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Relationship Status: It’s Complicated with Air Travel

Updated: Jan 6, 2022

Written By: Karina Vigil

In June I took a walk down a stretch of beach in Bali. It was sunset. Couples, friends and families laughed, teased the ocean with their toes and posed for photos. It was perfect — as most things on the surface are.

The next day I walked along the same beach and watched as a wave crashed towards me with a plastic bag held in its grip. I wish I could say that was the only evidence I saw of the impact of tourism, but the ease of our indifference surrounded me. Tourists took steps around the waste half-buried in the sand. I walked alongside them, the weight of travel heavy on my mind.

Travel connects us, educates us and rejuvenates us. For many, travel is a way of life or a favourite past time. Many of the wonderful experiences in my life have been through the privilege of travel, whether it has been visiting family in Nicaragua or discovering a new country with friends at my side. I never thought much about it besides how it impacted me. Of course, the truth is, the ability to travel impacts more than what we’re able to see. It was through my participation in Carbon Conversations Toronto's six week sessions that I opened my eyes to the impact I have left in the wake of my adventures.

As a participant of the six week sessions, you explore areas of your life and how it relates to climate change. The most impactful session for me was when my group discussed travel and transportation. Not only because I am a lover of travel, but because I had just booked a trip to the other side of the world.

Air travel is the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions; in fact if it was a country it would be one of the top 10 carbon-polluting nations (WWF). For perspective, my flight from Toronto to Singapore was equal to 2.8 T of carbon for each Passenger (Calculator). I flew on a plane that could hold roughly six hundred people. Which means that my flight alone contributed around 1,600 T of Carbon — and that was only one way, and only one flight. This got me thinking about all the other flights I have taken in my life and how the carbon from those trips reside in the atmosphere to this day.

The obvious answer to this carbon equation is to reduce air travel, or stop flying altogether. Of course, eliminating flying can be much more complicated than waving goodbye and sending it on its way. At least for me it is, and it might be for you as well.

For one, I come from an international family, and for myself and for many other Canadians, air travel is what ensures we can connect with our loved ones beyond a screen. How can you say goodbye to the ease of an airplane when that may mean saying goodbye to more than just a vacation?

So for some of us, we may never be able to cut air travel from our lives completely. Instead, we are left with the choice to reprioritize. This alone is a difficult switch to make, but a courageous one as well. There are many places I want to travel and explore, but now when I think of flying I think of the carbon consequence. I find myself thinking, is it worth it? A question I would never have asked myself seven months ago. But at this point in the climate crisis, our travel is as much about the planet as it is about experiencing it.

The most difficult part of reducing our carbon footprints, is giving up the privilege, convenience and availability we are so accustomed to. Flying is a privilege. Flying is a convenience. It is availability to the world at the price of carbon. Seeing it for what it is, is painful. It is a glass shattering I didn’t want to face — and one that I’ve done an excellent job at ignoring until now because I love to travel, and I didn’t want to see the cracks of my relationship with it. But the world does not belong to our wants. And like most things, there is always another way, and in the future that we face I hope we can all see the benefit of altering our route.

Interested in cutting down on air travel? Here are a few ways to start

  • If you’re flying within Canada, consider taking a different mode of transportation such as a car, bus or the train.

  • If you are looking to plan a less carbon intensive vacation, consider vacationing closer to home — there’s plenty to see and enjoy in your own backyard

  • If you’re flying to your next vacation purchase carbon offsets, however be aware that offsets are not a perfect solution to flying as the offsets you purchase do not take immediate effect, however if flying is unavoidable they are still worth exploring and purchasing.

  • Begin to ask yourself ‘when’ and ‘why’ when it comes to travel — Can you cut down on how often you take trips? Is the travel necessary, or can it wait?

  • If your work requires you to travel often, speak to your manager about video conferencing or taking an alternative mode of transportation.

  • No one is perfect, it’s about taking the first step — the first step towards a less carbon reliant lifestyle is to address the issue and move towards making a change.

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