Monday, April 23, 2012

Making air-travel earth-friendlier? Trees, carbon footprints & more

Air-travel is not environmentally friendly. Airplanes do emit greenhouse gases, mainly carbon-monoxide, as well as other pollutants. They also contribute to "noise-pollution" in some areas. This is an "inconvenient truth" for those of us who like to travel far and wide, but also consider ourselves people who care about the environment.

Of course, air-travel isn't all bad. Traveling by plane makes it easier for people to visit other parts of the world, to learn about other places and meet people from different countries and cultures. It helps tie the world and the people in it together, culturally and socially.

I don't think it's a viable option to give up on air-travel (though I know some hardcore environmentalists would disagree with me). But here are some things we, as individual travelers, can do to ease our conscience (if we feel the need to do that), and help the environment, even if it's just a little bit.

Buying carbon offsets
This means that you pay a fee to help "offset" the carbon emissions caused by your trip by doing something (for example planting trees) to counteract the emissions caused by your travel choices. There are various websites and organizations that can help you do this.

If you want to try it, a good place to start might be The Suzuki Foundation's guide to purchasing carbon offsets. In this guide (which was published in 2009), there is an evaluation of various carbon offset vendors.

Planting trees
Planting trees is one of those immediate, hands-on, feel-good things we can do to improve the environment. And if you have kids, they'll probably love it. Whether you plant trees in your own backyard, participate in tree-planting projects locally, or support organizations who do it in other parts of the world, it's something children can understand and relate to quite easily.

Some websites with resources and information are Treelink, and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Flying "green" airlines
Air-travel is not environmentally friendly, but some airlines are trying to brand themselves as "green" and are also trying to do things to reduce the environmental impact of airplanes. Some airlines are purchasing carbon offsets, or trying to improve their fuel efficiency. There are also projects underway to develop renewable fuels for airplanes.

Seatguru has some information about what various airlines are doing to go more "green". 

Choosing "green" accommodation
Going green by doing things in a more environmentally friendly way is becoming more popular with many hotels and resorts. For example, a hotel might do things like recycle their garbage, and reduce the use of water and electricity.

Two websites that try to help travelers find "greener" travel options are Responsible Travel and Green Hotels.

Other things to do:

  • Travel close to home - This is one tip I don't really live up to myself, since we visit my family in Sweden at least once a year and the only way to get there from Vancouver is by plane. However, traveling close to home is a very effective way to reduce your carbon emissions.
  • Don't fly if you can help it - Traveling by train, boat, or bus impacts the environment less than traveling by air. Sometimes you have to go by plane, but other forms of transportation can work just as well or better in some cases. Train trips are an adventure in themselves, for example.
  • Get involved - Volunteering your time can be a great way to help the environment, and get your kids interested in that environment. Big organizations like Earthwatch have projects all over the world. On the local level, you might also find great organizations to help out and support. In Canada, for example, there is the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup project, which organizes local cleanup efforts all over the country.

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