Ask Eartha: How can I take care of the planet if I travel frequently?

Flygskam is a newly coined Swedish word for “flight shame”. People concerned about climate change decided to reduce the number of flights – or stop flying altogether – and shamed others into doing the same.
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Dear Eartha, I’m concerned about climate change, but I also like to travel. Should I give up flying to protect the planet?

Flygskam is a newly coined Swedish word for “flight shame”, which is a movement that started a few years ago in Europe.. People concerned about climate change decided to reduce the number of flights – or stop flying altogether – and shamed others into doing the same. But using shame as a carbon reduction strategy is a controversial tactic. Choosing not to fly is a deeply personal decision, which may not be practical for everyone. Plus, traveling to new places has known psychological benefits.. And many of us live far from our families, making it an ethical quagmire. So, let’s start by taking a look at the big picture.

Aviation and climate change

Transportation is the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States, and aviation accounts for about 10% of those transportation emissions.. For context, nearly 60% of our transportation emissions come from light vehicles and trucks – so electric cars and trucks are really the low hanging fruit here. And while many of us drive, not everyone contributes equally to emissions from jets across the country — or the ocean.

Recently, a number of celebrities have come under scrutiny for excessive use of private jets. The main culprit was Taylor Swift’s jet, which has logged 170 flights since January. That’s a lot of carbon, and it’s certainly more than most of us fly.

Indeed, the results of a 2017 survey of flying habits showed that for the average American, the plane does not represent a significant part of our carbon footprint. Instead, just 12% of the US population accounts for almost 70% of all thefts. The International Council on Clean Transportation reports that for Americans who fly five or fewer times a year, aviation accounts for just 3% of their carbon footprint.

To pack light

Now, that doesn’t mean we should all run and fly more. On the one hand, at 15 metric tons per yearAmericans’ per capita carbon emissions are well above the global average of just 4.5 tons. It’s quite amazing.

So if you’re one of those people who takes more than six trips a year, you would be doing us a favor by traveling less intentionally. For the rest of us, there are ways to reduce the impacts of the limited trips we take. We can fly in economy mode – cramming more people into a small space is a great way to maximize fuel burn; we can choose to fly with companies focused on energy efficiency; we can fly direct as often as possible; we can use public transport when we travel. I could go on.

What’s really interesting is diving into the future of sustainable aviation. Many major players, including the US Department of EnergyNASAaviation industry groups and major airlines research and invest in the development of plant-based jet fuels. Last December, United flew the world’s first passenger flight powered by 100% sustainable aviation fuel..

Head in the clouds

As a climate activist, it’s hard to reconcile my love of foreign travel (and croissants) with the understanding that the climate crisis is real and – hello – a crisis. In fact, while I’m hiking in the Alps this month, several iconic mountains are closed as unprecedented heat in Europe makes classic climbing routes too dangerous..

Michael E. Mann, a renowned climatologist from Pennsylvania State University, argues that if we rely solely on individual lifestyle change, we will never solve the climate crisis.. That’s not to say that your individual action isn’t important – it is! How we use energy, who we vote for, what we eat, what we buy, the cars we drive, it all matters. And those choices must be coupled with system change – weaning society off our dependence on fossil fuels, so that everyone’s carbon footprint is smaller, whether or not they care about climate change.

So what then? Well, I’m going to take my trip, use public transport the whole time I’m there, enjoy locally produced wine and cheese, offset the emissions from my flight, and continue to work for systemic change once again. return.

Jess Hoover
High Country Conservation Center / Courtesy Photo

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff of the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Send your questions to

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