We Need To Control Our ‘Itchy Feet’ to Reduce Travel Emissions
Written by Zero Carbon Harrogate on June 30, 2021
Have you made your holiday plans yet? Once a simple question, might now require a rather complicated answer, given the current situation. But, as the coronavirus restrictions start to be eased it appears the first thing on many people’s minds is exactly that, ‘where can I go on holiday’?
Perhaps not surprisingly after the long months of lockdown people want to get away from home, have a break, relax and enjoy some time in a place where the sun may shine more reliably. Of course, the uncertainties which still surround travelling abroad are making holidays in the UK more attractive, much to the relief of hoteliers, restauranteurs and gift shops around the country who have suffered greatly over the last 18 months, along with many others in the broader travel industry.
But here comes the dilemma. Carbon emissions from travel, on average account for around 40% of an individual’s carbon footprint. Not just from holidays but also from the very many miles we travel in the course of our daily lives. Most of this comes from car journeys but flying also contributes a significant proportion. In 2020 emissions from transport fell by 19.6%, primarily due to the large reduction in the use of road transport during the nationwide lockdowns, with similar reductions being seen in aviation emissions. Unfortunately, that fall has quickly been overturned, as we returned to the roads.
So, what should we do for our holidays? Stay at home or just go camping in the nearest field (with the farmers permission of course!). The global economy relies heavily on travel, for holidays, for business, for study, for entertainment and for sport, and we have also become used to the freedom that travel gives us, which we will not easily relinquish. We cannot however keep travelling in the same way, or to the same extent, if we are to avoid the climate crisis that we facing. We need to find alternatives.
Again, it comes down to how important the environment is in our busy lives, compared to all those other things that are going on around us, but there is no doubt we now need to consider the carbon cost of our travel as a priority and look at ways we can reduce the emissions associated with it.
Reducing our day-to-day car journeys is a good start. Whether that be the daily commute, regular shopping trips or the trips taken by the taxi of mum and dad. Can those journeys be eliminated or alternative forms of travel adopted, such as public transport, cycling, walking or perhaps car sharing? Using nearby facilities rather than those further afield can help secure a vibrant local community, whilst also addressing the needs of the climate.
One of the biggest problems we face more and more is urban sprawl, where new housing developments are built without consideration for good public transport links, local shops, schools and other facilities, forcing more people to drive for daily needs. We need to be more vocal in our objections to this approach.
But what of holidays? Avoiding travel may be an option for those living on the coast or in National Parks, who enjoy the benefits of holiday hotspots on a daily basis, but most people need and want to travel, to explore our beautiful country and the more exotic delights around the world. The lure and accessibility of Disneyworld, the golden sands of the Caribbean, an African safari or just the sunshine of the Spanish Costas, can be irresistible after a cold, bleak winter in Harrogate.
Technology may be coming to our aid, with electric vehicles and the promise of low carbon fuels for aircraft but it will take many years to find truly viable alternatives and we will still have the carbon cost of manufacturing the cars and planes to consider.
We must try our best to eliminate some of our travel and use low emission transport wherever possible when we do travel. If we are unable to curb our wanderlust and control those itchy feet voluntarily, we are likely to see more government intervention, either through pricing, rationing or controlled movement, potentially leading to a permanent lockdown, which must be avoided at all costs.
You may have heard the term ‘carbon offsetting’, which refers to ways of paying for others to reduce their emissions or absorb carbon dioxide to compensate for your own emissions, by for example planting trees. It is being marketed by a number of airlines and oil companies to persuade us that we can still buy their goods and services without worrying about the related emissions. But it’s not that simple. Most schemes don’t do what they say they will and it is also not viable to offset all of our emissions. These schemes are a distraction. Yes, we need more trees but in addition to, not instead of, reduced emissions.
The solution is simple but the perceived inconveniences make it difficult for us to implement. Let’s not leave it too late.