Making peace with air travel
As a former Aerospace Engineer, I have a better understanding than most about the carbon footprint that the aviation industry leaves. However, I have had to make peace with this modern form of transport. This is my stance on air travel...
I travel a lot as my family is scattered all around the world. My husband lives in San Francisco, I usually reside in Sydney (as I am studying Medicine there), my in-laws live in Qatar and my brother lives in London. As a result, I have had to travel frequently to see my husband and family. According to the David Suzuki foundation "compared to other modes of transport, such as driving or taking the train, travelling by air has a greater climate impact per passenger kilometre". There is no doubt that the current form of aviation technology leaves a high carbon footprint, however, here is how I have come to make peace with it.
Making sensible switches
Living a zero waste life has always been about making sensible, practical and sustainable switches. It has to be sustainable for the planet, but also sustainable for you. Australia is an island nation and for me to go overseas to see my husband and family, I need to fly. Unfortunately, there is currently no other sensible switch that I can make to avoid this and the aviation industry has not advanced further enough to be able to accomodate mass transport using renewable energies. (That doesn't mean I am not hopeful to see this within my lifetime!)
Travelling overseas has also enriched my life beyond belief - I have seen the ice-capped mountains of Iceland, the canals of Venice, the redwoods of California and it has made me even more passionate about protecting this planet for the future. Travelling has educated me, humbled me and made me more passionate about spreading the zero waste message around the world. Travelling by boat is not an option considering it will take months for me to get anywhere from Australia. When possible, I do try to travel by train, bus or other means of public transport when in-land. The key is that I try my best, and that's all I can do, and all that we can ever do.
I always buy carbon offsets. People have asked me which companies are the best and my suggestion is to do your research as they vary country to country. I almost exclusively travel with one airline and choose their carbon offset program, this is because having worked for them in my previous career as an Aerospace Engineer, I know the rigorous protocols and auditing they have to undergo to verify their carbon offset program. Carbon offsets is the best solution I have at this point in time, I have had to come to terms that technology has not advanced to a stage where a low carbon option is available for air travel. Please do your research and buy carbon offsets from a reliable and reputable company.
Make your voice heard
The most important thing about the zero waste movement is not just about the goal of 'zero', it is about advocacy and activism. We as consumers can put pressure on our airline companies, governments and policy-makers to accelerate the development of renewable technologies for mass air travel. There are many ways we can do this; voting for political parties who place priority on the environment, understanding carbon tax and advocating policy-makers to implement it appropriately, demanding your airlines be more transparent about their carbon offset programs. There are a myriad of ways you can vote with your dollar. I want to empower you to start the conversation and you'll never know what the ripple effect can be.
This is my humble reconciliation with air travel. I wrote this piece because I get asked about it quite often. At this point in time, all I can say is that I am trying my best to lower my carbon footprint by choosing the best solution that balances time, money and effort with the needs of the planet.
For a guide on how I reduce waste when travelling, click here.