The topic of flight shaming is a hot one these days, and discussions on the impact of air travel and what it means for our environment are changing perspectives for travelers, airlines, travel agencies, and political parties. The Independent recently reported that “growth in air travel passenger numbers could halve due to climate change fears, according to new research.” 

While countries and companies are looking at how to face the issue, some are introducing offseting measures to help. France announced in June it will “introduce a tax on airlines flying from its airports to help support the environment”, while KLM Airlines celebrated its 100-year anniversary in October by instituting a sustainability program that included offering its “CO2ZERO carbon compensation programme free of charge and free of KLM branding to all airlines”, adding a reforestation initiative, and encouraging flyers to consider alternate modes of travel when possible.

While flying does place a major impact on the environment, the tides appear to be (albeit slowly) turning. In our own lives, we also have the opportunity to lessen our carbon footprint. Here, we detail ways we can make impactful choices, every day, to give back to the environment, and, when you do fly, how to make an offsetting impact in that mode of travel as well:

  • Eat less meat. One of the biggest offenders of carbon impact are methane-producing ruminants, which include cows, sheep, and goats. According to the Guardian, the production of livestock is more taxing than we may have realized: “Deforestation to make way for livestock, along with methane emissions from cows and fertilizer use, creates as much greenhouse gas emissions as all the world’s cars, trucks and airplanes. Meat rearing practices risk mass extinctions of other animals, as well as spawn significant pollution of streams, rivers and, ultimately, the ocean.”  What’s more, even your bacon, egg and cheese sandwich takes a toll. Turns out, the pre-made sandwich results in a carbon footprint of 1,441 grams CO2 equivalent. For comparison sake, driving your car 4 miles results in only a slightly higher carbon footprint, at 1,650 grams. 
  • Not ready to go vegetarian? Even cutting back makes a major difference. Scientific American found that “a vegetarian diet greatly reduces an individual’s carbon footprint, but switching to less carbon-intensive meats can have a major impact as well. For example, replacing all beef consumption with chicken for one year leads to an annual carbon footprint reduction of 882 pounds CO2.” The best way to effect change: eat less red meat, and make your sandwiches at home, with locally-sourced ingredients.
  • Buy used clothing, or at least reduce your purchases of fast fashion. According to Quantis, who measures global sustainability activity and researches solutions, the apparel and footwear industries together account for over 8 percent of global climate impact. This is higher than all international airline flights and maritime shipping trips combined. Fast fashion, in particular, results in one of the largest impacts on the environment, and most of what is purchased will be thrown away within a year. The best way to help: shop consignment or resale, or purchase from sustainably-sourced fashion brands such as Stella McCartney’s or Reformation’s.
  • Ride a bike, walk, or take public transport. For every mile you do these activities, or carpool, you can save a pound of carbon emissions. Or, switch to an electric or hybrid vehicle if you’ll be getting a new car. Even a 3-mile-per-gallon improvement in fuel efficiency will result in a 3,000-pound savings in C02 emissions.
  • Unplug. Most home devices continue to draw power even when switched off, accounting for as much as 10% of residential energy use. Considering that homes’ and businesses’ energy use accounts for 11% of the US’s total greenhouse gasses, even a small change such as unplugging can have a major impact. Try using a power strip to easily shut down devices when not in use, and drawing “phantom power”. This can lower your electricity bill by around $165 annually, and, if we in the U.S. all pitched in to minimize “always on” devices, save the environment 44 million metric tons of CO2 emissions. For ways to lessen your phantom power use, check out Hydro One’s handy guide. 

  • Replace your lighting sources & switch to energy-efficient appliances. Switching out 30 incandescent light bulbs in your home with LED lamps can save 4,000 lbs. of carbon emissions. And switching to energy-efficient appliances can save a whopping 130,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions over the lifetime of the products. Even better - if every household in the US made the energy-efficient appliance trade, we would eliminate 175 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions and collectively save $15 billion in energy costs every year.  
  • Buy local. Every food product that is sourced overseas has to travel by boat or plane, then by truck or train, to reach your local grocery store. Cutting back on these goods, shopping at your local farmer’s market, or planting a garden, can make a significant impact on the environment and our greenhouse emissions. In fact, UM’s Center for Sustainable Systems reported that “eating all locally-grown food for one year could save the GHG [greenhouse gas] equivalent of driving 1,000 miles, while eating a vegetarian meal one day a week could save the equivalent of driving 1,160 miles.Bonus: you’ll be supporting your local farmers and laborers, and bringing more jobs to your area.
  • Reduce, Reuse & Recycle. (and the sometimes-added, Refuse). Choosing not to purchase single-use plastics, and refusing to buy new when you can buy used will make a massive impact on the environment, as will recycling your household waste. By recycling just half your bottles, cans, and plastics, you can save 2,400 pounds of carbon dioxide per year.
  • When you do use air travel, choose coach seats. Because coach seats take up less space, you’ll be using less fuel to transport you to your destination. Passengers in coach are associated with producing three times fewer emissions than their business-class counterparts, and a possible 8.96 times less than first class. In addition, explore the offset programs airlines such as KLM, United and Delta have in place, and choose to invest in those as you purchase your flight. In addition, when possible, fly with airlines that utilize biofuels in their operations. For more tips, have a glance at this article from The New York Times on other ways to reduce your impact while flying.

Air travel is an important topic to examine and seek solutions to. While governments and operators seem to be making progress finding solutions to the environmental impact, we can contribute by doing our part to lessen our own carbon footprint, at home and as we travel. 

Don’t feel as if you need to stay home.. the world is a wondrous place that opens our minds, expands our beliefs, and cultivates a love of our planet and acceptance of its inhabitants. As Maya Angelou once said, “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”


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