Travel as Ethically as You Can

Calling all green gappers! Yes, I know you're out there somewhere. And even if you're not feeling particularly green today or aren't a current gapper, just lend me two minutes of your internet-browsing time (that Eastenders episode update can wait!). I promise to keep my soapbox firmly to one side, my feet on the ground and not to go all green and airy-fairy on you.

The issue

I want to have a look at the mammoth environmental issue du jour, 'climate change'. I'm not going to discuss whether there is such a phenomenon - there just is, alright?! The majority of our honourable boffins agree on this (i.e. those whose work is not funded by the oil/motor industry), and even Bush's administration has finally conceded that greenhouse gas emissions are "the only likely explanation for global warming".

So, assuming there is such a thing as climate change, what has this got to do with you? Aside from the impact of our everyday lives, the whole focus of this site - travel, and particularly air travel - has enormous potential to damage our precious earth.

The science

Air travel is the big bad wolf when it comes to climate change. The amount of pollution that it pumps into the atomsphere is hard to believe.

Fossil fuels - Air travel uses up vast amounts of these finite resources, and with the global number of people flying expected to double in the next 15 years, this is clearly an unsustainable situation.

Climate change - In burning these fossil fuels, aeroplanes emit not only carbon dioxide (CO2), a well-known greenhouse gas, but also H2O (water), NOx (nitrous oxides) and SOx (sulphur oxides), the combined impact of which is about three times greater than an emission of CO2 alone.

And what's more...

Depletion of the ozone layer - Aviation is predicted to account for half the annual destruction of the ozone layer by 2015 (NOx released in the stratosphere catalyses the destruction of the stratospheric ozone layer).

Noise and air pollution - Anybody who has lived under the flight path of a Boeing 747 can sympathise with this one - and not only noise pollution; at ground level those nasty nitrous oxides raise their ugly head again, potentially causing local environmental and health impacts.

Some shocking facts

  • Globally, flying produces more than 700 million tons of carbon dioxide per year (almost as much as the whole of Africa!) Particularly shocking if we consider that only 4% of the world's population travels abroad each year.
  • A passenger on a long haul flight accounts for as much CO2 as an average motorist produces in a year.
  • There is currently no tax on aviation fuel and, in the EU, VAT is not even added to the cost of air tickets!
  • Currently the European aviation industry receives about £30 billion in subsidies every year.
  • The UK government have committed themselves to reducing CO2 emissions by 60% by 2050, meanwhile outlining plans to build new runways at Heathrow, Birmingham and Stansted!

Climate Change

So, what can we do?

Clearly, the best way to remedy this is to stay at home tucked up with a good book and a cup of Horlicks. But if you're surfing this site, chances are you're of a different disposition. So, option number two is to take your gap year a little closer to home. May not sound the most exotic option but there's loads to see and do in the UK. We have history, culture, varied environments and lots of sea - what more could you want?!

If you're hankering after an altogether more 'foreign' feel (and an occasional glimpse of sun!) you could do a lot worse than visiting our amazingly diverse European neighbours. Get yourself on the Eurostar or ferry and train it around Europe. And guess what? On the continent the trains actually run on time. No really, I've witnessed this with my own eyes! An inter-rail pass for under 26s costs £285 for a month with unlimited travel to 29 countries throughout Europe (+ Morocco).

Unfortunately the train option can sometimes mean a longer journey or greater expense but it's a far more 'real' experience; you get to gaze out at the great scenery, there's a far more local feel and you can make yourself loads of friends. And you don't need to spend your trip festering in the departure lounges of international airports.

We hanker after the exotic though, so...

But, of course, we all hanker after the exotic, and even the most sustainable-minded amongst us may want to splash out and take a long-haul flight or two to explore the four corners of the World. And who could blame us, it's what we save our pennies for, and why you find us packing bags in Sainsbury's or serving Worthingtons to lecherous cricket fans. But all is not lost my little green friends! Your conscience can be saved; there is a way to keep that wolf from the door.

On return from your flight, get yourself onto the Climate Care website and 'offset' your emissions. This means that for a 'small' donation (a mere £30.96 for a Heathrow-Sydney return flight) you can fund efficient lighting in South Africa, stoves in Bangladesh or restore the rainforests!

Alternatively, put your hand in your pocket and make a donation to a reputable conservation organisation working in one of the places you have visited. If you can afford to travel the World, surely you can raise a few more quid to make up for your damage.

If you baulk at the idea of splashing out yet more dosh, having overexerted the Visa card, student loan and overdraft, you could always give up some of your time whilst out and about in the big wide world and do something nice and eco to ease your conscience.

Or if you're far too busy boozing it up, set aside a bit of time when you get home to work for the enviro cause.

And of course, don't forget to lobby the government and remind them of their climate change commitments. I can feel a serious lynching coming on if I suggest that taxes on flights should be increased. But they should. No really. We always end up paying for it in the end (you don't get naught for nothing!)

So come on guys, it's not that hard... Take note Tony Blair, we're doing our bit, now it's up to you!