Is air travel just plane wrong?

Earlier this summer, my family and I set off on what we joked was our ‘Brexit Tour’. We visited Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris, all via rail. Admittedly the hours and hours spent rattling around on trains often felt tedious and inconvenient. While it would’ve been more convenient to catch a plane, we wanted to avoid the looming shadow of a huge carbon footprint.

It’s about the journey, not the destination 

In the midst of our adventures, it’s important we register the reality of the travel and tourism business – an unsustainable industry that harms both natural and cultural environments. It’s a hot topic in the media, from the emergence of Swedish Flygskam movement (translating literally as ‘flight shame’) to climate change activist Greta Thunberg’s carbon-neutral transatlantic boat trip.

We rarely consider the environmental impact of air travel, nevermind make practical changes to how far and often we fly. After all, flying is undeniably convenient. It’s easy to fall down the path of least resistance or follow the crowd in our throw-away society. In reality, hopping from one destination to another via plane is often an uncomfortable and impersonal non-experience. On the other hand train journeys allow you to immerse yourself in your destination before you even arrive. Train travel feels refreshingly counter-cultural in more ways than one.

Making a change

The imminent threat of the current climate crisis should encourage us to consider the impacts of our lifestyles, especially travel. It’s predicted that 40% of the world’s carbon emissions will be generated by tourism by 2050, with 72% of this coming from travel alone. 

Taking the train to Paris instead of flying cuts carbon emissions per passenger by 90% 

So while there are many ways to make our holidays more sustainable – from supporting local business and cultural or conservation projects, to monitoring your water consumption and waste output – changing the way you get from A to B by giving up or simply cutting down on flying is a good place to start.

Compassion over convenience

Creating positive environmental change often seems daunting and almost impossible. But switching from planes to trains when possible can have a huge, far-reaching impact. Now more than ever, we need to swap out convenience for compassion. The effect of our own decisions about sustainability extend beyond our personal bubble, most tangibly into the lives of people living in poverty. The responsibility lies with us to make sure these are the right decisions.

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