To Fly Or Not To Fly….


Global warming, carbon emissions, long haul flights. We’ve heard all about it from the media. Even if you are slightly sceptical about the evidence for global warming and believe that maybe this is just a natural progression in the earth’s development, there is no denying the fact that air travel is increasing.

Yes, airline taxes are increasing and we are in a period of austerity here in the UK. However, the emerging market of asia, in particular China, more than makes up for this with a massive increase in passenger numbers both regionally and internationally.

Think about all those planes you see at the airport, the number of gates, the long list of departures on the board. That is just one airport, in one city, in one country, on one day of the year. The diagram above illustrates the global network of all commercial airlines. It’s a beautiful representation but also made me consider my carbon footprint.

Anyone looking at my page of countries visited or airlines flown will realise that I am guilty as charged of contributing to global warming (not to mention exposing myself to rather a hefty amount of radiation). Some might say that those flights will have flown anyway even if I had not been on them. That may be true but if everyone was slightly more conscious about their carbon footprint, the airlines would have a noticeable reduction in passenger numbers forcing them to either change to smaller planes that expel less carbon or even cancel less busy and therefore less lucrative flights.

So what are airlines doing to reduce their impact on the environment? Virgin Atlantic under Richard Branson are heavily investing in research into the potential for using biofuels in aviation. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner boasts a plastic composite construction that makes the aircraft lighter than traditional aluminium aircraft. In addition, the design of the wings and engines contributes to increased fuel efficiency.


What can you and I do? If you are feeling generous, a lot of airlines allow you to offset your carbon footprint for a fee. What they do with this money is anyone’s guess – plant some trees? or maybe it just goes in their back pocket?

Some would advocate reducing the number of long haul flights you take. Indeed, there was a 6 month period a couple of years ago where I made 3 separate return flights to Asia from London. Not exactly economical or well planned.

One radical solution is to completely eliminate air travel entirely. I met a fascinating French guy in an ecolodge in Bonito, Brazil. He refused to fly but didn’t let that hinder him travelling. To get to Brazil, he simply emailed shipping companies who apparently have cabins on board their container ships available for intrepid ecowarriors. The journey was about two weeks if I remember correctly and it was far from cheap – around 1000 euros. So if you are truly passionate about saving the planet, there are ways to avoid flying (if you have the time and the money!)