Green travel has been all the rage with well-meaning travelers wanting to see the world without leaving a carbon footprint. The unfortunate reality is, the means in which most of us travel – approximately eight million per day – is highly damaging to the environment. I’m speaking of course about air travel.[blockquote author=”” link=”” target=”_blank”]What’s Coming Up
- Why you should care about green travel and carbon emissions
- Why you shouldn’t rent a car
- Walk whenever you can
- Take mass transportation
- Bike instead of drive
- How to offset carbon emissions from a flight
- Easy solution? Don’t fly[/blockquote]
Why You Should Care About Green Travel
Air travel accounts for five million barrels of oil a day, contributing about 2.5 percent to total carbon emissions. (This number could jump up to 22 percent by 2050 with other industries emitting less.) Most travelers, however, remain blissfully ignorant to the damage of air travel. Some will excuse themselves, pointing to their Tesla back home. Others, astonishingly, will take that cheap airfare and completely pass the buck. “That plane is going up without me, so I might as well be on it,” is the mentality.
The fact is, any one of us who travels owns some of the blame. I generally fall in the camp that puts the majority of the blame on governments and airlines who have not regulated the industry to offset the costs air travel has on the environment. At the same time, measuring who gets what blame does very little to alleviate carbon emissions and promote green travel. Airlines and governments won’t be keen to act until there’s pressure from them by travelers themselves. One way to apply said pressure is by making every effort to embrace green travel right now. No more excuses. Now, here’s how to do it.
Don’t Rent A Car
Now after rallying against the evils of air travel, I’m shifting to an even greater evil in the world of carbon emitters – cars. No mode of transportation has shifted the way people live than cars and no other mode of transportation has killed more people. To put it bluntly, there were 1.25 million road traffic deaths globally in 2013. (Wars and murders that same year accounted for 0.44 million.)
This isn’t even counting how cars have segregated us, made us unhealthier, and have contributed to lung diseases among those who live by highly-trafficked thoroughfares, namely highways. Why would you want to contribute to that in another country where you’re supposed to be a guest?
According to the EPA, transportation accounted for 27 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2015. Only electricity at 29 percent was more. Within transportation, just nine percent came from aircraft. Light-Duty vehicles (that is, what you’re probably driving, dear Reader), accounted for a whopping 60 percent.
Many will complain that there simply is no other way to get around in places like North America where the car is king. Not true. Let’s run through some of your options.
Hey! Remember Walking?
Remember those fleshy things underneath your waist? Well, turns out they’re useful for more than just accelerating. Before getting into a car – whether it’s at home, a rental or even an Uber – consider if you even need to. North Americans walk woefully less than populations in other parts of the world and that’s due largely to the unfettered access the auto industry has had to altering the urban landscape. Less than four percent of Americans walk or bike to work. NPR, too, has reported on this growing problem, quoting writer Tom Vanderbilt as saying, “Americans now walk the least of any industrialized nation in the world.”
In the context of travel, walking is one of the best ways to get a feel for wherever you’re traveling to. You get the sounds, touch, fee, and smells (admittedly, this can be a good or bad thing) of a destination when you’re moving around by foot. You’ll also forge some of your best memories because you’re much more likely to notice that food stand on the corner or how people interact with one another when passing by on the street than if you’re zipping by in a car. Plus, it’s healthy – both for the obvious exercise and the frustration you’ll save yourself when you’d otherwise be circling around looking for parking.
Simply put, walking is the king (or queen!) of green travel.
Use Mass and Metro Transit
Mass transit in North America is in a woeful state when compared to similarly wealthy countries, but it doesn’t mean it’s nearly as impossible as some travelers will lead you to believe. Just because you don’t immediately know how to do it doesn’t mean the option doesn’t exist. Even in the United States there’s still Greyhound, which far exceeded my expectations that were admittedly tainted by negative stereotypes propagated by people who never ride Greyhound. And before you say, “Easy for you to say! You don’t have kids.” Last I checked, kids are allowed on the bus.
You’ve also got Amtrak, which despite not matching the might of European and some Asian rail lines, is still a great option for getting around those dense, coastal areas where most of those vehicular emissions are coming from.
If you’re heading to Japan or most any part of Europe, mass transportation is king (or queen!) and there’s simply no reason for you to ever get in a car. Plus with technology these days, there are a number of ways to use your phone or the Internet to find the best way to get from Point A to B by taking mass transport.
Bike Rental or Find the Bike Share
While walking is my favorite way to get a feel for a new city, cycling is what I turn to for better seeing an entire region. Again, you’ve got your obvious health benefits and the only gas you’ll be emitting is if that burrito surprises you during a modest climb. (It happens to the best of us. Blame the lycra or just pedal on like nothing happened.)
Cities around the world are taking note, too, of the increased desire for green travel. Bike share is prevalent in cities from Mexico City to Paris. Even comparatively tiny Cartago, Costa Rica has its own system. Do your research beforehand to find out if your destination has a bike share or if your hotel offers a bike rental.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions Offset From Your Flight
Right after booking that flight, see if the airline has a greenhouse gas emissions offset program where you can enter in the distance traveled and/or the number of flights you’ll be taking in a trip. Some programs will tell you what you need to pay and send that money directly to an organization working to offset carbon emissions.
Honestly, the airline industry (in my anecdotal experience) does not do enough to promote this feature and you might have to go hunting for it. Below are some links to the carbon footprint calculator for select airlines and I’ll continually update it as I discover more.
There are other organizations like Trees for Life that’ll help you offset your carbon footprint by planting trees. I’m certain there are others out there, so don’t hesitate to contact me with links and I’ll update this page.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. If you really care about your carbon footprint and want to embrace green travel, just don’t fly in the first place. Try traveling locally or, as we’ve already covered, taking mass transit to your destination.
Europeans are lucky with their generally flexible and abundant vacation. They can take more time off to allow them more time to reach their destination. North Americans, however, have less to work with and will probably be more inclined to fly to cover farther stretches in a shorter period of time.
If you do find yourself in a situation where you have to fly, ask yourself if you really need to go to that destination. Should you end up flying, then head back to the last step and figure out how to offset your carbon footprint.
I offer this not to paint myself as the proverbial holier than thou traveler. I’ve flown quite often, sometimes an absurd amount in a revoltingly short period of time. I also encourage others to travel through the content I create, so I shoulder far more blame than the average person on this planet.
My main reason for offering this up is because we’re coming off a string of “once every 500 years” hurricanes and it boggles my mind to see good, well-meaning people who believe climate change is happening do virtually nothing to change their lifestyle or demand change. Are we really going to keep looking at each other with our collective shoulders shrugged and essentially say, “Yeah, but, my desire to go there was more important than whatever damage I was causing to the environment”?
It’s too late in the game to shift the blame and keep carrying on like someone else will solve this problem. If we’re going to keep traveling, and I suspect we will, we need to embrace green travel and put pressure on everyone — politicians, governments, the travel industry, and even our friends and family.