the planet just as healthy as it was before your flight, they say. It sounds great and it might help airlines sell a few tickets concerned people might not otherwise buy.
However, there are some major problems:
- There’s nothing to say that the carbon offset solution you’re being sold wouldn’t have happened anyway. Did the net number of trees planted go up after you ticked the box? We don’t really know and there’s little transparency.
- Many offsetting solutions (take the tree planting example again) take years to reach maturity and reduce anything near the level of carbon they’re designed to. The science suggests that we don’t have time for that.
- We can’t afford to invest in airlines or increase air traffic whether we offset or not. We’ve got to simultaneously invest in carbon reducing practices like reforestation and renewable energy whilst also divesting from polluting, carbon intensive industries.
If you’ve felt inspired by our blog, maybe you’ll consider taking the train for a journey that you’d normally fly. If you’re in the UK, you might be pleasantly surprised at how comfortable and fast European trains are to nearby countries. If you’re in India you could take a very comfortable Rajdani Express train between cities that you might previously have flown between (ice-cream is included in the ticket price!).
We’d love to hear from you in the comments if you decide your next long trip will be an overland one.