OVERLAND (AND SEA) FROM ENGLAND TO NEW ZEALAND – Is it possible?
From the moment I arrived in Europe I knew I didn’t want to fly long distance again. Flying felt wrong.
My feelings of guilt were not allayed at various airports where I could see glamorous airline bill-boards claiming successful research into fuels made from seaweed or boasting forward-looking management teams with gleaming teeth who reassured the public beside the ugly heaps of plastic water bottles mounded up by the entrance to security areas.
We all know flying causes pollution. Yet, who doesn’t fly? Today I’m sitting in the reception area of an English Language school in Brighton, UK, where over a dozen people are about to leave for the airport. When I asked a class (focussed on travel) of language learners what they thought about av gas pollution, they stuck out their bottom lips, turned the corners of their mouths down and shrugged their shoulders. A young Italian man said, ‘Oh, that is nothing. Air travel is the same as car travel.’
I realised I couldn’t argue. I had simply accepted aviation was a contributor to climate change and should be avoided. Maybe I was wrong after all. Maybe it was just, ‘Nothing’. Maybe I should rush to the nearest airport with all their vegan cafes and seaweed fuels and jump on the first jet outta here.
Instead, I went to Wikipedia, where I read that ‘The environmental impact of aviation occurs because aircraft engines emit heat, noise, particulates and gases which contribute to climate change and global dimming.Airplanes emit particles and gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), water vapor, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, lead, and black carbon which interact among themselves and with the atmosphere.’
The Conversation agrees with the environmental cost adding, ‘The second problem is, as Air Asia puts it, “Now everyone can fly”. It’s so cheap and easy! Just ask Skyscanner or Momodo or Expedia or ALL THE OTHERS … Of course, the number of travellers grows every year. And why would those numbers slow when more people all around the world can sit in their own homes with their own online systems, getting travel alerts for cheap international flights at lower prices than catching a local bus to their own town centre? They too can visit relatives and friends on the other side of the world, have a sexy beach holiday in the Mediterranean or adventure hike all the way up there. Why not? Travel broadens the mind!
Surely someone must be doing something, somehow, to change this dangerously polluting system? Don’t they realise climate is in the air? Don’t they know we’ve only got, twelve, wait, eleven, (sorry that old IPCC report came out in October 2018) years to do something to save our planet?
What does the industry body, representing 193 members have to offer? ‘International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is a UN specialized agency, established by States in 1944 to manage the administration and governance of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention).
Their environmental page tells me:
In 2004, ICAO adopted three major environmental goals, to:
a. limit or reduce the number of people affected by significant aircraft noise;
b. limit or reduce the impact of aviation emissions on local air quality; and
c. limit or reduce the impact of aviation greenhouse gas emissions on the global climate.
Climate change rates last. Something? Admirable. Effective? Old news? Er … I find more up-to-date information on another website: Phys.org is a physics gossip site which says the aviation industry itself has set up ‘an emissions trading scheme that aims to stabilise the situation at 2019-2020 levels’. Ah. Someone is doing something. Really?
The young people wheel their 25 kg of luggage each out to the waiting taxis. Gatwick is calling. The ninth busiest airport in Europe, 46.1 million people in 2018 also felt the call. These numbers are huge and the profits so profitable …
Guess that inevitable climate change and uncontrollable weather is most certainly on the way. Or, hang on, maybe the aviation industry knows something I don’t. Maybe they think unpredictable weather is going to be a benefit? Is global warming good for business somehow? Maybe flying isn’t affected by the weather?
According to ‘Bureau of Transportation Statistics, an average of 65% of all flight delays from June 2003 to May 2014 were weather related and of the total delayed minutes, nearly 75% were due to the weather (since weather delays tend to be longer waits than other causes).’
Inconceivable. It seems airlines intend to keep their shareholders rich … er … until hurricanes start blowing their planes out of the sky.
This is a global climate problem, everyone. This affects all of us. All the corporations know it. All the insurance companies know it. But we keep booking an aisle seat because it’s so annoying having to climb over people to get out to the toilet …
But is air travel really a problem just for one little person? Stefan Gössling, a professor at Sweden’s Lund and Linnaeus universities and co-editor of the book Climate Change and Aviation: Issues, Challenges and Solutions, says, “On an individual level, there is no other human activity that emits as much over such a short period of time as aviation, because it is so energy-intensive.”
There is no safety in numbers here. Every individual flying off with their 23 kg of fashion causes more pollution than anything else they do. Have you calculated the size of your environmental footprint recently? (You could even try it including flying and without to compare.)
A recent article at the NY Times offers some helpful tips. The first is, ‘Fly Less.’
Okay. I’ll fly less.
Here’s the problem.
I’m in England. There’s a family reunion in New Zealand in January. I have a limited budget. I’m flying less. How am I going to do it? My personal preference is always train. I knew I could get across Europe, through Russia and into China by train but, as you know, there’s a body of water around Australia and New Zealand that is, as yet, non-navigable by rail.
Before you get all thrilled and retirement-home-positive for me, I am not going on a cruise. For a start, I don’t have that sort of money and secondly, WHAAAT? Some of those ships carry more than 6,000 passengers. Plus staff. And they eat and drink and have fun. And flush their toilets straight into the sea.
And it’s not just human organic waste. Given the heavy fuel cruise liners use, data shows that ‘standing on the deck of a cruise ship is similar to being in one of the world’s most polluted cities’.
Here’s a link to a short, informative video. I hope you haven’t eaten recently.
I think you will agree, the WWII slogan, ‘Is your trip really necessary?’ needs a dust-down and perk-up.
We must go at once to the wonderful The Man on Seat 61. Well known as The Train Expert, he lays out a possible journey from the UK to Australia in simple steps. I sent him an email to thank him for doing the hard work for me. He replied, wishing me an enjoyable trip. Gulp. Am I really going to do this? Europe, Russia and China, people. For a start. Then, there’s ocean and the South China sea. Where they have Big Waves.
It looks like I’m planning the trip of a lifetime! I’m not alone. Check out this article about the Flight-Free movement.
Stay tuned for Part II where I ask the next exciting question, ‘How?’
Or, I could wait for the seaweed …
Or, even better, the hemp!!!