Sunday, May 22, 2011

The F word

No, not the rude one! I want to talk about flying. I am afraid to say that we flew over east on our recent holiday. We looked into driving (too slow and tricky with a 4 year old) and taking the train (about 10 times the price of flights and much slower), but it just didn't make sense. Of course the other option would be to not go, but we really missed our friends and decided to go anyway. I know I've probably disappointed some people (sorry bro and Ciaran). The last time we flew was to the UK about 3 years ago for my brother's wedding (yes Julian, it was your fault and when we get to the pearly gates and the carbon accountant gets out his calculator I'll tell him to put it on your account!) so we're not regular flyers by any means. I still felt bad about it none the less.

Maybe feeling bad is the best way to go. We emitted 7.8 tonnes  of CO2e according to an offsetting company, which is about a quarter of the average australian household's annual emissions. Let's say our family emits half of the australian average, this means that we have just emitted 6 months worth of our annual quota in about 8 hours! We should be ashamed of this and we are.

We could apparently offset that by paying for the planting of 47 trees at a cost of $167. No worries I hear you say, problem solved. But there's a catch. We made the emissions now and time is of the essence with climate change. Even if those 47 trees do sequester the right amount of carbon to offset our flights, it will take them 70-100 years to do it (I measure trees for a living so I should know). Do we really have 70 years to act? I don't think we do have time and I owe it to my son to minimise my emissions as much as I possibly can right now. Personally I think offsetting is at best a last resort and sometimes it can be a con (if you do offset I'd definitely choose a not for profit group). I could pay my $167 and clear my conscience but I'm not going to because I don't buy it. I just don't think it's the answer, so I'd rather live with the guilt and fly less (or not at all?). My family live half way across the world and I'd just like to say sorry I don't visit more often, but I hope you understand why.

Amy has a theory that people just shouldn't marry people more than a few hundred kilometres from their place of birth. That way we wouldn't have the ridiculous situation we have now where grandparents fly half way round the world every year to see their grandkids or kids having to fly accross Australia every school holidays to visit their 'other parent'. If we stayed all provincial, like in the olden days, no-one would have the heartache of leaving loved ones behind. Thankfully Amy formed this theory after she met me!

I have talked to people about my guilt about flying and most people just don't get it. They laugh and say that my footprint is so low not to worry about it, or some just don't understand what I'm talking about. We have such a culture of flying now that it's just normal to take 1 or 2 flights a year. A while ago I heard of someone who worked for the UN in climate change policy who commuted from London to New York every fortnight! And now we have the FIFO (fly in fly out) phenomenom in Australia, where tens of thousands of mine workers fly from cities to mines and back again every 7-14 days. The mining companies don't want to pay for building and supporting rural communities near their mine sites and of course they don't pay for the emissions these flights put out. This is a big blind spot for lots of folk.
EU flight emissions are up 110% in the last 20 years and India and China haven't even started flying in a big way. Let's just hope we get a price on carbon soon and flights start to become more expensive than trains. Please think about this the next time you plan a holiday. You could even make a pledge not to fly for 12 months at lowflyzone. It may be cheaper to go to Bali than a closer destination, but that's because future generations will pick up the tab. 

Flying, it's a four letter word in my book...


  1. great post! we are a two location grandparent family and it is really hard. We try to make good use of our flights - never going for short visits as they are so unsatisfactory and travel other ways when we can and of course not going does a big play as well. Good to read about the carbon offset - I was interested in it but never did any research and ended up where you did - which appears kind of the right spot. Terrible to think that there are carbon offset companies 'for profit' what an absurd concept.

  2. The question that springs to my mind is, is there any other more immediate way to sequester(?) 8 tonnes of carbon?
    Improving our depleted agricultural (and suburban) soils by composting springs to mind, but as to figures...see more, Seymour: